Sunday, July 19, 2015


This is an advert from The Graphic of November 18, 1899. It goes on to say, "SUNLIGHT SOAP is undoubtedly THE BEST SOAP in the World for all-round use." It was the product that set William Lever, the son of a Bolton wholesale grocer, on his way to amassing a personal fortune. His first purchase of paintings which could be used to market his bars of soap led to him becoming a great collector. Read about him here.

The Lady Lever Art Gallery in Port Sunlight is a wonderful place. Lever built it to house his extensive collection of art and other items, and named it after his wife, Elizabeth. It was opened in 1922, see here.

It was one of these places that had been on my 'must visit' list for a while, and it was duly ticked off yesterday. But not entirely. So interesting and enjoyable was my day, that I hope I will be able to return, particularly to see the South Galleries which are currently under restoration.

The main hall.

I took advantage of an introductory tour, and I'm so glad I did. This was our 'visitor host' Cliff, who was just brilliant. Full marks to him. He's standing beside 'The Scapegoat' painted by William Holman Hunt in 1854. This painting was purchased by Lever in 1923.

The gallery's paintings can be seen here.

I'm not usually a big fan of old furniture, but Cliff changed that with his explanations of many of the items on show.

Port Sunlight village is a fascinating place, and it was interesting to walk through it. Lever built it as a place for his workers to live. More info here.

Formal gardens are a rarity these days. I enjoyed seeing the large blocks of roses of one variety, with a name label, once a common feature in public parks. I just wanted to get my secateurs out and start dead heading!

One of the most impressive, and moving, war memorials in the UK is this one on Port Sunlight. The full story is here.

I had just one other stop to make on my way home from Port Sunlight ...

When I was last in Birkenhead I visited the transport museum, see here, but on that day no trams were running on the short stretch of track from the museum to the Pier Head. I had better success yesterday. What a sight!

Dating from 1931-2, the history of this tram is here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Manchester's MOSI

I had a splendid visit to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester yesterday.

Manchester is of course 'Cottonopolis' and I enjoyed learning the various stages by which raw cotton is turned into finished cloth. Many of the machines were shown working by a talented guide, or an 'Explainer', as the museum calls these members of staff.

A special exhibition that I wanted to see was the Wellcome Image Awards 2015.

This was just one of twenty award-winning images 'that show the world's biomedical wonders in minute detail'. The explanation is here. As a sometime biochemist, I was blown away by what this represents. The image was created using a technique called computational molecular phenotyping and shows how metabolism can vary between cells in the same organ at a given point in time. Gets my vote!

The Wellcome exhibition was in a room in this building. The Liverpool Road Station was the Manchester terminus of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, the world's first purpose-built passenger and goods railway. The original coach offices (passenger station, above), warehouse and intervening viaduct survive, making this the oldest station in the world! See here.

My favourite part of the museum though, as you will not be surprised, was the Power Hall. This locomotive was built in 1911 for the North Western Railway of India. It pulled express mail trains until 1947. It was then used by Pakistan Railways and latterly converted to be oil-fired. Why is it at MOSI? It was made locally by Vulcan Foundries, Newton-le-Willows.

This is 'Ariadne', an EM2 (Class 77) locomotive, built around 1954 by the British Rail locomotive works at Gorton, Manchester, to haul passenger trains between Manchester and Sheffield in the late 1950s and 60s. It was sold to the Netherlands Railway where it saw use until 1986.

Star exhibit for me was this 'Beyer-Garratt' locomotive, built by Beyer, Peacock and Co, in 1930, at Gorton. No 2352 hauled South African passenger trains out of Durban from 1931 to 1938, and then coal up until 1972. All about Garratts here.

In the cab of the Garratt.

The old and the new, the Beetham Tower in the background. Manchester is quite a city, and I hope to explore more of it another day.

I got stopped in my tracks when I stumbled over this exhibit in the Connecting Manchester gallery, on the second floor of the 1830 Warehouse. It's a 1970s HiFi system, built up from a variety of separate components, as one did back then if you were something of a HiFi snob. That's a Pioneer turntable, and a pair of Wharfedale speakers. Now I owned these (with a Technics amplifier) as my music machine, in the days when one listened to LP vinyl records. The system lasted me well into the 1990s. Antiques now, perhaps, but seeing these items as a museum exhibit made me feel very, very old! Still, in searching for some HiFi nostalgia, I did find the Vintage Knob website, here.

Photos © Skip Cottage 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Tornado in Wamphray

A complete rainbow over the West Coast Main Line on Friday evening was a sure sign of something special about to happen.

So with that good omen, I joined a good number of fellow 'enthusiasts' on Saturday morning, at Lockerbie Station, for a few seconds of excitement!

Here is LNER A1 Class 4-6-2 no 60163 Tornado, after its recent overhaul, pulling a steam charter. The 'Border Reivers' left from Carlisle to do a circular route northwards via the West Coast Main, through Wamphray, to Paisley, Ayr, Mauchline, Thornhill, Dumfries, and back to Carlisle.

Scotrail's new franchise holder Abellio has ventured into steam charters to showcase the country’s scenery, and is part of their marketing strategy to encourage more visitors to travel by train. Gets my vote!

