Saturday, 26 November 2011

Unusually I was not rostered on any Concorde tours this weekend, so I took the opportunity to travel down to the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham International intending to visit 'The Flying Show' in Hall 12 and 'Motorcycle Live' in Hall 2.

A Virgin West Coast Pendelino took me from Wilmslow to Crewe, a London Midland 350 electric multiple unit conveyed me onwards to Birmingham New Street, and a second one took me on to Birmingham International arriving about 10:15. From the station it's fair walk to Hall 12 but hey, the exercise would do me good.

Pendelino 'Virgin Harrier' on reaching Crewe at 08:27 this morning

First point of call was the 'Flyer Magazine' stand to pick up my 'Flyer Forum' (a lively aviation internet forum hosted by the magazine) lanyard followed by a quick look around the hall before settling into the seminar area for a talk by Flyer's publisher, Ian Seager, on using the iPad for aviation purposes. Not something I'll be doing in the limited confines of the Chipmunk's cockpit!

After the seminar, I went over to the model flying area to admire a turbine powered model helicopter. With a characteristic rising whine the turbine span up to speed, the engine ignited with a 'whoof' and momentary splutter of blue flame from the tailpipe, and settled to a fast idle. after several seconds the engine was run up with an increasingly high pitch whine and the main and tail rotors began to rotate until full rotor RPM was achieved and the craft rose into the air. Very impressive. 

The British Gliding Association had a glider simulator (full size cockpit, with a projected landscape out in front). "Will it do aeros?" I asked the 'instructor' who was sitting in the cockpit's rear seat. "Climb in and find out", he responded.

So I got into the front seat, donned the headset so i could talk to the back seater, who positioned us in a 40 knot cruise about 1,500 ft above the floor of an alpine valley with an airfield below us. I lowered the nose for 120 knts, eased back the stick, and the glider looped very nicely, the Alpine scenery disappearing below the nose to be replaced by sky, then reappearing from above. Using the exit energy from the loop I waited for about 30 degrees nose-up, and then and rolled it; "I don't think it'll roll" came the voice in the headset. But it did, and surprisingly well, too. We were below the sides of the quite narrow valley now with the airfield behind us, so I lowered the nose again and pulled up for a half-loop with a roll off the top (which it just managed!) to reverse our direction of travel and position us high downwind right hand for the runway. I extended downwind for a while until the runway was (I had to guess of course) 'over my right shoulder' and started a gentle right turn towards final approach. I kept the circuit tight and using airbrake kept a high rate of descent as I reefed it round a tight-ish turn onto a short final. But I overdid the airbrake and touched down gently, wings level, on the centreline and runway heading, but just short of the runway threshold which the computer interpreted as a crash! "Oh dear" said the voice, "and it was all going so well. Nice aeros, though".

 Not the simulator, but a real glider at the show, cockpit open. The rudder pedals are in the extreme front of the nose so quite close together, and as the canopy is closed the instrument binnacle comes down with it and forms 'tunnels' over each of the pilot's legs (clearly visible at the base of the instrument binnacle above), with the centre console between them.

After lunch, the next seminar was by Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services, the Flyer Forum's tame forecaster. Simon chose as his subject 'Interpreting Synoptic Pressure Charts'. This might sound a bit basic for pilots, who have been trained in reading these charts as part of their studies for the Private Pilot's Licence. But Simon not only covered the basics, but gave great insights into aspects I had never before considered. He has an infective enthusiasm for weather and is an informative and entertaining speaker.

Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services about to commence his seminar

This is the pressure chart (it's the situation as of early today) that Simon used in his seminar 
(click on it to enlarge)

He took the pressure chart for midnight last night as his example, and it showed a lot of features he wanted to talk about. In particular a low pressure system (989) in the Atlantic is sending an almost straight (note the isobars) west south westerly flow to the British Isles. This low and indeed that flow are directly below the jet stream, and as a result that low will deepen considerably as it moves east, bringing very very high winds to Scotland.

