Picture of the week: 13/12/21

LAST week’s picture choice highlighted the discovery of a batch of old photographs from almost half a century ago recalled a glorious summer holiday exploring the railways of the Lake District.

The year was 1974 and for five railway-mad teenagers, the perfect destination for a first summer break away from home was a dream cottage just feet from the West Coast main line near Shap Summit.

From there, it was just a short drive to explore the spectacular scenery of the famous Settle & Carlisle route, or venture westwards to find out what was left of the long-closed Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway.

The Settle-Carlisle line is the 73-mile-long section of the old Midland Railway main line running through glorious scenery in the Yorkshire Dales and the North Pennines and boasting a number of notable tunnels and viaducts, making it one of the UK’s most popular routes for steam charter trains and specials.

Much loved by railway photographers for its glorious backdrops, the line links towns like Settle and Appleby-in-Westmorland with a number of rural communities along the route.

At the time of our visit, the line still boasted old-fasioned Midland “totem” signs, like those at Appleby West, where the Midland line crossed the old North Eastern Railway route to Kirkby Stephen, the Eden Valley line.

This was a time in the line’s history where services were not exactly flourishing, but thankfully the route survived closure attempts in the 1980s after a spirited campaign mounted by rail groups, enthusiasts, local authorities and residents.

Just as well. Passenger numbers have soared since then, with closed stations reopening and quarries being reconnected to the line, allowing passengers to continue to savour what has been consistently voted one of the world’s “ten greatest train journeys”.

Armed with old local Ordnance Survey maps, our mission was to track down the routes of the lost lines which once linked the surviving routes in a rainbow of colours on our pre-grouping atlas, the book which so helpfully shows the ownership of lines before the 1923 amalgamation into four major systems: the LNWR, LNER, Southern Railway and Great Western.

After a visit to Carnforth – then and now a place of pilgrimage for railway enthusiasts and the station where the film Brief Encounter was partly filmed in February 1945 – there was time to meander back past the closed Midland stations at Halton, Caton and Hornby before rejoining the line to Hellifield and head north to Settle.

This is a landscape of evocative place names and stunning scenery, from the 1.5mile-long Blea Moor Tunnel to the towering 104ft-high Ribblehead viaduct. But back in 1974 many of the station buildings were in poor condition or privately owned.

Onwards to Dent, Hawes Junction and the signal box at Ais Gill summit and into Kirkby Stephen, where the East station still had its overall roof, though the goods yard and shed had been removed. Thankfully this is another location to get a new lease of life, courtesy of the Stainmore Railway Company.

If the West Coast mainline had its thundering Class 86 and 87 electric-hauled expresses barrelling up and down the main line between Euston and Glasgow, the Settle line still boasted a rich collection of the diesels of the era, particularly the “Peak” class locomotives whose names echoed the contours of the British landscape.

Originally numbered D1-D10, D11-D137 and D138-D193, the Class 44, 45 and 46 diesels rolled off the production line at Derby and Crewe from 1959 and were withdrawn from the end of the 1970s right through the 1980s.

Class 45s replaced steam as the main traction on the Midland Main Line from 1962 and had a 20-year heyday there until they were relegated to secondary services following introduction of high-speed trains on the route.

Back in 1974 they were still in their element on the main line as we meandered north through Long Marton, New Biggin and Culgaith to Langwathby, Lazonbury & Kirkoswald and Armathwaite, some proudly bearing their new computerised numbers introduced the previous year, like 45009 at Hawes Junction, others still bearing the original numbers, like 21 at Horton-in-Ribblesdale or 24 and 31 at Appleby West. The D prefix was dropped in 1968 when the last steam engines were withdrawn.

There are other diesel interlopers we stumble across on our wanderings too, naturally. A couple of Class 25s crossing Blea Moor viaduct, with others at Ormside, Long Marton and Culgaith. And even the smell of steam to be recaptured at the Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway near Ulverston.

There are Class 50s galore over at Oxenholme, Kendal, Ulverston, Dalton and Barrow, not to mention the odd Class 40 wandering around Newbiggin and Culgaith.

But if the pictures predictably provide a visual record of railway comings and goings around the Lakes in the mid-1970s, they also offer a vivid reminder of a remarkable week of youthful exploration and discovery.

Rediscovering the shots when the slides were finally burned onto CD in 2019 provided a chance to look back through the notebooks and discover exactly where we ended up on that memorable Shap holiday.

Scrupulous notes and diagrams record what buildings and tracks remained on some of the closed lines, faithfully following the route of the Cockermouth, Keswick and Penrith route from Workington to Penrith, and then working east again from Kirkby Stephen towards the now-infamous Barnard Castle.

The Cockermouth line closed west of Keswick in April 1966 and the Keswick to Penrith section followed in March 1972, which meant that there was still plenty of evidence to be found of platforms, old station buildings and signalboxes. Today, much of the latter section is maintained as a cycle and walking route.