At my age, I am happy when excitement comes in short bursts. But watching Tornado whoosh through Lockerbie was very much a case of 'blink and you've missed it'.

So, later in the day, to get more of a 'steam fix', I was waiting at Carlisle's Citadel Station to welcome the charter back to its starting point, right on time. It was somewhat disconcerting to see the train arrive at platform 3 from the north. Most steam arrives in Carlisle from the south.


A happy driving crew poses for photographs.

Considering it was a new build in 2008, Tornado seems to have gained a lot of affection amongst steam enthusiasts.

The locomotive ran around the SRPS rake of carriages quickly and efficiently.

Tender first, Tornado was soon on its way north again. The Border Reivers charter was a sell out, I note. I look forward to seeing more steam on Scottish lines in the future.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Saturday, June 20, 2015


The museum at Beamish (The Living Museum of the North) had been on my 'to visit' list for a while. I really wanted to see the trams, but I found so much more. It's quite a place!

No 196 was built in 1935 in Portugal, and brought to Beamish in 1989. Here it's running in the blue and primrose colours of South Shields. On the right is Sunderland Corporation Tramways No 16 which was built as an open-top tramcar by Dick, Kerr & Co, Preston, in 1900.

The museum occupies quite an area, and the trams run in a one and a half mile loop round the site.

Blackpool 31, constructed in 1901. Love it!

Avonside No 1764 'Portbury' was getting coaled up here, prior to its day's work. The history of this locomotive is here.

It's only a short line at Beamish, but there was a lot of interest in riding aboard. The station buildings were moved to Beamish from Rowley, a village near Consett, County Durham. The signal box came from Carr House East, also near Consett, and dates from 1896.

Now here's a beast - a 1931 Ruston Bucyrus 25-RB 125 ton, steam-powered excavator. Reminds me that I must visit Threlkeld again, see here.

Buses too. This B-Type replica in the livery of the early 1920s Newcastle Corporation Transport.

It was the small things which added to the day. I seem to remember learning all the road signs like this to pass my driving test all these years ago.

This was a wall at the back of the bus shelter, constructed using different bricks from a multitude of local brickworks.

The museum stands on a site which was at the heart of the Durham coalfield, and there is much to see in the 1900s Colliery area.

I was (of course) interested in the colliery railway, the core of which is standard gauge, but there also narrow gauge tracks. This is No 18, a Stephen Lewin locomotive, from 1877, which was in steam and at work on my visit.

No 18 worked for 93 years at Seaham Harbour.

It is a working museum!

Awaiting restoration!

Made my day!

The 1900s town is full of interest. I particularly enjoyed the interior of the local printers and newspaper branch office.

It may have been a busy Sunday, but the site is large enough to accommodate everyone. This was the only queue I encountered - for the sweetie shop!

Beamish was a great place to visit. I'll certainly go back. I think it will take many visits to see everything! The official website is here.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, May 25, 2015


At the east end of Talla Reservoir near Tweedsmuir is a little track which heads south, following the course of the Games Hope burn.

I had a perfect day for my walk, but this old rail is the remains of a bridge, and is a reminder that, in flood, the burn can be particularly powerful.

Not too far in is Gameshope bothy, and I could see that work was being done there early on Saturday morning, so keeping my feet dry I continued up the glen, with the intention of visiting the bothy later in the day.

If you like waterfalls, then the Gameshope has them in abundance.

Even in a dry spell, the burn was carrying a weight of water, draining the surrounding hills - Great Hill, Cape Law, Din Law and Garlet Dod.

Looking back down the glen.

Looking ahead over Crunklie Moss.

Peat bogs are wonderful places, but you would not want to be wandering around here in poor light! The photo doesn't really show how deep this hole is!

My first destination was Gameshope Loch.

One has to admire the wall builders of yesteryear. This one past its best now. My route was to follow the line of the wall to near the top of Garelet Dod, at 698 metres, my second target for the day.

I was rewarded with this view. Yes, wind farms in the distance, and a weather front moving in from the west.

Big sky country.

On one of my many stops on my way down, I found these smiling faces. No sheep anymore (see below), so hopefully more in the way of natural flora and fauna in the future.

On the map hereabouts is a feature marked as 'Skull Heads'. Well, with a bit of imagination .... !

It was a welcome sight to see the bothy, on the left of the storage shed.

What a wonderful wee bothy, maintained by the MBA, see here.

It's just the one room, and was spotless on my visit. Full marks to Mike, the MO, whom I had seen earlier in the day.

And the bothy is a splendid memorial to Andrew Jensen.

What a setting it has!

For me, it was a great day, with no blocks of conifers in view, and the windfarms still far off in the distance. The good news is that the Gameshope estate was purchased recently by the Borders Forest Trust, see here, and the future of the area is assured. Let's hope so.

The bothy has a wonderful feature ... its own 'moat'! There's no bridge across the burn, just a ford. Whichever way you look at it, it was going to be wet feet. However, with a pair of dry socks in my pack, it was a comfortable walk out!

Photos © Skip Cottage