Saturday, 28 July 2012

'Steppers' step out again

Nestling in the wooded Churnet Valley, next to the railway line at Consall Forge, is a delightful pub called the Black Lion. I've seen it many times from passing trains on the heritage railway, and visited it about three decades ago when we were on a narrow boat on the Caldon Canal (the River Churnet, Caldon Canal, and the railway share the valley here. Indeed the Caldon Canal joins the river between Cheddleton and here). Our intrepid group of bikers was looking for an interesting place to visit today on our step-throughs (steppers), so I suggested the 'Black Lion'.

Tony, Malcolm, and myself set off this morning via Chelford, Marton, Bosley, Leek, and Cheddleton. Tony and Malcolm were on Yamaha Townmates, me on my Honda C90 Cub. The last few miles to the pub are along a narrow road down into the valley, that deteriorates into a gravel track, and finally a footpath over the river and canal. This is the only access to the Black Lion other than by canal boat or train, walking from nearby Consall station in the case of the latter.

Just poor quality phone photos again, I'm afraid.

Our 'steppers' parked on the grass just across the railway line from the Black Lion

The step-throughs were easily able to negotiate the footpath and footbridge, and we parked by the railway line, just short of the pub and walked to a table in the pub garden. A pint of superb hoppy golden bitter was just the thing on this warm summer day; but no more than a pint as we still had quite a bit of riding to do. I met David English from Stockport Walkers who was on a mini-bus pub crawl! Almost as daft as what we were doing!

Malcolm and Tony, the Black Lion in the background
After a bite to eat we set off through Kingsley, Frogall, Ipstones, and up into the White peak past Onecote and Warslow to Longnor, enjoying the fabulously clear views across this dramatically sublime hill country.

 The Dragon's back hills - Chrome Hill and Parkhouse Hill, near Longnor

At Longnor Tony did his usual trick of getting in front and missing a turn-off. He went straight on at Longnor instead of turning left for Axe Edge and the Cat & Fiddle. Malcolm and I waited about 15 minutes at the junction, but he didn't come back so we headed off without him.

Down the sinuous Cat & Fiddle road, through Macclesfield to Alderley where we stopped for fuel, our next port of call was the Victory Hall at Mobberley for the beer festival. Tony was there when we arrived, and we were soon joined by Ivan who rode across the short distance from Wilmlsow on his Puch moped.

Ivan arrives at Mobberley Victory Hall on his Puch, and parks it next to Malc and Tony's Townmates, and my C90. Note the rainclouds building. We soon 'enjoyed' a few short but heavy showers.

By now the rain showers had arrived. We sat outside in an open-fronted shelter as Tony and Malc wanted to smoke, with a pint of 'Wizard' bitter from the Merlin micro-brewery at Arclid, an excellent way to end our day out.

I think we'll be visiting the Black Lion again soon!


Thursday, 26 July 2012

'Alycidon' spotted today from 'Planet'.....

 Me and the fireman both looking back to our train as I drive 'Planet' at MoSI

I was firing our replica 1830 Robert Stevenson 'Planet' locomotive (seen above) at Manchester Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) today when, while we were at the 'Salford' end of the line, this rare beast hove into view....

 D9009 Deltic locomotive 'Alycidon'

'Deltic' locomotive 'Alycidon' heading for Manchester Victoria (and on to the East Lancashire Railway). D9009 was returning light-engine to ELR after heading a Kings Cross - Edinburgh special yesterday.

These locos have a very distinctive sound from their two 18 cylinder high speed 2-stroke Deltic engines of unique configuration (total power 3,300hp); a sort of 'thrumming howl'. She gave us a lively toot on the air horns, we of course responded with energetic whistling!

Here's an animation of the Deltic engine with its 3 geared crankshafts, courtesy of Wikipedia:


Tuesday, 24 July 2012

AEW&DFPS walk from Church Stretton

I'm Secretary of the Alderley Edge, Wilmslow & District Footpath Preservation Society ( ) and today Ivan, our former Chairman, organised a walk from Church Stretton in Shropshire. We caught the 9:43 train from Wilmslow this morning. It was a glorious day of hot sunshine and we began with a visit to Berry's tea shop on the High Street, where I enjoyed a refreshing glass of home made lemonade.

