Tuesday, 23 October 2018

Donnington Castle

20th October 2018

Donnington Castle (the one with three Ns not the one with two) lies a short distance to the North of Newbury, Berkshire. This ruined medieval castle of which only the gatehouse still stands is in the care of English Heritage. A bright, sunny Saturday afternoon in October provided an excellent opportunity for my visit to explore and take some photos.

Entry is free as is the small car park at the end of a private lane just below the castle mound. It seems to be a popular spot for strolling, picnicking, or just enjoying the sunshine and the car park was about half full. Walk up the gravelled path to the castle between the Civil War earthworks to get close to the castle itself. There's no access inside but you can get all around the outside.

Donnington Castle was founded by Sir Richard Abberbury the Elder in 1386 and was bought by Thomas Chaucer then taken under royal control during the Tudor period. The castle was held by the royalist Sir John Boys during the First English Civil War and withstood an 18-month siege After the garrison eventually surrendered, Parliament voted to demolish the castle in 1646.

I bet the view from up there is good.

The castle gates, alas closed to the plebs.

Inner gates.

Unless you're taking a picnic, which I wasn't, you won't spend a huge amount of time at Donnington Castle but it does make a good starting point for a country ramble. There are good views from the castle and its surroundings.

Worth a trip for a quick explore.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

Aldwych Station

13th October 2018

Hidden London Tour of Aldwych Tube Station

Aldwych station is at the end of a short branch line from Holborn on the Piccadilly Line. There has been no service on this branch since 30th September 1994 but it would be inaccurate to describe it as a disused station. It is still connected to the network and used for training emergency workers and as a film and TV location. The sign outside refers to it as a "non-operational station" which seems like a better description.

Public access is only usually available on one of the Hidden London tours run by the London Transport Museum.

The station opened in 1907 as Strand Station and was renamed in 1915 to Aldwych. At the same time nearby Charing Cross Strand station became just Strand.

The station was never heavily used and money was therefore always in short supply. In fact many parts of the station were never completed as the expenditure could not be justified. At the time of its closure in 1994 the branch was only being used by about 450 passengers a day.

It has however proved useful for other functions. In both world wars it was used as an air raid shelter and for storage of valuable national artworks. It was also useful for building mock-ups of proposed station designs, for staff training, and as a filming location - V for Vendetta, 28 Days Later, Sherlock, and Superman 4 amongst others.

For the tour we met up in outside the Surrey Street entrance and once the formalities were completed and we had our fetching pink wristbands (not hi-vis jerkins on this tour) we entered via the Strand entrance into the ticket hall.

The hall has original tiling though a more plain "economy" version of that found in other contemporary Leslie Green stations - economy being a recurring theme at Aldwych as it was realised from the outset that it would not be a busy station.

Down the spiral staircase 160 steps from ground to platform level (the equivalent of a 15 storey building) as the lifts are no longer working, again the original tiling still exists.

The eastern platform which wasn't normally used for trains has some of the original 1907 track, a lot of film set props, some station mock-up designs, and some interesting old posters.

Including this ironically topical one:

Bollocks to Brexit

Good to see someone has been upgrading the cabling to meet 2015 fire regs:

On the western platform there is a train used for training and filming purposes (and on the tour for an audio presentation about the station as an air raid shelter in WW2). 

Dark in here, isn't it?

Tube aficionados will note that this 1972 stock train would never actually been used on the Aldwych branch and in fact this one hails from the Northern Line according to the line diagrams inside the cars.

The tunnel entrance to the rest of the Underground network. Note the partial decoration, another economy measure as the original trains were only two cars long only half the platform length was fully finished, later trains being three cars some extra basic decoration was added.

This way to Holborn...

The lift cars. Three double-car shafts were built but only one was actually equipped with two cars. Also the entrance passages to the cars were never finished and passengers entered and exited via the exit passages - another money-saving measure.

The lift controls. In 1922 the ticket office was shut and ticket booths built into the lift cars so the lift operator could issue and collect tickets as well, reducing the number of station staff required.

