Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Fowler and Foul Play

It’s always the way, isn’t it?  12 days off work in grotty, dull weather and finally on the last day it decides to be nice.  Sunday in Grantham was extremely cold and the snow we’ve had of late had frozen solid, but when I woke to cloudless blue skies and a bright winter sun, I knew that this was a photography day.  I had a choice of trying again for the Fowler 4F running days at the Nene Valley, or heading west to The Great Central that runs between Loughborough and Leicester.  Whilst the intensive timetable offered by the GCR appealed, the route to reach it involved many miles of traversing the icy back country roads in order to (hopefully) reach it.   Hmmm.  Maybe not.  Plan ‘B’ meant that I could take the A52 and A46 to Loughborough, but these roads are pure hell at the best of times, and on a New Year Bank Holiday would be chock full of Citroen Picassos and Renault Scenics packed full of screaming kids and overloaded with Christmas presents from the holiday with Granny in Ingoldmells.  Anything that wasn’t a people carrier would be a Vectra on it’s way back from the Ikea sale, easily identifiable by the 3 piece suite strapped onto the roof rack with a piece of garden twine.

By contrast, the NVR is reached from the dual carriageway A1, meaning that all the people carriers could be overtaken, except for those dodging armchairs that had come adrift from the aforementioned Vectras.  The weather was cold and there was a sprinkling of snow on the ground, so all the 4x4’s and Audis would be tucked up on their drives in case they got dirty.  The NVR it was, then.  The snow petered out a few miles south of Colsterworth, with only icy patches remaining as a result of the chilly, cloudless evening.  Well, I was now in the Deep South, after all.

Mindful of my previous wasted journey to the NVR on (whatever day it was – with these holidays I lose track) I drove past Wansford Station to see a satisfactory plume of steam billowing above the station building.  At least something was active, so I continued on to Ferry Meadows to park up and start walking.  Well, I say ‘parked’ – the surface was pure black ice and the moment I cornered and dabbed the brakes, the car did a graceful twirl with a pirouette before ending on a plié in between the café and the coach park.  I got a nasty shock, an unexpected arrival in my underwear and a sev-errrn! from Len.  Oh well, near enough.

With such great weather, all the favourite locations were up for grabs.  I wanted to try a couple of different angles and techniques, and kicked off with an into-the-sun shot at Lynch Bridge:

I was videoing and shooting stills together, which basically meant setting up the Samsung to film video and then concentrate on getting one decent photograph from that location as well.  I didn’t plan to do much panning by video, and that meant that I could concentrate on not making silly mistakes, like letting my 50-foot shadow occupy the foreground as in Winter Wonderland.

After Lynch Bridge it was off to the meadow, which was a great location for my favourite shot of the day, and some good film to match:

I’d planned to walk along to Castor Crossing for the next set, but when I was climbing the stile at the end of the meadow, I thought this area itself would make a nice panorama given that the wooden fence and overhanging trees made a natural frame.  Location sorted, I now had a chilly hour to kill, but ate my pack up and read my book (I’m still on Peter Kay, in case you were wondering.  And if you were wondering – boy have you had an exciting New Year).

Next up would be new location I’ve never used before, Sutton Cross.  The line is dead straight, has a working signal and provides a good head on view of trains working out of Castor Crossing.  This place makes for wonderful video, but for the photographer there is one tiny, almost insignificant drawback.  If you look closely, perhaps you’ll spot it:

Got it yet?  Okay, I’ll tell you – it’s the pylon.  Oh yes, I can see it now.  I still like this photograph, and if you look at it with your eyes closed, then the pylon disappears.

With two return workings covered, 44422 had one more round trip to perform.  As it was warmer to walk than stand in a field, I decided to head all the way into Wansford and get a couple of station shots.  The plan was to film the departure, and then while the train went to Yarwell to run round I’d nip across the bridge and film the eastbound run as it crossed the Nene.  I could then walk down to Lynch Bridge to capture the final westbound run of the day, which would be at around sunset.  Great!

Wansford Station was eerily quiet after the hubbub of the Santa Specials.  I wanted some shots of the 4F steaming away, but these were difficult due to the presence of a real bobblehat out on day-release.  He stood talking to the driver about all sorts of rubbish – tales of his mother taking the Evening Star over the Somerset & Dorset; an issue about a leaking steam pipe on the loco and were cheese and pickle sandwiches more tasty than cheese and beetroot?  All very interesting – the poor driver needed CPR before taking the train out – but he was stood right next to the cab, ruining any chance of a good photo.  Thank you.