Also shown on the chart are some high pressure systems, and the fronts; warm fronts, cold fronts, occlusions, and troughs. Simon explained the characteristics of each of these, confirming that some lovely flying weather can be had just after a cold front or a trough has gone through.

Two of the slides from the presentation

Simon pointed out some little-known features of pressure charts (for instance, a '+' on a front means it is dying, while a '-' means the opposite). Altogether a fascinating seminar well presented.

I had a chat with some more exhibitors before leaving in early afternoon. I had intended to look in at 'Motorcycle Live' but had stayed longer than I thought I would at 'The Flying Show'. Time was getting on, 'Motorcycle Live' looked packed, the entry price was about £20, and really I wasn't that interested in new bikes or motorcycle gear so I headed for the rail station.

You can even build your own Spitfire! Here is a part-build 80% replica Spitfire in sheet metal; a lot of work for someone!

This time a Cross Country 'Voyager' took me direct to Stockport (via Birmingham New Street, Stafford, Stoke, and Macclesfield) from where an Arriva Trains Wales class 175 brought me home to Wilmslow.


Thursday, 3 November 2011

Beer by train - the Trans Pennine Ale Trail

Today we (Tony, Steve, Malcolm, Frank and me) did this relaxing day out again. It was made popular by James May and Oz Clarke on television a couple of years ago and has got ever more popular at weekends especially with stag and hen parties to the extent that it's almost impossible to get served at the pubs along the trail.

What is the Trans Pennine Ale Trail? It's a journey from pub to pub by train on the Manchester to Leeds line. I can't remember how many times I've done it before, but in view of the weekend overcrowding we did it today, a Thursday.

I was (as usual) tasked with organising it; not an onerous task. Pick a date, pick an outbound train to the start point (Leeds), and a selection of inbound trains back. I decided we'd use the 09:57 from Wilmslow to Manchester Airport, to pick up the 10:35 Trans Pennine Express from there to Leeds, arriving 11:55. First call was at the Scarborough Taps opposite Leeds station, for some excellent ale and a gammon and egg lunch. Here's my plot of possible trains back eastward; Dewsbury, Huddersfield, and Stalybridge have pubs on the station platforms:

Leeds dep.

Dewsbury arr.

Dewsbury dep.

Huddersfield arr.

Huddersfield dep.

Stalybridge arr.

Stalybridge dep.
Piccadilly arr.
Piccadilly dep.
Wilmslow arr.

A plan like this has to cater for 'spread' as the afternoon progresses; the later train we get from one departure point, the later becomes the choice of trains onward from the next. I think I guessed well - we took the 13:25 from Leeds, though after a pint or two of 'Leeds Pale' (quite excellent) we some how morphed the departure time to 13:35, and strolled across to the station to catch that train. There was no 13:35 departure advertised (not surprisingly) but our luck was in - the 13:25 was delayed by 5 minutes enabling us to catch it with time to spare!

A few scoops at Dewsbury, and we were once more on the move aboard the 15:06 Trans Pennine Express to Huddersfield - so far, right down the middle of my plan! This trend continued after a couple more excellent pints (Copper Dragon) with a 16:26 departure to Stalybridge.

Here we had our only setback of the day. A poor selection of beers, and no food available for Frank, who hadn't eaten at Leeds.

The 17:46 Trans Pennine took us to Manchester Piccadilly, where we boarded the 18:30 Arriva Wales train (to Camarthen) which took us home to Wilmslow.

What a lovely day out; good beer, good food, good company, and without the weekend crowds so it was easy to get served in all the pubs.

Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and I expect we'll do it again before too long - spring 2012 seems favorite!


Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Another ATW 'Club 55' day out; Holyhead this time.

Arriva Trains Wales (ATW) 'Cub 55' offer continues until December, allowing return travel between any two stations on their network for £18 for those at least 55 years of age (£16 if you have a Senior Railcard, as I do). Today I went to Holyhead and back from my local station, Wilmslow.

