Sunday, July 28, 2013

July's Garden

It's amazing what a little bit of heat and sun can do. The garden has had a great summer so far. These surfinias in containers have just sparkled this month.

Usually I have to share what few strawberries that appear with the birds and the slugs. Not this year though. There's nothing quite as tasty as your own, picked and eaten straight away!

Roses used to be my favourite garden flower, but Skip is not the ideal place, being what I like to call an 'informal' garden. This Queen Elizabeth was here when I arrived, and always gives a good display!
I did plant a couple of climbers some years back. This is Rosa Schoolgirl.

And this is climbing Rosa Crimson Glory. Both these climbers have had their best year to date!

This is an unusual Sweet William which I grew from seed.

This border at the side of the house is dominated by a golden Sambucus: Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’. It's a spectacular plant.

Each year I always wonder whether the effort of planting out lots of containers is worthwhile. This year, with the long cold spring, there was a delay in getting started. But it has all worked out quite well, although during the really hot spell earlier this month, daily watering was beginning to be a bit of a chore!

My collection of Hostas has expanded now to more than a dozen. Here's three. They do well in containers. And non-stop begonias are so reliable!

This is the very first of my Bishop's Children to give a flower this year - on July 24. The packet of seeds has done well this year. Most are planted on in containers.

And lastly, having threatened (or should that be procrastinated) for a couple of years, I've eventually planted out a new shrub border. It will be interesting to see how this comes away.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Starr Gate

Having given Blackpool's new trams a year to get established, I made it to the town yesterday, on the last day of my Rail Rover adventures. What a beautiful day it was too. Blackpool at its best!

This photo is of 008 and 001 at Starr Gate where a new depot has been constructed. The tram on the right was the first to be delivered from Germany. There are sixteen of the trams in service. They are Flexity2 trams, built by Bombadier at its light rail manufacturing base in Bautzen. They came overland through Europe, shipped to Hull and brought to Blackpool by low loader. You can see how they were offloaded onto the tracks in this video, here.

Blackpool was the first customer for the Flexity2 trams, and so was where the 'world launch' of the product took place on September 8, 2011, see here. The new trams began working on April 4, 2012, with the 05.00 service to Fleetwood. Apparently the weather was appalling, and the driver had to stop frequently to remove debris from the tracks. Packed with enthusiasts and the press, the tram derailed on windblown sand on a sharp curve in Fleetwood. It was not the most auspicious start for the new trams, but things have been better since. I was certainly much impressed yesterday.

My previous visit to see the old trams is here. Heritage trams can run on the new system and can be seen on holidays and special days. One enthusiast's video record from May this year is here.

010 changing lines at Fisherman's Walk, Fleetwood. Each tram is in five sections, with flexible connections. The capacity of each tram is 222 - with 74 seated and 148 standing! Each tram operates with a driver and two (!) conductors. Stops have raised platforms and wheelchairs and buggies can wheel straight on to the trams.

014 at Fleetwood Ferry, the north end of the line.

There's always the one problem with tramways, that is, if there's an accident or a failure, the service grinds to a halt with the following vehicles unable to progress. This actually happened yesterday morning with an ambulance called to attend a passenger on one of the trams. This had a knock-on effect effect for some hours but enabled me to see the trams at their most crowded!

Away from the trams, there was time yesterday for a bit of culture, and a walk along the prom! This is one of the contemporary sculpture works on the Great Promenade Show, a collection of public art that was commissioned when the South Promenade's seawall and flood defences were rebuilt. It is called Glam Rocks. Peter Freeman is the artist. "Inspired by Las Vegas and the Blackpool Illuminations, three large pebble-like modelled shapes glitter after dark, as hundreds of fibre optic light points on their surface slowly change colour and sparkle."

The large glitter ball in the background is called They Shoot Horses, Don't They? and is by Michael Trainor and The Art Department. This rotating ball is 6m in diameter, covered in some 47,000 mirrors. The name comes from the 1969 film about a ballroom marathon, and of course reflects Blackpool's association with dance.

