Monday, August 27, 2012

Waverley Line Heritage

Whitrope Siding was the highest point on the Waverley Line, which connected Edinburgh to Carlisle. The line was completed in 1862 and closed in 1969. The line's history is here.

The Waverley Route Heritage Association has its base at Whitrope, and with the recent construction of a new platform this is now Scotland's newest (and shortest, and most isolated) heritage railway - the Border Union Railway. From small acorns... !

These two coaches house a shop and a museum.

The museum has lots of interest on the history of the Waverley Line.

 These large photos sent a shiver up the spine of this steam enthusiast!

This Ruston 48DS is one of two diesel shunters on the site. See it in action here.

This railbus (history here) has been providing short runs along the line at weekends. Read about the opening in June here.

 Friendly volunteers. This is Paul, our guard.

End of the line at the moment, where it crosses the B6399. Hopefully a big future is ahead for the railway!

Another volunteer keeping things spic and span!

I've not been able to drive much this summer, so yesterday was a great excursion, through lovely scenery. I made it a round trip via Lockerbie, Langholm, up the A7 to the turnoff on the small road to Hermitage Castle, to the B6399 which connects Newcastleton to Hawick. Whitrope Siding is some dozen miles south of Hawick. I returned via Hawick, Selkirk, and Moffat. And it didn't rain!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Prince William and I

Good to meet up with Prince William today, at Carlisle's Citadel Station.

The Prince is of course a Class 47 diesel, owned by the National Railway Museum, and operated on the main line by West Coast Railways. Today it was the tail of the Cumbrian Mountain Express railtour, and was used to park the coaches while the passengers spent their break shopping in Carlisle.

At the front was 60009 Union of South Africa, see its history here.

Next year is the 75th anniversary of Mallard's world speed record for steam traction, and the National Railway Museum is planning to gather together all six preserved A4s - no mean feat as two are in museums in North America. But I read that they are already in the process of being shipped back here temporarily. To see all six lined up will be really special.

60009 on its way with its support coach to turn round at the Upperby loop.

"Back a bit!" Engine and coach get coupled up for the return leg south.

Pamela was there again too!

Ready to go.

But not before the hard working support staff have a wee break. A caption needed here, I think. How about, "Not a patch on a strawberry Mivvi!"

It was a busy day at the Citadel. This was a diesel excursion headed up to Edinburgh, top and tailed by two DRS Class 47s in Northern Belle Livery, Galloway Princess and Solway Princess.

This was another excursion from London St Pancras to Carlisle and return on this East Midlands Trains HST.

Pretty, yes. But steam traction still gets my vote!

Meanwhile the regular services came and went throughout the day. I am sorry that Virgin is no longer to operate the WCML franchise. They have certainly shown what can be done. One Glasgow bound 11-coach train today carried this name plate. Ironic or what.

And finally... Carlisle is a terminus for some Northern Rail services. Today, passengers on one Cumbrian Coast line departure set off, not by train, but on a replacement bus service. "Calling at all stations!" It's a funny world.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Greatest Factory on Earth

Yesterday I made a return visit to the Devil's Porridge exhibition in Eastriggs. It's a fascinating place. If you've never been, I recommend it! The exhibition remembers the men and women who built and worked at HM Factory Gretna, 'the greatest factory on earth', in munitions production in the first world war. The Devil's Porridge is run by friendly volunteers. The website is here.

One reason for making a second visit is that, since I was last there, the museum has a new addition. This is Sir James, one of fourteen fireless locomotives which worked in areas of the factory where any sparks might cause an explosion. These locomotives were steam powered, and charged at various points in the factory. Sir James was built by Alexander Barclay, Kilmarnock, and was in service at HM Factory Gretna in 1917-18. In 1924 it was sold by the government to the Metropolitan Electric Power Supply Company to work at Brimsdown Power Station in North London, where it was given the name Sir James. In 1975 it was moved to Fleetwood Power Station. In 1982 it joined the collection at the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway, and last year, 2011, it came home! It's in a sorry looking state but I was told that cosmetic restoration is planned.

There were some forty miles miles of standard gauge railway, and thirty-six miles of sidings, inside the factory grounds, as well as nearly fifty miles of narrow gauge. HM Factory Gretna stretched for nine miles west from Longtown, along the Solway coast. The function of the factory was to produce cordite, the propellant for artillery shells.