Poor quality pictures from my ancient phone, I'm afraid.. Forgot to take the Canon G12!

Marion and Ivan relax in Berrys tea shop garden

We decided to split into two groups, Ivan leading some up to the Long Mynd, myself and Hilary leading another group up over Ragleth Hill. Our walk started with a stiff climb up out of Church Stretton to the south east, past houses at first, until we came to a stile into woodland at the lower part of the hill. The path steepened considerably and the gradient didn't let up until we emerged on the shoulder of the hill above the woods. Then it got even steeper over the open ground to the top, where we stopped for a picnic lunch. It was not only intensly hot, but clear as well allowing wide and stunning views all around; the Long Mynd to the west, Clee hill to the south, The Wrekin and Peckforton Hills to the north, and Wenlock Edge to the east.

The long ridge-top of Ragleth Hill pointed our way forward to the south west, and we followed the path with its delightfully springy short grass across the three summits of the ridge.

Looking back from Ragleth's southernmost summit to its middle summit, with the summits of Caer Carodoc and Hope Bowlder either side of it

Church Stretton from Ragleth's southernmost summit

 Little Stretton from the same viewpoint

Off the southern end of Ragleth was very steep descent and I was glad I'd brought my walking poles with me. I found this descent harder than the ascent, but at last we emerged past some cottages onto the main A49 road, which we crossed to arrive at the pub in Little Stretton just in time for a pint before it closed!
One or two members of the group were suffering in the heat so we decided to take the local bus back to Church Stretton (good job I had my bus pass with me). There, we met the other group who had enjoyed a tough walk up to The Mynd and back.

The combined group enjoy and end of walk drink in Church Stretton before catching the train home to Wilmslow.

Thank you Ivan for organising a great day out. You must tell me where you order your weather from!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Foxfield Railway Summer Steam Gala (and a 'Streak' at Alderley!)

I've heard a lot about this little railway and thought I'd pay it a visit. But just after leaving home I stopped near the Alderley bypass to watch a steam special go by.

A 'Streak' (Gresley A4 Pacific) near Alderley this morning. 'Union of South Africa', which has recently been re-built at Crewe, was hauling the North Wales Coast Express.

This weekend is the Summer Steam Gala at Foxfield, and after I'd found the railway (not easy!) and bought my ticket I caught the train from the start of the line at Caverswall Road near Blythe Bridge in Staffordshire, to Dilhorne.

The line was built originally to transport coal from Foxfield colliery to the North Staffordshire rail line at Blythe Bridge. Only the section from Caverswall Road to Dilhorne is used for passenger trains, the final section to Foxfield (which has banks a steep as 1 in 19) is currently used only for freight trains. I (unexpectedly) met Matt from the MoSI railway on the platform, watched a freight train depart from Dilhorne, and another arrive from Foxfield, before catching the train back down to Caverswall Road. Matt managed to blag his way onto the brake van to get a ride to Foxfield!

 0-6-0 saddle tank 'Ugly' (unfortunate name!) backs down onto the passenger train at Dilhorne, having come off the goods train in the background which it has hauled from Foxfield

The passenger train departs Dilhorne for Caverswall Road

This video shows the arrival of a freight train at Dilhorne, headed by 'Whiston', as it climbs the bank from Foxfield

 The freight train at Dilhorne. The fireman has just put a fresh round of coal onto his fire, hence the smoke!

The next passenger train (double headed by Bagnall no.2 and Bellerophon) arrives from Caverswall Road. These locomotives will take the freight train back to Foxfield, while the green saddle tank 'Whiston' will take the passenger train back to Caverswall Road.

Pictured from the passenger train the two locos (Bellerophon nearest camera), come off that train ready to run forward onto the freight

No.2 and Bellerophon seen from my passenger coach window couple onto the freight train. We will meet these two engines shortly at Foxfield.

The passenger train took me back to Caverswell Road where I boarded the free shuttle bus to Foxfield colliery, the other end of the line. Where I met these two again!