Photos © Skip Cottage

Sunday, July 14, 2013

To Roose, and beyond

It takes two and a half hours to travel by train down the Cumbrian Coast line from Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness. It's an interesting journey via Dalston, Wigton, Aspatria, Maryport, Flimby, Workington, Harrington, Parton, Whitehaven, Corkikle, St Bees, Sellafield, Seascale, Drigg and Ravenglass for Eskdale - the destination yesterday for many of my fellow passengers. I spent an unforgettable day there in 2010, see here, but yesterday I carried on past Bootle, Silecroft, Millom, Green Road, Foxfield, Kirkby-in-Furness, Askam and into Barrow. At some of these stations the train only 'stops on request', and, if you are on the train, you tell the conductor that you wish the train to stop. But I do wonder what it must be like to stand on the platform, and put your hand out to signal the driver that you want to get on.

I should also point out that there are two other stations on the line at Nethertown and Braystones which are also request stops, but not on every service that passes!

I planned to break my journey in Barrow, a town that I had last visited in 1961.

This Class 153, just the one car, had been my transport, the Northern Rail service, the 08.37 ex Carlisle, now arrived at Barrow and set to return to Whitehaven.

So, how to spend a couple of hours in Barrow? I found my way to the Dock Museum, and discovered a real gem of a visitor attraction!

It looks a bit odd from the outside, but don't let appearances fool you.

The museum is build over one end of an old graving dock. This is the other end!

Part of the museum occupies three floors within the dock.

It gets my vote as the most unusual museum I've ever visited!

Interesting exhibits too. Here is the White Rose, a racing yacht built in 1899 by a local shipbuilding family, the Ashburners. Her story is here.

The Shipbuilders' Gallery holds a splendid collection of ship models. (Cue nostalgic memories of the hall at Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow filled with such models which I used to visit often growing up there in the 1950s.) The photo above is of the model of the battlecuiser HIJMS Kongo, built in Barrow for the Japanese navy in 1912. It is an example of the international reputation of the Vickers shipyard which had already built two battleships for the Japanese navy by that time.

Kongo cost £2,500,000 and was the last important ship which the Japanese had built abroad. Apparently, her design was an improved version of the latest British battlecruisers of the time, and back in Japan, served as the template for similar home-built warships. Kongo was twice rebuilt and refitted in Japan before being sunk by an American submarine off Formosa in 1944. The full history of the ship is here.

The Dock Museum is not all about ships and shipbuilding. The ground floor of the museum covers the social history of Barrow (which is absolutely fascinating), the second floor of the graving dock was home yesterday to an art exhibition, and there is an area where one can watch a variety of films - I particularly enjoyed the one documenting the history of the Furness Railway. I did not realise that, although the origins of the railway were in transporting slate and iron ore, the railway took on a new lease of life in the late nineteenth century and early 1900s, serving a growing tourist market. The railway had its own ships, bringing tourists from Blackpool/Fleetwood to Barrow, then onwards by train, to its own boats on Conniston and Windermere. Part of the Furness Line is now a heritage railway between Haverthwaite and Lakeside. I can't believe it's already four years since I visited, see here.

Across the road from the Dock Museum is the remaining symbol of Barrow's industrial past, the Devonshire Dock Hall, also known as the Trident sheds, built to facilitate the construction of the Trident submarines.

The Furness Railway name lives on as a pub in the town centre!

For me, it was time to catch the 14.16 on to Lancaster (part of the old Furness Railway's route to Carnforth) and complete a round trip back up to Lockerbie. At Barrow, the train from the north duly arrived, the same Class 153 that I had travelled on earlier, back from Whitehaven. But we were all told not to get on board. The train then backed into a siding to couple up to another coach to form a two-car unit, and we were some twenty minutes late in getting away. Now, I don't know if this was a regular occurrence but perhaps Northern Rail was aware of what was to happen.

It was on to Roose, Dalton, Ulverston, Cark, Kents Bank, Grange-over-Sands, Arnside, Silverdale, and Carnforth.  At Kents Bank and Grange a large number of passengers were waiting for the train to arrive, and it was standing room only, even with the two coaches. The day had been one of the Morecambe Bay charity walks, from Arnside over to Kents Bank, see here. Now that looks fun! And by all accounts, it certainly had been a great day yesterday for the participants.