As for the old North Eastern Railway line east from Tebay, the tracks had long been lifted at Gaisgill, Ravenstonedale, Barras and Bowes following closure in the 1960s.

Not as insightful and amusing as Adrian Mole’s teenage diaries, perhaps. But a wonderful glimpse back into a time of innocence and adventure set against the timeless scenery of the Lake District landscape.

Picture of the week: 06/12/21

IT’S funny how a photograph has the power to sweep the years away in an instant.

This chance discovery from almost half a century ago recalled a glorious summer holiday in the Lake District while studying for A levels.

As a party of railway-mad teenagers, our destination for that break in July 1974 was a dream cottage, literally feet from the West Coast main line near Shap Summit.

And as well as offering the chance to watch the electric-hauled express trains thundering past the door, it provided the perfect touring base to explore the glorious Settle & Carlisle line south towards Leeds, or the long-closed Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway west towards Workington.

But if the holiday was SO memorable, how come the pictures remained hidden for almost 50 years? The answer, in part, lies in changing technology.

For these pictures were taken as colour slides, which might have been perfect for showing on the school’s slide projector – but not owning one at home meant it was never really possible to see what the pictures actually showed.

With exams to prepare for – and the excitement of university beckoning – it wasn’t long before the small collection of a few dozen slides was consigned to a little box at the back of a cupboard, surviving a succession of house moves, but their contents never seeing the light of day.

Flash forward to 2019 and the chance to get the slides burned onto CD finally provided the opportunity to see those shots from almost 50 years ago.

Predictably, perhaps, most might be only of interest to railway enthusiasts, with many of them chronicling the stream of Class 86 and 87 electric locomotives barrelling up and down the main line between Euston and Glasgow.

It also showcases some spectacular Lake District scenery – this part of the route over bleak Shap Fell was hacked out by thousands of tough navvies using picks and shovels in an amazing piece of Victorian engineering from 1844 onwards.

But what of that cheeky smile in the signalbox mirror? Although in the year below the rest of us at school, Pete – or Charlie as he tends to be known these days – was a sufficiently dedicated railway enthusiast to be welcomed along for the week-long adventure.

Nice, then, to discover that Charlie never lost his love of railways – or his equally affectionate memories of that break in the Lake District all those years ago. As he said in 2019 when the pictures first came to light: “I often look out of the window when I’m heading north to see whether I can see that cottage. I spend my life playing with trains…… busman’s holiday really.”

And what of that glorious Settle & Carlisle line? More of that next week, perhaps.

Rewilding one of London’s lost railways

IT’S more than half a century since a train last ran through Crouch End railway station in north London.

But there are probably more people wandering along its platforms today than at the height of the steam railway era.

That’s partly because this line never really enjoyed a true “heyday” and partly because the route has been a parkland walk for more than 35 years.

It may be only a few miles from the modern transport hub of Finsbury Park, but the line through here to Highgate and the branch from there to Alexandra Palace never really took off in the way the developers had hoped.

It was built by the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway and opened on 22 August 1867, running from Finsbury Park to Edgware via Highgate.

Branches would follow to Alexandra Palace and High Barnet. Swallowed up by the Great Northern Railway and later the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), part of the route would become the High Barnet branch of the Northern Line, but ambitious Tube expansion plans in the 1930s were thwarted by the Second World War.

In some ways Alexandra Palace was doomed from the start. The branch was constructed by the Muswell Hill Railway Company and opened on 24 May 1873 along with the palace. However, when the palace burned down only two weeks after opening, the service was considerably reduced and then closed for almost two years while the palace was rebuilt.

There were other periods of temporary closure too due to insufficient demand, though in 1935 it looked as if it would get a new lease of life when London Underground revealed plans to electrify the branch.

Works to modernise the track were well advanced when they were halted by the war, services reduced to rush hours only as a result of wartime economy measures.

After the war, dwindling passenger numbers and a shortage of funds led to the cancellation of the unfinished works in 1950 and British Railways withdrew passenger services to Alexandra Palace on 3 July 1954 along with the rest of the route from Finsbury Park.

After the track was lifted, most of the platforms and station buildings were demolished but two sections from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace, excluding the tunnels and station at Highgate, were converted into the Parkland Walk, which was officially opened in 1984.

Stroud Green station consisted of two wooden side platforms which were gutted by fire in 1967 and demolished shortly afterwards, but Crouch End was more substantial and both platforms survive.

The line continued to be used for goods into the 1960s and by London Underground for train stock movements until 1970 when it was completely closed. The track was lifted a couple of years later, by which time it was already being used as an unofficial walkway.

A hundred years ago the steam train took just six minutes to get here from Finsbury Park, and another 10 or 11 to chug all the way round to Alexandra Palace.