The icing on the cake came at departure time.  I knew this idiot would take over the station, so I decided to film the train from behind the loco and watch it recede into the distance – I could frame it with the Wansford station nameboard, and the lighting would make it work.  When I got the camera home and ran the film clips, I couldn’t believe what I saw.  This selfish idiot had hogged everybody’s photo for over 20 minutes; yet as the train prepared to leave, he set up his own shot and had the effrontery to shoo a small group of other photographers and visitors away from the end of the platform as they were getting in the way of his pictures!  This kind of selfish arrogance needs naming and shaming, or in this case, photographing and shaming:

I detest this type of photographer intensely, and it seems to be a particular brand of railway photographer that is the worst offender from what I’ve witnessed recently.  When you consider that during the Santa Specials there were literally hundreds of people thronging Wansford Station, I never had a single problem with taking a picture.  Good old-fashioned courtesy dictates that you get your shot, and then discreetly move away so that other people can get theirs.  If you’re shooting video when people are around then you simply take your chance and hope for the best – and make good use of editing facilities later.  You do not block other people’s photos for 20 minutes and then demand that they clear a path so you can get yours.  Is it me?  Now you know why I prefer to spend so much time linesiding.  Which was where I was heading now, as I needed to get back into a frosty field to capture the final trip as it returned through Wansford, heading for Peterborough.

The next shot would be the last run of the day, loco running boiler first, so I chose a point near Ailsworth where there is a small embankment just above the river.  The trees here were very autumnal, and the setting sun would really highlight the oranges and reds in a blaze of glory as the lingering hues of sunset reflected off the passing locomotive and coaches as they trundled by into the creeping tendrils of the encroaching dusk.  Sorry, I have a friend who’s started writing fiction lately, and thought I’d have a bash myself at some descriptive prose.  I fancied doing a modern Railway Children – The Railtrack Children; a group of ASBO teenagers who set off a landslide to derail a train.  No?  Okay, back to the drawing board then.

Where was I?  Oh yes – Ailsworth.  The setting was perfect and the lighting made-to-order.  With the train due at 15:50 and sunset at just after 16:00, it would look fantastic.  Well, it would have been, if the train didn’t manage to lose 20 minutes for no discernible reason.  Sunset waits for no man or 4F, and I watched with great disappointment as the sun settled over the horizon bit by bit.  No amount of 4F-ing and blinding would encourage 44422 to arrive, although it kept goading me by whistling several miles away down the line.  All I could do was watch the bright oranges and reds turn grey until eventually, it turned up.  The film came out rather better than expected, but the photo I took was rather flat and lifeless.

I tried to be a bit adventurous here and move the train to one side of the picture so that it wasn’t the main focus – as you can see it didn’t work at all, and the rather scrubby grass dominates the picture.  The train certainly isn’t the main focus of this picture, given that it can barely be seen, so in that respect it could be deemed a success.  This scene might have worked better during the day when the sunlight brought out the vivid array of colours and detail.  With dusk falling and the sun all but gone, a straightforward three quarter shot would have been preferable.  Still, if you don’t try something, how else can you determine what does and doesn’t work?

Despite this disappointment, I felt that the day was a success, and it more than made up for my previous attempt to capture the 4F in action.  It also rounded off the interminable Christmas holiday period on a positive note, and on the way home I didn’t hit a single sofa.  That’s what I call a good day out.

The photos from this set will be uploaded to my Picasaweb Album shortly, and Grumpy Git Productions are working on the  film.


  1. I think the photos you have taken are great! The one of the Fowler in the landscape is pretty good, but would have been much better if the loco had been moving into the shot; somehow it's more acceptable that way. Still a great shot and sorry for teaching my granny to suck eggs.

    Selfish photographers-I was hearing of a class 37 special locally where the photographers were asked not to use flash...the resultant blaze of flashlights could be seen on the Vulcan homeworld. Most photographers are pretty good, but I have encountered plenty like the one you met. I've even been pushed firmly aside by somebody trying to get a shot...he won't do that again.. lol!

    Great post, as always!

  2. Thanks a lot! As soon as took that shot I knew I'd made a mistake; no chance for another as I needed to pan the video.

    That photographer wouldn't have been so bad if he'd just been hogging the picture (bad enough), but when he expected the other patient people to move out of his shots I was fuming. Wish I had chosen to film at that end of the platform and he'd tried to shoo me instead - the Fowler would have been the wearing the bobblehat and anorak at that point!

    Neverheless, a very satisfactory day and some great film to play with.


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