No.2 and Bellerophon at Foxfield

Foxfield colliery site

A study of Bellerophon, a locomotive I last met at the Keithley & Worth Valley Railway on the Styal Mill trip to that line (see the blog entry 9th October 2010)

The 1901 Dubbs crane tank at Foxfield

Before leaving Foxfield on the bus to return to Caverswall Road I videoed Bellerophon and Bagnall No.2 storming the 1 in 19 bank out of Foxfield bound for Dilhorne

Finally, I saw this arrive at the railway. An apparently road-legal racing sidecar outfit!


Wednesday, 18 July 2012

More fun on the Churnet Valley Railway

I did my third stint as trainee crossing keeper today (leading to becoming a signalman, hopefully), and the forecast heavy rain didn't happen - we had a lovely sunny day instead.

I called in at Leekbrook on the way to Cheddleton this morning to check that all was well there, and on reaching Cheddleton noted no locomotive in steam. The N7 tank engine, currently the only steam locomotive on the railway which is fully serviceable, had failed with a steam leak, so the day's services were diesel hauled by a class 33 locomotive.

Apologies for the poor quality of the photos in this post; I did not have my camera with me so had to use my rather ancient phone camera. As ever, please click on the pictures for a larger image.

One of two resident Class 33 diesel locomotives, 33021 is the only one in full working order and it provided our motive power today, the N7 steam locomotive having failed

After the usual preparations and walking the line to Leekbrook tunnel we saw the first train off to Froghall. Later, I decided to ask to sample a view of the line from the cab of the diesel locomotive, and when the third train of the day arrived at Cheddleton I walked along the track to the loco and asked the driver if I could do a run with them. "Of course, come on up" he replied.

A view out of the door of 33021; the driver awaits the 'right away' from the guard, while beyond is the big S160 2-8-0 steam locomotive that started my interest in this railway and my footplate volunteering at MoSI. 
I had been bought a 'driver experience' by the family as my 60th birthday present which took place on S160 no.5197, and that came with a year's membership of the railway. The driving experience led me to volunteer at MoSI as steam locomotive footplate crew where I am currently a passed fireman and occasional driver, and I kept up the Churnet Valley membership. Reading the CVR member's magazine led me to volunteer on this railway with the aim of becoming a signalman.

View of the line from the second man's position in 33021
Our train in Froghall station viewed from the 'rear' cab (which was the 'front' cab on our southbound trip from Cheddleton), as we run-around it to couple on at the northern end for the return journey up the valley

 Our locomotive coupled on at Froghall, ready for the return journey up the line

Approaching Cheddleton on our northbound journey. Trains don't stop here northbound, but continue up to the northern terminus of the line at Leekbrook Junction

The view from the cab as we come to a stand at Leekbrook Junction, ready to run round our train for the southbound journey to Froghall, stopping at Cheddleton and Consall. Leekbrook signal box (soon to be restored) is on the left, and beyond the gate the line from Stoke-on-Trent comes in from the left, while further north the line to Cauldon Lowe diverges to the right. CVR trains occasionally run onto the Cauldon branch, and will do so on the Stoke branch once that is fully restored.

 To change ends at Leekbrook, we walked to the opposite-end cab through the engine room. Here is the DC generator which, driven by the loco's diesel engine, provides power for the bogie-mounted traction motors.

 Gauges mounted on the engine at the opposite end to the generator

 The 1,500hp Sulzer straight-8-cylinder diesel engine in the engine room

 Approaching Cheddleton from Leekbrook

The driver's console seen at Cheddleton, where I left the train

I thanked the driver for my ride up and down the line in the cab of the 33, and returned to help John, the rostered crossing keeper, with that job. The good weather brought out plenty of visitors so the station and the trains were busy. Our job on the crossing was not too demanding so we had plenty of time to appreciate the lovely scenery of Cheddleton on this delightfully sunny day in what has been to date an otherwise wet and dismal summer.


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Churnet Valley Railway - first full day as trainee crossing keeper

The first step to becoming a signalman on the Churnet Valley Railway is to train as a crossing keeper. When passed as qualified crossing keeper, one can begin signaller training; today was my first full day training at Cheddleton crossing.

Cheddleton level crossing. The crossing keeper's hut is on the left.