The 08:46 Manchester to Milford Haven class 175 train took me as far as Crewe, to connect with the 09:23 class 158 service to Chester. I had a bit of a wait there (until 10:24) for the Cardiff to Holyhead train, another of the comfortable and smooth-riding class 175 units which sped along the North wales coast and onto Anglesey, arriving at Holyhead at 12:14. All these trains were moderately loaded (the Crewe - Chester one being very much so).
Chester Racecourse, seen as we leave Chester for Holyhead

Crossing the Conway estuary

Running under the walls of Conway castle

First view of Anglesey on the left, Puffin Island in the centre

RAF Hawk trainer turning final in the Valley circuit

The sea near Maltraeth, with 'The Rivals' mountains beyond

Holyhead signal box

Holyhead station

On reaching Holyhead, and knowing there was nothing in the town I wished to see, I returned on the same train I'd arrived on. It left at 12:39 forming the Holyhead to Maesteg service. This was quite full on leaving Holyhead, and on picking up along the coast was almost completely full by the time it reached Chester, many passengers boarding at Bangor.

Crossing the Menai Straight from Anglesea to the mainland. Telford's superbly graceful suspension bridge, which was at one time the only road connection to the island, seen from the much-modified Stephenson Bridge which carries a roadway above the singled railway line. 

I remember this bridge from family holidays decades ago, when it was in its original form as a double-track railway tubular bridge (a longer and higher version of the tubular bridge at Conway). Vandals set fire to it in the 1970s, following which it was re-built in its present form. At least the stone lions, two each side at each end of the bridge, still exist and give an impression of the structure's original double-track width.

Heading east along the coast of North Wales; Beaumaris is seen across the straights on the Anglesea shore

Conway Castle again

Looking back to Colwyn Bay

The ex-car ferry on the Dee estuary

Approaching Chester, we pass the threshold of runway 22 at Hawarden where the Airbus wings are built and then shipped to Toulouse

The train that took me from Chester to Holyhead and back. It will continue from here via Shrewsbury and Cardiff to Maesteg in South Wales.

It was a nice sunny day today, ideal for appreciating the gardens on Chester station

Two styles of Class 150 at Chester, each bound for Manchester. The far unit will route via the Mid Cheshire line through Delamere and Knutsford, the near unit will go via Frodsham and Warrington.

My next train, a 158 Pacer, which will take me from Chester to Crewe, arrives at Chester from Crewe. It will leave for Crewe at 14:55 and arrive at its destination at 15:18.

Speeding past Beeston Castle atop its distinctive mound

Approaching Crewe we pass the Crewe Heritage Centre. LMS 6100 'Royal Scot is seen, minus its boiler and under tarpaulins.

It was noticeable how much quieter and smoother-riding are the 175s compared to the 158. And the 158, with its high-backed seats had a claustrophobic feel.

 Open airy feel to the smooth running and quiet class 175

 The high-backed seats in the older and noisier class 158 give a claustrophobic feel

The 15:29 Carmarthen to Manchester class 175 whisked me back non stop from Crewe to Wilmslow, getting me back to my home station by 15:47

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Photos on this blog - and imlplications for 'The Cloud'.

Google have decided to change what happens when you click on a photo on a blog. Previously, it opened to larger size, and a second click would open it to full size and I have advised readers to do that. Now, one click results in a slightly larger sized picture and a 'slide show' format. There is no 'full size' facility. Definitely a retrograde step.

There is a move by the likes of Google to get us to store our data on their hosted sites, rather than locally on our own PCs. Eventually, everything, data and applications, would be hosted remotely and accessed from the net. This is 'The Cloud'. It means we won't have the problem of backing up data, but at the same time, we lose control to the 'hoster' This sort of imposed change with the way photographs are displayed on the blog indicates that quite well.

