Sunday, 24 March 2019

Stonehenge Experience

24th March 2019

Last time I went to Stonehenge you could still walk right up to the stones, so it must have been in the 1970s. I vaguely remember the old visitor centre and car park. Of course back then the A344 still passed to the north of the monument, since then it has been closed and partly obliterated, the remaining part being used for shuttle buses to ferry the less able bodied or the lazy from the new visitor centre to the stones.

The new visitor centre contains an exhibition about the site, a ticket office, toilets, and of course a gift shop and cafeteria.

Entry is by timed ticket. I got in for "free" as an English Heritage member as do National Trust members but you do need to download a timed ticket and present this at the ticket office where an entry ticket will be issued. I was a bit early but was told not to take any notice of the time on the ticket and just go in anyway via the exhibition where my ticket was examined and ticked with a marker pen. The exhibition would be worth spending some time studying if you weren't at all familiar with Stonehenge. I gave it a brief tour and then headed outside, past the replica neolithic houses, and walked up the former A344 to the monument.

On the way there is a roadside memorial to Major Alexander William Hewetson, of the 66th Battery Royal Field Artillery, who was killed in a flying accident on 17 July 1913. In the early 20th century this was a  popular area for flying (and crashing) military aircraft. By the visitor centre is another similar memorial, the Airman's Cross,  erected in memory of two pioneer airmen, Captain Eustace Loraine and Staff Sergeant Richard Wilson, who were killed in a flying accident near Stonehenge in 1912.

On arrival at the end of the access road where the shuttle buses stop my ticket was checked again and I was allowed to join the crowds around the stones. The majority of whom seemed to be busloads of European teenagers, presumably on school trips. Along with them were the obligatory Oriental tourists and the occasional New Age pagan type. What they all had in common was an obsession with taking selfies.

I had downloaded the free app and audio guide before my visit - although I had to dig out an older smartphone as the app refused to play more than 1 second of the audio on my current one - so I put my earphones in which helped cover the noise from the student horde and made my way around the site with the guided commentary. Which was actually quite clear and informative. Worth getting if you're visiting, audio guide gadgets can be rented from the visitor centre if you don't have a suitable smartphone or tablet.

The stones remain an impressive feat of engineering whatever their purpose was.

There are plenty of theories and many of them have evidence to support them. I don't propose to go not them here though.

One thing is certain though, they had bugger all to do with the Druids. Not the original ones anyway. There were one or two modern ones amongst the crowds though.

Concern for the preservation of the underlying archeology and the misbehaviour of some visitors in the 1970s means you can no longer get within touching distance of the stones unfortunately.

The closest point that the fenced path gets is to the back of the monument where many of the stones are missing, affording a better view into the interior.

It's here that the press of selfie takers is thickest. In fact some visitors don't seem to bother looking any further. Stonehenge ✅
Walking back to the visitor centre I went the quiet way, up across the chalk to the Cursus Barrows and then behind the wooded area of the Fargo Plantation.

Up here there were hardly any visitors. It was a pleasant stroll back in the sunshine with the short turf underfoot, a gentle breeze, and the sound of birdsong (and the distant A303) in the ears.

That A303 of course may not be there in future if the plans go ahead to put it in a tunnel, depriving passing travellers of a free view of the stones. It might or might not also end the long traffic jams at busy times although more likely will just move them elsewhere.

So did I enjoy my second visit to Stonehenge? Yes, up to a point. Over the last couple of years I  have driven past it many times on the way to work somewhere or other so it made a change to turn off at the Winterbourne Stoke roundabout instead. Would I have visited if I'd had to stump up the £20 rather than got in "free" as a member?
Probably not if I'm honest. As with many of our heritage sites there's a certain amount of "disneyfication" that puts me off.

Anyway, Flickr Album of photographs of the stones and surroundings here.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

Dismantled railway walk, Finchley Park to Ally Pally

20th March 2019

This walk in North London, known as the Parkland Walk goes from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace Park, following (mostly) the route of the former Edgware, Highgate, & London railway from Finsbury Park to Highgate and then part of the branch line from Highgate to Alexandra Palace. The history of the line is complicated and covered in this Wikipedia Article.

The walk is now a linear nature reserve divided into two sections, total distance around three and a quarter miles (5km). This is the hilly part of North London and so the railway is sometimes on an embankment, sometimes in a cutting, and sometimes on a viaduct with some very good views over London.

This Google Map shows the route helpfully indicating where you can take in (or let out) fluids and the options for getting between the two sections. 

 The start, cross this footbridge over the railway from Finsbury Park.

As you leave it says Welcome to Finsbury Park, which is a bit odd.

If you're tall enough you can pause to watch the trains coming and going along the lines leading north from King's Cross and Moorgate.

 The path starts of looking like any other path through the trees but soon you find the first obvious sign that you're on what was the railway track, a bridge over the roadat Upper Tollington Park.

 At Stapleton Hall Road the disused railway passes over the road which passes above the Gospel Oak to Barking Overground line far below.

There is as you'd expect quite in an urban environment quite a lot of street art, or graffiti, or vandalism depending on your point of view.

Very pink though in this case.

 Where Mount View Road crosses the line, sorry, walk some maintenance seems to be ongoing to the structure of the over-bridge so you can't see it for scaffolding.