The job is, on the face of it, pretty simple. The road crossing is protected on the railway by fixed distant and and home signals permanently set at 'danger'. When a train approaches in either direction, an annunciator sounds and the keeper closes the gates to road traffic. Once the gates are secured closed, he gives the approaching train a 'yellow flag' indication, which authorises the driver to pass the home signal despite it being set at 'danger'. After the train has cleared the crossing, the gates are opened to road traffic again.

At the start of the day the electric lamps have to fitted to the gates, and the annunciator and signal lights switched on and checked. But before preparing the crossing, there may be some shunting to be done from the signal box at Cheddleton.

Cheddleton signal box frame. Only 5 of the levers are used; the extreme right hand one unlocks the frame, and can only be moved to the 'unlock' position when the key (which is on the train token) is inserted into the box at its base. This ensures that once the points are set and locked for main line running (where they remain throughout the working day) they cannot be moved as the token is on the train, not in the signal box. The two black levers control the crossover points to allow locomotives to move out of the yard or bay onto the main line, and the blue lever which is 'back' controls the facing point lock for the point in the crossover pair which is on the main line. Finally, the extreme left lever unlocks the frame north of the road crossing at Cheddleton.

The picture above shows the interior of Cheddleton box and what the levers do. The train token (which is required to be on board any train that operates on the line) is locked in a cupboard in the 'box. The crossing keeper will use his keys to retrieve the token and use that to unlock the frame and set the crossover for the locomotive to enter the main line from the yard or from the bay platform, then re-set the crossover so the 'road' is set for main line running. The frame is then re-locked and the token handed to the loco crew as 'authority to run'. That they now posses the token prevents Cheddleton points from being changed away from the 'main line running' setting as long as trains are running on the main line. 

On days when two trains are running (as has been described earlier in this blog) the token is split into a 'Froghall - Consall' token and a separate 'Consall - Leekbrook' token, so that only the train in possession of the relevant token may run on the relevant section of line.

Sometimes the train crew carry out the shunting operation, sometimes the crossing keeper does it. If it is required to release a train from the Cheddleton station siding out onto the main line, the remote frame north of the road crossing is unlocked from Cheddleton frame, the points operated from the remote frame, then the remote frame is locked again by Cheddleton frame being locked.

Leekbrook tunnel, from the Cheddleton end

The crossing keeper should either drive to Leekbrook before train running starts to check no vandalism has taken place there that would affect operations, and should check that Leekbrook tunnel is clear of obstructions. Alternatively, he can walk to the tunnel from Cheddleton to check it, and also to check that the road overbridge on this section is undamaged.

 The guards 'office' in the train of ex-BR MK1 coaches. The green ring placed on the handbrake wheel indicates the brake is not 'on'. It is only applied when the train is at rest and the locomotive is not providing vacuum to keep the brakes on. When the handbrake is applied, a red ring is placed on it as a reminder.

Late morning, I took a ride on the up train to Froghall with Peter Green, the Guard, in his 'office', to see the Guard's job first hand.

Our engine, the N7 tank I rode last time I here, 'with the bag in' (taking water)
at Froghall

At each end of the line, Peter moves the tail lamp to the other end of the train
ready for the return journey

At Leekbrook, a working party can be seen on the line to Stoke via Endon. This should open between Leekbrook and Endon later this year

My mentor on this training day is Kevin, and here's a 'train's eye view' of
Kevin at Cheddleton crossing as we approach from Leekbrook

I left the train when it arrived back at Cheddleton, and the locomotive got a new crew. Here the two drivers, one going off shift and the other coming on, have a chat.

On the Moorland & City line from Leekbrook to Cauldon Lowe, there's another crossing 
to be manned when that line is in use. It is at Apesford, and Kevin drove me to have a look at it. Here is the line looking towards Cauldon Lowe, with the crossing keeper's hut on the left.

The crossing at Apesford with the original crossing keeper's house

Picturesque station buildings at Cheddleton, with the DMU stabled in the station siding behind crossing gates. The railway has plans to re-open this siding as a station loop line, and replace the gates with proper wooden gates operated by wheel from a new signal box north of the crossing at Cheddleton.

It was an early start (08:00) at Cheddleton, and we finished about 17:45 so it's a long day. Only about five more to do and all being well I can start signaller training! We shall see!