Tuesday, 4 May 2010

More Diesel, Gromit?

Sunday and Monday were days I had booked out for a trip to see family and friends in Sunderland, with a chance to do some catching up after the wedding.  On the return trip down the A1, I passed by the Wensleydale Railway, and as the main entrance is at Leeming Bar, literally a minute from the A1 (plus 10 minutes trying to negotiate the junction at the end of the slip road) I thought, ‘Why just pass by?  Why not call in?’

So that’s just what I did.  The weather was typical May Bank Holiday stuff – squally heavy showers and leaden grey skies, so linesiding was out of the question.  I decided to take a ride and explore the line instead.  Unfortunately it transpired that owing to a recent derailment on the line the service was somewhat truncated and a rail replacement bus service transferred passengers from Leeming Bar to the next station down the line – Bedale.

As this was an impromptu visit I wasn’t concerned, and whiled away the next hour in the station buffet cum shop, plus a look round the yard whenever the rain stopped for long enough to grab some pictures.  At 13:25 I boarded the decidedly non-vintage Volvo coach for the short but very comfortable trip to nearby Bedale.  Here a two car Met-Cam DMU burbled away in the platform as it awaited departure time.  No time for photos; get on and let’s get gone.

The exterior of the DMU has been finished in an attractive blue and cream livery, but the interior was literally back to the 1980’s – I kept expecting to see Gene Hunt scream into the car park in a red Audi Quattro.  I felt at home, and so I should – car 51210 was a Heaton Depot vehicle during the 1980’s and I travelled on it many, many times in my misspent youth between Sunderland and Newcastle on trainspotting trips to Gateshead.  In 1985 when I (allegedly) grew up and got my first job, 51210 was one of many such units that bounced and lurched me on my daily commute, in between breakdowns, strikes and point failures at least.

I was pleased to see that nothing – and I mean nothing – has changed since then.  The unit is exactly as it was in 1985, in what BR at the time called ‘refurbishment’ which basically saw some faded old green panelling replaced with some cream panelling and fluorescent lighting to replace the tungsten bulbs.  The ride was as noisy and bouncy as ever; you still need to be a trapeze artist to stay seated on jointed track.  The window frames are either so loose that they rattle your teeth out or are seized solidly together and nothing short of an arc welder will open them.  The heater didn’t do anything, but they never did in winter anyway.  In summer they’d fry you in 100ยบ heat, especially while you sat on the High Level Bridge while a long stream of passing trains crossed the station throat ahead of you.  The great view out of the cab was a high point – unlike many miserable buggers working out of Heaton depot, the WR drivers keep the blinds open!

I took the DMU out to Leyburn, where I left to change trains for some loco haulage.  The National Railway Museum at York had sent up 47798 Prince William for the weekend, and coupled it to the WR’s rake of cream and red Mk2 coaches.  Because of the operational problems caused by the derailment, this train was confined to running between Leyburn and Redmire.  There is no loop at Leyburn, and the train had to run empty several miles to run round in the passing loop.  This caused big gaps between services, but nevertheless, full credit to the WR for keeping a service going in difficult circumstances and coming up with a solution.  Notwork Rail would have just shut down the entire line in similar circumstances.  I managed a nice shot of the DMU as it left Leyburn, but by the time the 47 arrived it was raining.  Again.

The trip out to Redmire is spectacular – well, it is when you can see the view of the Yorkshire dales.  Driving rain doesn’t exactly improve the situation, but every so often there would be a break in the clouds and the magnificent scenery would be visible for a moment.  This meant that I could concentrate on my surroundings – once again, I was transported back to my youth in the Mk2 coach that still retained all it’s BR features – remember those wingback seats and a sea of grey formica panelling? 

At Redmire I jumped out for some less than spectacular photos during a break in the rain as the loco ran round.  On the return to Leyburn the sun came out allowing some pleasing views from the train; in fact it got very bright at one point and I stupidly thought that the bad weather had packed up and gone home until next weekend.  

For this reason I decided to stick around at Leyburn, and took a walk to find some good vantage points ready for the departure of the next DMU, as well as a passing shot of the 47 taking the Mk2 stock back to the loop.  I found a couple of nice spots, but inevitably minutes after the 47 had passed by the rain found me.  Yet again.  Therefore I opted to return to the station and take the DMU up to Redmire, then all the way back to Bedale as it formed the last train of the day.  Redmire is a pleasant enough station and a good starting point for walks in the area, but today the word ‘bleak’ sprang to mind.

Predictably, on the return journey as the DMU got nearer and nearer to the Bedale the clouds majestically parted and bathed the Dales in glorious warm and photo-friendly sunlight.  On the drive home back to Grantham, I had to wear sunglasses all the way.  Oh, thank you, God.  I shall refrain from further observations on this matter and leave you with the lovely parting shot as I left Bedale to pick up the bus for Leeming.

Still, the visit was an enjoyable enough break on my journey home, and pleasant to see another line that I haven’t visited before.  There is great potential for lineside photography, whilst the 12 mile trip to Redmire is highly recommended.  Almost all services are diesel hauled or provided by the DMU, with a peak summer steam service operating with a Standard 2 Tank.  The staff were friendly, and the stations well maintained and tidy.  The stock in service was clean, but decidedly tatty internally as I mentioned.  Personally I quite liked this, as it brought back so many memories of my teenage years following these trains, but it’s a subjective matter on a tourist line.

Overall, despite the weather and unfortunate derailment, my visit was a pleasurable one, and I’d certainly like to make a return visit in more favourable conditions.

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