Arriving at Lancaster, I crossed the platform to join a Virgin Pendolino heading for Glasgow. Whoosh... I got off at Carlisle, crossed the platform again, and to my surprise, found another Pendolino headed for Edinburgh but due to stop at Lockerbie. So I was home in a jiffy, in comfort.

Well, not quite. There had been an accident on the M74 at Johnstonebridge, blocking the carriageway, and all traffic north was diverted onto the service road, my usual way home to Skip from Lockerbie. After a mile or so barely moving, I struck out and had an evening hurl to Wamphray via Boreland!

One more day of my Rail Rover ticket remains, to be used by Tuesday. Now, where to go?

Photos © Skip Cottage

Friday, July 12, 2013

'Life goes on day after day'

On board the MV Royal Iris, on a beautiful summer's day!

Liverpool's Royal Liver Building.

A suitable musical accompaniment to these photographs can be found here.

'Life goes on day after day ...'  (Earworm warning!)

One of the two Liver Birds on top of the towers of the Royal Liver Building. According to popular legend (ie Wikipedia and the tannoyed commentary on board the Royal Iris), they are a male and female pair, the female looking out to sea (watching for the seamen to return safely home), whilst the male looks towards the city (making sure the pubs are open). An alternative version says that the male bird is looking in to watch over and protect the families of the seamen. Local legend also holds that the birds face away from each other as, if were they to mate and fly away, the city would cease to exist.

Other traffic on the river, with the Liverpool skyline behind.

You will have gathered that my rail rover ticket took me to Liverpool yesterday, particularly to visit the new Museum of Liverpool.

The museum did not disappoint. My top three choices from the huge amount to see? I was particularly taken by the story of the city's overhead railway (above). Also on display is Chris Boardman's yellow jersey from the 1994 Tour de France. Highlight for me though was the eight-minute AV experience 'The Beatles Show' in a small circular theatre with images projected all around, including clips of the group performing at the Cavern. Magic stuff, and all for free!

Photos © Skip Cottage

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Garforth, Gargrave, Giggleswick and a Great Gathering

Northern Rail sell a variety of 'Day Ranger' and 'Rover' tickets. Armed with one of the latter, I set off yesterday to experience some new lines (for me at least) in the north of England. Carlisle was my starting point.

My first ride of the day was the 10.07 Virgin Trains service heading for Birmingham, stopping at Oxenholme and Lancaster. I got off at Preston where the Voyager had arrived right on time.

This Class 158 was to provide my transport on the Northern Rail 11.54 service from Preston across country to Leeds, and on to York (extra ticket required for this step, in addition to my North West Rover pass). This was not a train journey I had made before. Stops included Blackburn, Accrington, Burnley Manchester Road, Hebden Bridge, Halifax and Bradford Interchange, where I was surprised to find that the onward journey had me facing in a different direction as the train appeared at first to be heading back the way we had just come. Then it was New Pudsey, Leeds, Crossgates, Garforth, East Garforth, Micklefield, Church Fenton and York, arriving at 2.20, on time. An interesting journey, especially the section between Burnley and Halifax which follows the line of the River Calder indeed gives the line the Caldervale Line name. Lots of tunnels too!

My destination yesterday was the National Railway Museum.

The occasion was the 'Great Gathering' where all six remaining A4 Pacific locomotives in preservation had been brought together to celebrate the 75 years since Mallard set the world speed record for a steam train of 126 mph, see here.

Now, I knew it would be busy... and it was! I'm pleased that the event has been such a success, as the NRM has come in for considerable criticism in the past year or so. I'm fond of the museum and have visited many times. But I've never seen crowds like this. Wonderful. Given that there has been talk that the museum may have to close (for example, see here), the success of this fortnight's event must be welcome.