End of the tour. This old sign shows that Aldwych was considered an interchange with Temple station a short walk away on the District Line though not shown as such on tube maps. Temple is about the nearest station to use if you're going on an Aldwych tour being at the other end of Surrey St.

The Surrey Street station building. The odd spacing of the "PICCADILLY RLY' lettering is because it originally said Piccadilly Tube but the Underground Electric Railways Ltd. who opened the line (as the Great Northern, Brompton and Piccadilly Railway) didn't like the use of the term tube so it was changed.

As always this Hidden London tour was well run, informative, and enjoyable. You need to get in quick as spaces are limited and tickets not cheap but you get to see parts of London that most people never see and it's worth doing. If you are an LTM Friend you get advance notice of tour dates and early access to the booking system.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Berkhamsted Castle

7th October 2018

Berkhamsted Castle is a Norman motte-and-bailey castle in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire. Now a ruin in the care of English Heritage. Entry is free of charge.

The castle was built to obtain control of a key route between London and the Midlands during the Norman conquest of England in the 11th century. 
Robert of Mortain, William the Conqueror's half brother, was probably responsible for managing its construction, after which he became the castle's owner.  Subsequent kings granted the castle to their chancellors including later one Thomas Becket, now more usually associated with Canterbury.

The castle was substantially expanded in the mid-12th century, probably by Becket, who later came to a sticky end having misunderstood the relationship between the crown and the church.

The castle is conveniently located next to the railway station if you wanted to visit using public transport. Had the railway taken it's original planned route it would in fact have run straight through the castle site but the Act of Parliament of 1833 sanctioning the building of the London to Birmingham Railway specifically protected the castle making it the first building in the to receive statutory protection from development in this way.

Anyway, it's a nice place to wander about in the autumn sunshine with a camera and despite its urban location fairly peaceful, passing trains and noisy kids notwithstanding. 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

4 Buses

29th September 2018

On the piazza outside the London Transport Museum at Covent Garden four B Type London buses, each around 100 years old went on display for the day. 

They certainly picked a nice day for it - and a nice day for wandering around experimenting with a new small video camera.

Sunday, 9 September 2018

South Devon Railways

3rd September to 7th September 

Went to Torquay for a week, stayed at Atlantis Holiday Apartments which was good and very handy for the railway station - I decided to leave the car at home - albeit uphill. South Devon was busier than I expected for September, lots of "SAGA Louts" 😀

Anyway, I seem to have spent some time riding on the heritage railway lines in the area and here's some video evidence:

Saturday, 1 September 2018

Imberbus 2018

18th August 2018

Salisbury Plain, "Abandoned" village, vintage buses. The village of Imber on Salisbury Plain is not usually accessible to the public being part of the MOD training area. But on a few days a year the road through the village and training area is opened. Since 2009 a group of bus industry professionals have run a vintage bus service to Imber and some other parts of the area normally closed to the public. This is Imberbus and these are the photos I took on Imberbus Day 2018:
ImberBus Day 2018

Monday, 20 August 2018

Epping & Ongar Railway 12th August 2018

New video. Trains, Buses, and Traction Engines.

Experimentally shooting with my Panasonic bridge camera rather than mobile phone. Except for one clip - see if you can tell which 🙂

Saturday, 21 July 2018

I Remember Yew

21st July 2018

Took an afternoon stroll to see the oldest living thing around here , The Ankerwycke Yew. Standing on the opposite side of the River Thames from the popular Runnymede memorials to Magna Carta and JFK this ancient tree has been witness to centuries of history.
The Ankerwycke Yew
The tree is at least 1400 years old and could be as much as 2500 years old. That's extraordinary. It was here when Magna Carta was being "signed" across on the other bank of the Thames. Or maybe closer according to some arguments which say the signing was done on the Ankerwycke side of the river. It is also said to be the location where Henry VIII met Anne Boleyn in the 1530s. Though I'm not sure who says it, lots of things seem to get attached to the "history" of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn, especially if it attracts visitors. That said Ankerwycke is much less busy than Runnymede which is just as well as the parking area, in Magna Carta Lane, Wraysbury, is very small. From there a permitted path leads through fields to the Ankerwycke Yew and the ruins of St. Mary's Priory. Today following this summer's prolonged dry spell the ground was firm, dry and dusty although on a previous visit it was quite muddy and thanks to the presence that time of a herd of cattle, not just muddy. There's a sign at the gate where the path starts but after that it's not well signposted. Keep the hedgerow to your left through two fields until you get to a broad path lined with mature trees. Turn right and follow this avenue which will take you to the yew and priory.
Under the Yew