There is no such thing as a free lunch. 'Cloud Computing' saves you worrying about backup or having sufficient local storage, but it does leave you at the mercy of the hoster as to how your data is treated.


Saturday, 15 October 2011

Steam Bus 'Elizabeth' at the RVP

Steam bus 'Elizabeth' at the RVP this morning with Vernon on the left, our conductress in the centre, and the regular fireman on the right.

Sentinel steam bus 'Elizabeth' is at operating at the Runway Visitor Park this weekend. Knowing she was coming from her base in Whitby, I e-mailed Vernon, her owner / driver, introduced myself as a guide at the RVP and a passed fireman on the MoSI steam railway, and asked if it would be possible to have a go at firing 'Elizabeth'. Decent chap that Vernon is, he readily agreed. So this morning at the RVP instead of my usual guide uniform of white short-sleeve shirt and Concorde tie with navy blazer I wore my oily boiler suit and protective boots.

When I arrived, 'Elizabeth' was gently simmering by the bus stop near the entrance. I parked, donned the overalls and boots, and introduced myself to Vernon. Vernon is an ex-driver on the North York Moors Railway and we had a chat about railways, steam, and the difference between steam locomotive and steam road vehicle driving and firing.

A view into the cab through the driver's door

The driving side of the cab as seen from the fireman's side, with the vertical boiler between the two

Vernon invited me up into the cab and showed me 'the taps', and asked me to shoot four shovels full of coal onto the fire to bring the pressure up. Meanwhile, he operated the engine-driven feed pump to increase the water level in the boiler (there is also a live steam injector).

The top of the vertical boiler in the cab. Coal is shovelled down the hole in the centre, to drop through to the firebed beneath the boiler. There is a 'lid' for the firehole just to the right of it, but to allow sufficient 'top air' to the fire this is usually left off.

We had a few passengers by now so it was time to go. Almost silently, with just a whirr from the gears and drive chains, we chuffed away down the lane towards 'The Romper' pub. Here Vernon executed a three-point turn at the cross roads so we could return to the RVP.

The coal bunker in the cab between the crew seats

As we waited for more passengers Vernon explained to me more about the operation of 'Elizabeth', especially on her regular stamping ground in Whitby, Yorkshire. The pressure gauge had fallen to about 120 PSI by now so I put another six shovelfuls onto the fire and pretty soon it was climbing towards the red line at 200 PSI and it was once again time to go.

Vernon took this one of me.... another 'steam dream' achieved; firing a steam bus!

I did one more return trip before handing over to the regular fireman. What a great way to spend a Saturday morning; thanks Vernon - I really enjoyed that!

And tomorrow - off to MoSI to fire either 'Agecroft No.1' or 'Planet'.


Sunday, 2 October 2011

Acton Bridge Steam Up

The Leigh Arms at Acton Bridge, on the River Weaver, held their annual 'Steam Up' this weekend. Tony and I bimbled our way there through the Cheshire lanes on our Suzuki Freewind motorcycles. The blazing hot weather of this Indian summer had today given way to cloud and just the occasional drop of rain; far more pleasant conditions for motorcycling than were the temperatures in the high twenties of the last week or so.

There's no end of polishing to be done if you own a steam engine

Delightful milk float powered by a vertically-boilered twin cylinder steam engine

There were quite a few 'miniatures' there, including this fine showman's engine

The polishing goes on.... and on...! The swing bridge over the Weaver Navigation can be seen behind the engines.

Traditional Gypsy caravans

A superb Burrell traction engine with its living van beyond

Tony surveys the scene

Not all the 'miniatures' were traction engines. Here is a fine model steam lorry.

Me, surrounded by 'miniatures'.


Saturday, 1 October 2011

Standedge Tunnel, Huddersfield Narrow Canal

Standedge canal tunnel is the longest (over three miles), highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain. Situated midway along the Huddersfield Narrow Canal, the tunnel takes the canal under the high Pennine spine of Northern England between Marsden in the Colne Valley and Diggle in the Tame Valley. Originally opened in 1811, last used commercially in the 1920s, closed in 1944, the tunnel has been restored and was re-opened in 2001.

