Thursday, 24 May 2012

Bournemouth and the Jurassic Coast

Younger daughter Helen is at college in Bournemouth, and this week we drove down for a visit. The weather was gorgeous so after booking into the B&B, Helen met us and we walked down to the beach for a drink at Urban Reef bar by the sea.

Chris and Helen at Urban Reef
We took a stroll along Boscombe Pier, which can be seen in the background of the picture above. The original steel lattice pier fell into disuse and was rebuilt in concrete in the early 1960s, and fully restored a few years ago.

Boscombe sea front from the pier
We enjoyed a lovely meal in a pub in Burley in the New Forest that night, and the next day Helen drove us to the Pubeck Hills and the Jurassic Coast.

Much of the land in the Purbecks is used by the Army for firing practice and military manoeuvres. Here a group of young officers is schooled in tactical route-finding in the landscape.

Chris and Helen descend the steep path to Durdle Door

Looking down from the path

Durdle Door

Helen and Chris on the cliff top above Durdle Door

A well earned drink at the 'Square & Compass' after a strenuous walk down 
to Winspit and back


If there's a steam railway in the area, I have to visit it! Helen drove us to Swanage and while the girls had a look around the town I had a ride on the railway up to Norden. Here's our Great Western pannier tank 'with the bag in' (taking water from the column).

 Swanage station

On the Swanage turntable, rebuilt Bullied West Country pacific, 'Eddystone'

Corfe Castle, near Norden, the northern terminus of the line

At Norden, Standard Class 4 tank 80104 was on a low loader about to go to 
the Bodmin & Wenford railway

That evening we went to Poole Quay where there was a gathering 
of about 2,000 motorbikes.

Some of the bikes at Poole Quay

 An immaculate NSU Quickly

A pleasant pub on the cliffs near Boscombe was the venue for our meal that evening, Helen's boyfriend Alex having joined us at Poole. 
Next morning was our last day, so we asked Helen if we could visit somewhere east of Bournemouth so we'd be 'on the way home'. She led the way to Furzey Gardens in the New Forest, an ideal choice.

The house and cafe at Fursey Gardens, in the New Forest
 Fursey is probably at its most colourful in Spring, and on a beautiful day 
like this is seen at its best

There's a resident, and friendly, ginger cat at Fursey who loves to greet visitors!

Helen, a keen photographer, photographs Chris by the lilly pond
 A view across Fursey's lilly pond
Helen took us to a local pub in the Forest where we had lunch before saying our farewells. then Helen headed west, home to Bournemouth, and we hit the long road north back to Cheshire.
What a fantastic few days... We'll be back!


Sunday, 20 May 2012

The step-throughs hit the road again!

Malc (Yamaha T80 Townmate), Tony (another Townmate), Steve (Honda C90 Cub), and me (on my Cub) set out this afternoon for a ride. Out through Macclesfield the step-throughs were great fun on the twisty Cat & Fiddle. And no chance of being done for speeding, either!

A bit chilly up at the 'Cat'; Malcolm, Steve, and Tony with the bikes (mine is second from the left)

Onwards from the Cat we headed over Axe Edge Moor on the minor road to the main Leek to Buxton road, which we followed for a mile or so before turning left on the 'B' road to Longnor. The Dragon's Back Hills were to our left as we turned south through Longnor village, enjoying the wonderful White Peak countryside.

Down the lovely road through Warslow and Onecote until we dropped down off the Peak at the crossroads with the Leek / Ashbourne road. This we crossed and continued south over the single track railway to Cauldon Lowe, through Ipstones, to the Churnet Valley Railway southern terminus at Frogall.

The step-throughs at Frogall; Steve, Tony, and Malcolm

Another Frogall view. My bike is second from left again.

There were no steam trains running today on the Churnet Valley Railway, only a class 33 diesel and a diesel railcar. The unique stephenson valve-geared Black Five steam locomotive has boiler problems, and the big S160 steam loco isn't ready for service yet.

After a cup of tea and snack (and a warm!) in the Frogall tea room we retraced our tracks as far as the Leek road where we turned for that town. After Leek we rode north through Rushton Spencer to Fools Nook, then onto the lanes to join the A34 at Redesmere, and home via the Alderley bypass.