I just wanted to go to York this week, and be part of a unique occasion. I wasn't disappointed.  I'm glad I made the effort. Photography was well nigh impossible. But, above (right to left) is Dominion of Canada, Mallard and Bittern. Note DoC's bell! Of these locomotives, only Bittern still steams, and I photographed it working up the East Coast Main Line back in 2010, see here. (That was the day when it set fires on a number of embankments, and was taken out of service for investigation and repairs almost immediately!) That year I also saw Mallard being pulled to Shildon behind Tornado, here.

Left to right here is Sir Nigel Gresley, Dwight D Eisenhower and Union of South Africa. Sir Nigel Gresley is operational, and has featured on the blog before, see here. As has Union of South Africa, see here.

I was particularly interested in seeing the two locomotives that have been temporarily repatriated from North America. Dwight D Eisenhower was originally named 'Golden Shuttle' when it entered service in 1937. Its story is here. It's usually an attraction at the National Railroad Museum in Green Bay, Wisconsin, USA. It has received a 'cosmetic restoration' at the NRM's workshops in York since arriving from the States, and looked spectacular yesterday.

Dominion of Canada's story is here. The locomotive has been brought back from Exporail (the Canadian Railway Museum) at Delson/Saint-Constant, Quebec, having been donated to celebrate Canada's centennial. From the photos I've seen, it looked in a rather poor condition there, but has received a excellent 'cosmetic restoration' at Shildon, and looks splendid now. I particularly liked the side valances. I found it interesting to be standing at rail level, and appreciating the height of the locomotive, rather than the usual view from a platform.

Some appreciation of what was involved in getting these two locomotives from North America can be seen in this video of them being loaded onto Atlantic Conveyor at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on route to Liverpool. It's one thing to have an idea 'How about getting the two A4s back to this country for Mallard's anniversary', but it is quite another to have made it all happen. I'm in awe of those who had the ideas and worked through the logistics of the operation. The locomotives will return to their home museums next year.

The start of my return journey was a short hop from York to Leeds on this 15.26 First Transpennine Service, heading for Manchester Airport. First Transpennine is not my favourite rail company - for a number of reasons, but mostly because of the cattle class conditions so often provided on the Lockerbie - Edinburgh service I use frequently. Yesterday was yet another example that this company just does not have the rolling stock to allow passengers to travel in comfort. I was, however, impressed by the staff on the train who tried to ensure that every seat was in use, but still some passengers were sitting on the floor. We can bring two locomotives from the USA and Canada, but in 2013, on a mid-afternoon service, we cannot provide paying passengers with a seat. What a country we live in! (Rant over). I was glad to be getting off at Leeds where, according to the tannoy the train was going to get 'quite busy'!

I joined the 16.39 Northern Rail service from Leeds to Morecambe, on a 'Sprinter', a Class 150 DMU, seen here on arrival at Lancaster. The first part of this journey, via Shipley, Bingley, Keighley, Skipton, Gargrave, Hellifield and Long Preston, was familiar to me, as it's the route from Carlisle to Leeds via Settle. But just before Settle yesterday, we looped west via Giggleswick, Clapham, Bentham, and Weddington towards Carnforth. I had wanted to travel this line some years ago in the reverse direction, and was waiting at Carnforth when the service was cancelled that day. But all went well yesterday, and indeed the scenery yesterday was quite magical - blue skies, green fields. Very pleasant.

There was just one little hiccup, a holdup between Carnforth and Lancaster which saw our driver don his hi-vis jacket and climb down to phone to find out the problem, but we were soon on our way, pretty much on time at Lancaster. That was my stop. Morecambe would have to wait another day.

The first train I could catch heading north was a Virgin Pendolino service for Edinburgh, much delayed following an incident 'due to a passenger taking ill and requiring an ambulance'. The 90-minue delay could not have been much fun for those travelling from London. However, from Lancaster to Carlisle via Oxenholme and Preston, I experienced what train travel should be all about, fast and comfortable, and I was soon back in Carlisle.

It had been an interesting day, going to new places, seeing beautiful scenery, experiencing the good and the bad about train travel in 2013, with a wallow in nostalgia included.

Photos © Skip Cottage