A year or so ago, Peter de la Wyche and I took part in a Stockport Walkers' walk from Diggle over the moors to Marsden and back, approximately following the route of the Standedge Tunnels. At the Marsden end is a visitor centre, and this planted the idea of one day coming back to do one of the occasional trips that are run through the canal tunnel.

There are three railway tunnels, two single bores currently disused, and the double track tunnel that carries today's Trans Pennine Expresses between Manchester and Leeds. One of the single bore railway tunnels is used for emergency vehicles to access the canal and railway tunnels, though there is a proposal by Network Rail to re-open all three rail tunnels to increase rail capacity on this vital trans-pennine route. However, the first of the four tunnels through the Hill at Standedge was the canal tunnel.

Today Peter, my wife Chris, and I made the trip through that tunnel.

Our boat awaits at Diggle at lunchtime today, having worked through the tunnel from Marsden this morning

This 'tug' attached to the back of our boat is electrically powered. The batteries are in the tug, powering propellers on the tug and on the boat. The combination can be driven from the boat or from the tug.

The control panel at the front of the boat. It is steered by the silver 'sidestick' control on the left of the panel; push it left to go right, and right to go left! Very confusing as I was to find out later.

Entering the tunnel 'extension' at Diggle. The tunnel was opened in 1811, but the plaque above the portal carries the date 1893 (double click on the picture to see it full size, as with any picture on this blog) as this western end was extended to allow the building of long gone railway infrastructure above the canal.

In we go!

The 'cut and cover' construction of the extension can be seen here, with stone walls and a brick-arch roof.

The roof is flat here, and made of concrete - some sections have a roof of metal girders - as we are still in the tunnel extension at this point

Now we are in the original 1811 tunnel, brick lined here.

The restoration work before re-opening included stabilising some sections with rock bolts, or as here lining the tunnel with steel mesh onto which concrete was sprayed

Water cascades down where the ventilation shafts enter the tunnel roof

A brick-lined section

Much of the tunnel is unlined rock

The light at the end of the tunnel, but still around an hour before we complete the journey. It was about here where I had a go at steering the boat. I had to concentrate to take account of the 'reversed' steering (push the joystick right to go left, and vice versa) but soon got the hang of it. It requires some anticipation a bit like flying (though an Avro Tudor with such reversed controls caused the death of chief designer Roy Chadwick among others on take off from Woodford in the late 1940s).
There is some speed-related delay in the boat's response, though it's a far greater delay than any aeroplane I've flown, but of course not dissimilar to steering a conventional tiller-steered narrow boat (done a lot of that as well!). And of course the walls are far from straight and the tunnel narrow, so one has to 'weave' to avoid hitting the sides. I must have done OK as the official driver congratulated me, saying "what are you doing a week on Saturday?"

Closer to the Marsden end, and at other places as well, brick arches strengthen the roof

Nearly there! It's quite cold in the tunnel and it will be good to emerge into the warm sunshine of this Indian summer, with its balmy mid 20s temperatures

Just before we emerge at Marsden, the wide arch overhead indicates where the railway, which was on our right when entered and almost immediately crossed to our left where it remained for over three miles, passes overhead to our right hand side again.

The Marsden portal

Tunnel End Cottages now form the cafe at the visitor centre at Marsden

Close to Tunnel End is the former canal warehouse which was converted into the Standedge Visitors' Centre.

After a look around the visitor centre we walked the half mile or so into Marsden to catch the bus back to Diggle where we left our car. It took over two hours to travel though the tunnel by boat, but the bus had us back in Diggle inside fifteen minutes.

At £8 per head this trip through the longest, highest and deepest canal tunnel in Britain is good value.

A fascinating day out!