These step-throughs  with their limited power but extreme 'chuckability' are a different experience to riding 'big bikes'. And not only are they super fun, they do about 130 miles to the gallon so the thrills come cheaply!


Friday, 18 May 2012

A historic visitor to Manchester Airport

Manchester was early onto the aviation scene with airfields at Alexander Park and Wythenshawe, before opening the world's first municipal airport at Barton in 1930. But then, as now, Barton suffered from boggy surfaces in winter, and in what was then a heavily industrialised area it also suffered poor visibility. In 1934 the national Dutch airline KLM's Chief Pilot, Captain Smirnoff, rejected Barton as unsuitable for its international services and removed Manchester from its list of destinations.

Manchester City Council decided to open a new airfield to replace Barton at Ringway in Cheshire. Several farms were purchased and work began in 1935 on converting the farmland into a well-drained grass airfield (they had learnt their lesson from Barton; Ringway was a couple of hundred feet higher than Barton, and didn't suffer boggy conditions). The new Ringway Airport opened in 1938.

On 17th May 1937 de Havilland Hornet Moth G-ADND was en-route from London's Great West Aerodrome (which today is Heathrow) to Barton when it ran into poor weather. Unable to reach Barton, the pilot, Duncan Menzies, put November Delta down on the partially complete new municipal airfield and thus became the first ever aircraft to visit Ringway. On 18th May it positioned to Avro's Woodford airfield nearby, and finally made it into Barton the next day, 19th May.

On Tuesday this week G-ADND flew into Barton, and yesterday (17th May) to commemorate that first Ringway landing, it flew into Ringway, now known as Manchester International Airport. It stayed overnight in the Ocean Sky executive jet hangar, and this morning (18th May) I watched it take off on runway 05L and position to Woodford, re-enacting that flight on 18th May 1937.

Duncan Menzies, November Delta's pilot in that 1937 landing

November Delta landing at Manchester yesterday

The Hornet Moth taxys past the Runway Visitor Park

Posing with the daily A380, just arrived from Dubai

The Moth's crew this week; left is the original pilot's son, Peter Menzies. 
Right is ND's current owner, David Weston

November Delta's panel

Duncan Menzie's Log Book showing those movements in May 1937 in G-ADND

Landing at Barton

Taxying in at Barton

Ringway Airport opened in the following year, 1938. It comprised a terminal, viewing terrace, control tower, and hangar with a concrete apron and well drained grass runways. However, 1938 was not an auspicious time to open an airfield as World War Two broke out the following year. Ringway became RAF Ringway, a training base for paratroopers who were dropped over nearby Tatton Park. 

Many aircraft were constructed in the Manchester area during the war years, at Avro's Chadderton works, Fairey's at Heaton Chapel, and others built under licence in Trafford Park. These were transported to Ringway in sections by road, and assembled in the hangars built for that purpose (some of which still exist) before being flown out to support the war effort. The very first Avro Lancaster bomber flew from Ringway.

These heavy aircraft movements proved too much for the grass runways, and the MOD put in hard runways which, after the war, were inherited by Manchester City Council when Ringway returned to civilian use. It wasn't until the 1970s that the extensive dispersals and hard standings, opposite The Romper pub and alongside the old Style road, were built over. And of course in 2001 the second runway opened, obliterating the site of the South Side hangars where I had flown from myself with the BTJ Group in the '80s and '90s.

Today, Ringway is Manchester International Airport but it is still in local authority ownership (55% of the shares in Manchester Airport PLC are owned by Manchester City Council, 45% by nine other Manchester area local authorities at 5% each). 

There is little left of the old Ringway today. Diminutive November Delta was a anachronism among the almost continuous stream of heavy jets taxying out for take off, or touching down on Manchester's runways this morning as she made her way to the holding point, swinging from side to side in true taildragger fashion so her pilot could see where he was going past the nose. Her Gipsy engine's (just like in Chipmunk Sierra Lima's) unsilenced blattering barely audible above the whine of turbofan engines of the big jets.

Back in 1937 it would have been very different. A wood and fabric biplane on a green field in a quiet corner of rural Cheshire.