This is the main tableau inside the museum showing women workers mixing the guncotton and nitro-glycerine, the 'Devil's Porridge', the name being coined by Arthur Conan Doyle in an article written in December 1916 in the Annandale Observer.

The mural at the rear is by Hugh Bryden (commisioned by Friends of Annandale and Eskdale Museums) and gives an idea of the extent of the works. The various processes involved in the manufacture of the cordite were well spread out to minimise the consequences of accidental explosion. The western end of the factory at Dornock (Eastriggs) had the plants for producing the nitric and sulphuric acids, the nitroglycerine and the guncotton. At Mossband near Longtown there was the ether plant and the drying stoves. The finished product, cordite, was then transferred offsite to be assembled into the cartridge cases of artillery shells at munitions works elsewhere in the country.

Some 30,000 were involved in building the works, and it was staffed by 20,000 workers, the majority of whom were women. The townships of Eastriggs and Gretna were built from scratch to house these.

If you are interested in social history, there are walking guides available for both Eastriggs and Gretna, covering the important sites in these new townships and passing the buildings that have survived the past nearly one hundred years. For example, the photo above is one of the three blocks of the Gordon House Hostel (named after Gordon of Khartoum), in Gretna. In front of this building, where the grass is, there was the railway line that linked the Glasgow South Western main line at Gretna Green to the factory rail network.

The Devil's Porridge exhibition also has a detailed WW2 exhibit. I wonder if my own contemporaries will have fond memories of the toilet roll shown in this case. This is the 'Government Property' version of the Izal product ('medicated with Izal germicide') that we had at primary school. Could also be used as tracing paper!

I had forgotten all about this 1950s pastime until my memories were revived with this exhibit of bobbin knitting. And I've now discovered that 'spool knitting' is well recorded, see here.

The war over, HM Factory Gretna soon closed. The fittings were sold at auction, the factory buildings demolished. Some of the land remained in government hands through WW2 until now. The future of the munitions storage depot at Longtown is uncertain, see here, and that at Eastriggs has been mothballed. That's part of the Eastriggs site above.

Eastriggs remains securely fenced off, and off limits to the countryside explorer and industrial archaeologist!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Monday, August 13, 2012

Olympic Odyssey

As I sat down to watch the Olympic opening on July 27, I wondered if I would enjoy what was to follow in the coming days. I admit to being somewhat cynical, what with all the hype. But what an amazing Olympics it was. Starting with that Opening Ceremony!

Circumstances dictated that I was confined to Skip for the duration, but that was not a hardship as things turned out. There was so much to watch, and to celebrate! So much emotion. So many smiles. I knew I was getting in to it when I found myself on my feet shouting at the television as Lizzie Armitstead cycled in a breakaway in the women's road race and won silver, the first medal of the Games for Team GB.

I cried when Katherine Grainger won her gold, and was ecstatic with Bradley Wiggins', Andy Murray's, Ben Ainslie's and Chris Hoy's successes, to pick out just a few of the very many special moments. And what can you say about Mo Farrah and Jess Ennis!

The multi-channel coverage on the BBC was fantastic, and a chance to see in detail my favourite sports, and to learn more about those others that I know little about - from dancing horses to women's boxing! But top for me was the cycling, in all its forms, and the sailing. Perhaps you had to be an enthusiast to watch the final in the women's Elliot 6m, the match races between Spain and Australia on Saturday. This went to a fifth race decider, with the Spanish team finishing on top. Televised sailing... impressive. More please.

London 2012 has certainly provided a welcome 'feel good' episode for the nation. How things have changed since 1960, the first year that I began to take an interest in the Olympic Games. I was just thirteen. I saw from the grainy black and white images on a wee television GB winning just two gold medals. Don Thompson won the Men's 50 km Walk, and Anita Lonsbrough the 200m Breaststroke in the pool. Twenty medals in all. And in the last ten years of course, with the National Lottery and government funding, UK Sport has certainly changed the face of elite sport.

I am sure I will be just as emotional when the Paralympics get underway at the end of the month!

Meanwhile, thanks to all the rain, the garden has bloomed, even without my attention. 

 The containers have worked out well this year.

Some of the Bishop's Children, grown from seed, have flowered well. Others have been disappointing.

 I don't grow my hostas for their flowers, but some give a great display.

 Lush growth, but don't look too hard or you'll see the weeds!

 Perennial bed.

Climbing roses and clematis.

They say, "You are what you eat." If that is true, expect me to look like a mangetout pea next time you see me!

Photos © Skip Cottage