Today the journey takes a little longer but the 3.9-mile route is designated a local nature reserve, part of the 78-mile Capital Ring Walk round Inner London, and reveals a glimpse of north London life that motorists never see.

From here a glance back at the city skyline reminds you just how far this feels from the hubbub of central London – a green corridor of trees and birdsong providing 21st-century Londoners with a welcome respite from the concrete jungle and rumble of city traffic.

Vlogger Henry picks up the pace

HENRY Allum doesn’t need much encouragement to go for a walk.

Show him a footpath, ancient abbey or closed railway line and he’s off, map, phone and microphone at the ready, all set to plan another video upload for his Youtube channel.

So it seems only natural to suggest we meet in Black Park for a chat and ramble, given that Henry has been back home with his parents in Chalfont St Peter since the lockdown began in March – and using that time to visit as many interesting places on his old home patch as he can.

HOME TURF: Henry has featured more local destinations during lockdown

It was around 2016 that the 31-year-old first thought about uploading short videos about his visits to heritage railways, but now Henry’s Adventures have become a regular feature on Youtube, Facebook and Instagram, with hundreds of subscribers checking in to see what he’s been up to.

In the past couple of years his uploads have begun to attract a lot more attention – not only from railway enthusiasts but a more general audience intrigued by a range of different subjects, from outdoors rambles to historical sites.

REGULAR UPLOADS: Henry’s subjects range from steam railways to rural rambles

“I do some to do with railways, but also castles, canals, anything I’m interested in,” he says, perhaps with a slight flicker of frustration at being as being typecast too easily as a railway buff when there are so many other things that fascinate him.

Although dozens of the short videos do chronicle railway visits – some dating back to the 90s – others include visits to sites of historical or natural interest at home and abroad, taking him as far afield as Belgium, Portugal and Romania.

OUT AND ABOUT: Henry visits the ruins of Godstow Abbey on the Thames

Many focus on steam train trips or visits to rail centres, reflecting not only his own passion for steam transport but his professional role organising railway journeys for groups at home and abroad.

Based at Leek in Staffordshire before the lockdown, some of his videos look at abandoned lines in that area, while others capture steam trains in action around the country – and miniature railways too.

SMALL SCALE: Henry calls in at the Vanstone Woodland Railway in Hertfordshire

Henry worked for the National Trust and at Bekonscot Model Village before taking on his current role, but was furloughed when the coronavirus crisis instantly impacted on the travel and leisure sector.

That allowed more time to concentrate on his Youtube venture, but initially prevented him from straying far from Chalfont St Peter.

“The furlough scheme has given me the chance to make more videos and upload some archive stuff,” he says – including some railway clips from family videos his father had shot.

MINIATURE WORLD: Henry at Bekonscot model village, where he used to work

Prior to lockdown, it was only after setting himself the challenge of visiting all of the country’s miniature railways that he realised the sheer scale of the task – there are around 340 of them, not including those privately owned.

Undeterred, he’s made a good start by uploading the first 20 or so, while making plans for more visits when the opportunity arises.

BACK TO NATURE: exploring National Trust properties in West Berkshire

A prolific vlogger with more than 200 uploads to his credit, passing the 1,000 subscriber mark means his channel can carry advertisements and potentially generate Youtube income – though this is a labour of love and he is under no illusions about making any real money through his videos.

Most of the uploads are short and straightforward, with minimal editing, and mainly filmed on his own, with occasional help from his Hungarian girlfriend Barbara.

PROLIFIC: Henry’s Youtube channel features more than 200 videos

He has a relaxed, easygoing style when addressing the camera and realises in many cases the central attraction is the locomotive, castle or station in question, rather than him hogging the limelight.

He has also been making the most of the furlough period to go back through old family films and upload archive footage from the 90s, searching for appropriate railway clips that his subscribers might appreciate.

WATCH THIS SPACE: Henry has plenty more adventures in the pipeline

The regularity of his posting has seen visitor numbers grow, and while some short clips may only receive 150 visits, some have attracted much bigger audiences, with several hundred tuning in to two series of short films shot around the village of Chalfont St Peter and following the route of the River Misbourne, with many adding comments and expressing their interest in the footage.

Surprise hits might attract more than 1,000 views – from closed lines to Cheshires steepest railway to a ramble round the Romanian city of Oradea – and his Facebook page now boasts more than 7,000 followers.

Always restless for another outing, its sometimes hard to know what to tackle next. What about the 78-mile Capital Ring walk round London, perhaps – or local long-distance walks like the Chiltern Way? And of course there are still those miniature railways beckoning.

It looks as if Henrys in-tray is overflowing, which means his Youtube subscribers wont have to wait too long for his next adventure…

[Sure enough, heres Henry back on the trail a few days after we spoke…]