The tree is hard to miss having a girth of 26 feet (8m) but just in case you're unsure it's the one with a semi-circle of wooden bench seats around it.

The main trunk is riven with splits and almost hollowed out and the branches hang down almost to the ground on all sides. If you stand underneath it's nicely shaded - which was welcome today with the temperature in the high twenties celsius - and the thing has... presence,  particularly if there's no one else about. Not exactly spooky but you can sort of sense the weight of history. Despite the over-flying jet airliners departing Heathrow Airport it feels rather peaceful and between the jets at least it's hard to believe that you are so close to London. Close to the yew tree are the ruins of St. Mary's Priory, small and fenced off alas but the path runs right alongside so you can see it close up. You can also just see the ruins from the other side of the river at Runnymede. 
St. Mary's Priory
On the subject of St. Mary's Priory the Source Of All Knowledge (a.k.a. Wikipedia) says:

Ankerwycke Priory was a priory of Benedictine nuns in BuckinghamshireEngland. It was established around 1160 and dissolved in 1536.

The priory is in the care of the National Trust whose website says:

These crumbling walls were once a nunnery, built during the reign of Henry II and dedicated to St. Mary Magdalene. Following the dissolution of the monasteries the priory passed into private hands, and was patched up many times over the years. During the 19th and 20th centuries much of the surviving building fell into disrepair, and today only a few overgrown walls remain.

There is a lot more information about Magna Carta and Ankerwycke on the wraysbury.net site including evidence that Ankerwycke, then a small island belonging to the nunnery, might have been the actual site where King John and his barons met to sign Magna Carta rather than the flat marshy meadow at Runnymede where the barons were camped. 

There are more photos of the Ankerwycke Yew and St. Mary's Priory on my Flickr feed.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Behind the hoardings at Whitechapel Elizabeth Line Station

Got a sneak preview of the new Crossrail Elizabeth Line station at Whitechapel this morning. Well not so much sneak actually as Crossrail are quite keen for people to come and see what's going on as part of their "Engineering - take a closer look" Open Days programme.

Whitechapel ticket hall
The station is still very much a construction site and for the event there were plenty of barriers and plenty of staff on hand to guide visitors around and to answer questions about the station and the new railway generally.

The new ticket hall cum concourse will also form a new route north-south from Whitechapel Road for the locals.

The roof of the ticket hall is a "green roof" topped with sedum plants which gives benefits for biodiversity, conservation, and noise reduction.

The escalators are still being installed, they're in but not finished so no step-free access yet. Instead visitors had to take the 164 steps (according to the information supplied with the invitation ticket) down to platform level. I didn't count them but it did feel like it on the way back up! 

It's the equivalent of a fifteen storey building. (That's an "in joke" the explanation for which can be found here. 😉
Once at platform level visitors were able to explore and take photos and ask questions. Parts of two of the platforms were open, one a little more finished than the other, also the cross passages, and the bottom "landing" area of the three escalators.

Platform level. Light airy space with LED lighting and full-height platform edge doors.

Cross passage showing wide curved corners to ease passenger flows.

New purple roundels!

The escalators.

Slightly less finished platform.

Platform seating.
Notice showing how platform signage will be laid out.

Another cross passage. Cladding still being applied.

As I was coming out transport video blogger Geoff Marshal was going in so for a much better look at the station than I can give you I suggest you check out his Youtube Channel where the video he was making today is now online.

If you're interested in railways, Crossrail, or engineering generally check out the Crossrail Events page where you can sign up to get advance notice of events like the one today. 