Today was a commemoration, not a recreation, of that 1937 historic diversion. 


Thursday, 10 May 2012

Whitby and the North York Moors Railway

On Tuesday I took the train to Whitby to visit the North York Moors railway. A Trans-Pennine Express took me from Manchester Airport to Middlesborough, from where I took the delightful Esk Valley line to Whitby. This must be one of the most scenic lines in Britain, single track with passing loops in the stations it initially climbs to Battersby then follows the valley of the Esk to the seaside town. Having checked into the B&B, I had a stroll round the town.

 Here's an old friend; Steam Bus 'Elizabeth' on her home turf in Whitby. On 15th October 2011 she was at the Runway Visitor Park, and driver Vernon allowed me to spend time as her fireman (see relevant entry in the blog). This time I was a fare-paying passenger.

Maker's plate showing 'Elizabeth' was originally a Sentinel Steam Lorry

Her owner and driver, Vernon ('Vern')

The church on the south headland by the Abbey

Harbour entrance, with the old Whitby Lifeboat giving pleasure trips

I noticed a boat offering trips for £2.50, so just had to have a ride. Here out of Whitby and heading for Sandsend, the next town.

After about twenty minutes, we returned to Whitby; the Abbey is visible above the harbour entrance.

Next came a pint of Copper Dragon at a pub overlooking the harbour. The yellow boat opposite was the one I took a trip on.

BR Standard Class 4, 'The Green Knight' is approved for running on Network Rail metals. Here she is at Whitby on Wednesday morning ready to take us up the valley towards Pickering on the North York Moors heritage railway. The NYM metals leave the Network rail Esk Valley line at Grosmont, about five miles inland from Whitby.

One of countless crossings of the Esk as 'The Green Knight' powers up the valley from Whitby

A couple of vintage tankers just outside Goathland 

North of Levishan 'The Green Knight' was detached from our train so it could work the next train north back to Whitby. It's the only locomotive in steam that day which has the equipment required to work on Network Rail metals. In the distance can be seen the smoke of that northbound train, and its engine will transfer to our train so we can continue south to Pickering.

....And that engine is 92214 (seen, above, at Pickering), a 9F ex-BR freight loco (though they also did sterling service on summer passenger trains - summer because they were never fitted to supply steam heating for the coaches). The only one of the class that carried a name was the last ever steam locomotive built for BR (in 1960), 'Evening Star', which was built at Swindon and therefore finished in Great Western green rather than black, and fitted with a GW copper chimney top. 92214 has been named 'Cock of the North' in preservation, a name which was actually carried by a Gresley locomotive of the London North Eastern Railway.

92214 as viewed from the leading coach of the train as she heads north from Pickering (working tender first; steam locos work just as well backwards as they do forwards). The sound was fantastic - the driver was working her hard and the staccato 2-cylinder bark form this immensely powerful locomotive was echoing off the valley sides making each mighty 'bark' a double one as the echos came back to my ears out of phase with what was emanating from the chimney top.

At Goathland I transferred to a southbound train (hauled by that most useful of locomotives, a BR Standard Class 4 Tank) back to Pickering. This is the view back from the rearmost coach.

This picture was grabbed as we passed the footpath that forms part of the Lyke Wake Walk, a long distance (40 miles) trek across the North York Moors, crosses the line. Back in the late 1960s I attempted this walk as a Venture Scout (with Alderley Edge troop) and the railway back then was an overgrown victim of the Beeching cuts. Restoration was still years in the future.

 Pickering, and having run-around the train our 2-6-4 tank engine (seen here from the rearmost coach) couples on to the northern end to take us back to Grosmont, where I changed to a train hauled by 'The Green Knight' again for the final leg over Network Rail tracks to Whitby.

On the journey north from Pickering I was leaning out watching the big tank engine sway from side to side as it barked its way up the valley when a deer dashed down the bank, skipped across the track just in front of the speeding loco, and scampered up the far bank. 

The final train from Grosmont to Whitby arrived in the seaside town at 17:00, so a full day on the railway had been enjoyed. If you like railways and steam it's a great way to spend a day; it might even become an annual event for me!