They even gave away freebies 😀
Whitechapel Crossrail Oyster Wallet

Sunday, 1 July 2018


16th June 2018

I've always liked Oban. A compact town wrapped around its harbour and ferry terminal, ideal for wandering around with plenty of interest and no shortage of places to eat and drink. The West Highland Line is probably one of the best ways to get there, I driven there in the past but if you're driving you don't really get to appreciate the scenery - at least not without risk of becoming part of it. Also you can take advantage of the above mentioned places to drink :-)

Just over £30 (June 2018) gets you an off-peak return from Glasgow, in my case from Charing Cross changing at Dalmuir from the suburban service to the West Highland Line train that had come from Glasgow Queen Street. I was surprised that it was only a two coach train, quite busy but I had a seat reservation anyway.

Crianlarich station 2015 2

The West Highland Line is famous for spectacular views but it quickly became apparent that we weren't to be afforded any of them by the rain and mist that had descended on the west of Scotland that morning. The photo isn't mine but gives you an idea of what it was like except the mist was thicker.

Fortunately by the time the train reached Oban two and three-quarter hours later the weather had cleared up and though breezy there were some prolonged warm sunny periods and it stayed dry.

Oban town and harbour.
The railway station is right next to the harbour and ferry terminal where Calmac ferries leave for the Western Isles so it's a very short walk and you're right in the town centre and harbour area.

Had a wander about the town, there were a number of tall ships (sailing ships) moored in the harbour at the North Pier. The North Pier has been redeveloped since I first visited and now seems to be dominated by two modern restaurants. I seem to recall there used to be a "Ripley's Believe It Or Not" and a Model Railway exhibition at one time but not any more. There are at least some public toilets which as far as I can tell are the only ones in the town centre.

Above the town and visible from most of it is what appears to be a Roman Amphitheatre. Now we all know that the empire's "civilising" influence didn't reach this far north so what is it really?

McCaig's Tower from the harbour.
McCaig's Tower is a folly that stands on Battery Hill and is worth the steep climb from the town for the extensive views over Oban, the harbour and the Isle of Kerrera. Commisioned by wealthy philanthropist and banker (you don't get many of those) John Stuart McCaig to provide  a monument to his family and to provide work for local stonemasons. Only the outer structure was completed between 1897 and 1902 when McCaig died of a heart attack. I don't know if that was because he got the bill for the construction - £5000 (getting on for £5m today depending on how you measure it).

 Inside McCaig's Tower.
 View to Kerrera from McCaig's Tower

 Harbour entrance from McCaig's Tower

 View over Oban towards Lismore from McCaig's Tower

In spite of the stiff breeze it was warm work climbing up to the tower and back so back into town for an ice cream and a look around the shops, a pint in the Oban Inn, some excellent grilled scallops at MacGillivrays Seafood right by the harbour, and to take some more photos.

 Caledonian MacBrayne ferry coming into Oban
 Oban, along the prom.
 All the way to the Isle of Mull
 Clouds building but they passed without dropping anything on Oban.

Mine! Mine!

That's just immature.

As is the gull.

And then it was time to get the train back to Glasgow. My seat reservation was in Coach G, which was a bit odd for a two coach train but the two coaches were F and G, something to do I think with how the trains out of Glasgow divide at Crianlarich, with part of the train going to Oban and the other going to Mallaig (which is a trip I intend to do at some point in the future). The views were much better on the way back in the evening light although photo's taken through the train windows don't really do them justice.

 Loch Awe from the train.

 Loch Long from the train.
 Dalmally Station.

Tunnocks Teacake.
Traditional Scottish treat for the journey.
Washed down with Irn Bru obviously.

Back at Dalmuir Station to change trains and the setting sun lit up the adjacent tower blocks while waiting for the Scotrail suburban service for Charing Cross.

 Crescent Court bathed by the setting sun.
Suburban service at Dalmuir.

The Scotrail services in and around Glasgow were, at least while I was there, reasonably reliable, fairly frequent, and sometimes even on time.

If you're thinking of visiting Oban then I'd say do it. And let the train take the strain, as they used to say.