These arches in the retaining wall as you approach Crouch End Hill have been heavily decorated.

What I wonder is whether they bring ladders or abseil down from the top to reach the middle?

The 3 guys that were there at the time had plenty of paint cans but no obvious ladders.

 The most obvious railway relic on the southern part of the walk is Crouch End Station.

The platforms remain in fairly complete condition.

Only a small part of the station buildings remain, the greater part of it which was located on the road bridge having been demolished.

Beyond Crouch End Station on the right are the remains of a small brick structure, may be a line side hut which has been all but consumed by the growth of a tree.

 At Stanhope Road the railway bridge seems to be only half as wide as it should be.

Not sure if half has been removed or if the bridge that is there is a replacement just for the Parkland Walk.

Nearly at Highgate.

On the right a wildlife trail is being created featuring amongst other habitats a bug hotel, stag beetle loggery and a pond.

 At the very end of the southern section of the Parkland Walk in a rather wet cutting are the twin portals of Highgate East Tunnels.

These lead to the disused Highgate Station - the Great Northern Railway one not the Northern Line tube station nearby.

They are home to roosting bats and are not publicly accessible.

At this point you have to leave the route of the railway and walk up Archway Road past Highgate tube station and turn right onto Muswell Hill Road following the Parkland Walk North signs. There are a choice of three routes to the north section of the walk, probably the nicest being through Highgate Woods. I went that way, not least because by this point I was bursting for a piss and there are public loos in the woods. Also a cafe but it appeared to be in the process of closing for the day.

 You rejoin the Parkland Walk just east of the now demolished Cranley Gardens Station.

It was on the other side of this bridge but nothing remains now, a school having been built on the site.

What very much does still exist and is the best feature of this northern part of the walk is St. James Lane viaduct.

 From the path though it's not immediately obvious that you are on it, at least until you look right and see how far up you are.

This 17 arch viaduct provides good views to the east and south over Haringey. 

There is a clear view of the Olympic park, The Shard and The Gherkin.

And on this particular day a good view of a red helicopter circling over London.
Panorama of London from St. James Lane viaduct

 From the north end you can get see the viaduct arches, mostly housing garages.

You can also be shouted at "No consento! No consento!" by some bloke while taking the photograph and while walking away. Given the huge cloud of marijuana smoke emanating from the same location as the shout I guess he wasn't going to want to discuss the rights and wrongs of taking photos in a public place with a police officer 😜

 The end of the Parkland Walk is via this pedestrian subway into Alexandra Palace Park, past a puddle-splashng toddler, and to the thankfully still open cafe for tea and cake.

From there I walked up to the People's Palace and then down the other side of the hill to Alexandra Palace station to catch a train back into town.

 Alternatively I could have got a W3 bus back to Finsbury Park but I had more places to see. It's not a long walk but it's an easy one and has plenty of interest whether you're looking for wildlife or railway relics, or just a good view over London.

More pictures in this Flickr Album

And more pictures of Alexandra Palace in this Flickr Album

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Riding The Red Train

17th March 2019

At twenty to nine on a bright sunny Sunday morning I found myself outside Northfields Station on the Piccadilly Line in West London to catch a very special train to Upminster.

At Northfields
Today was the second 2019 excursion day for London Transport Museum's 1938 Stock tube train which has been restored to a high standard and for now at least is able to travel over the underground network. At least until the new "on train" signalling system is completed, which means the 1938 stock will no longer be compatible.

So I got a ticket for Journey 1: Northfields to Upminster departing at approximately 10:00 from Northfields and arriving around 90 minutes later at Upminster, travelling most of the way on the District Line tracks.

At Upminster
I can remember these trains in service as they weren't withdrawn from London until 1988. They certainly weren't in such good condition as this one then. 

Inside there are 1970s and 1980s adverts - odd to see adverts for tobacco products and betting - lights with bulbs rather than fluorescent tubes, and wooden slatted floors. The line diagrams above the windows are for the Northern Line, the last to see 1938 stock trains in service. This is slightly confusing when travelling on the District Line as your eyes are naturally drawn to check where you are.

The distinctive sounds of the motors and braking systems brought back memories. After a while I realised what was absent from a normal 21st century tube journey. No continuous audible announcements of destination and next stop, or exhortation to take all your belongings with you and mind the gap between the train and the platform. Although just before Upminster the museum volunteer looking after our car did come around and warn everyone that when getting off there would be a big step up from train to platform - Upminster was not built for diminutive tube trains.

In the afternoon the train made a second journey back to Acton Town via Baker Street and Rayners Lane but I wasn't on that one. I did see it on its way through West Ham though. 

I made this video of quite a lot of the trip - it's not easy to film in a bouncy 80 year old train in a tunnel but it captures the "scenery" and possibly just as important, the soundtrack.

Monday, 4 March 2019

Rain , Wind, and Steam

3rd March 2019

Many heritage railway places are closed at this time of year but a chance mention on Twitter alerted me to a special out-of-season open day at the Buckinghamshire Railway Centre near Aylesbury. For some reason I'd never visited this place despite it being only an hour and a quarter away. I'm quite surprised that we didn't go there with the school railway club, which was even closer. So with nothing else planned why not?

The reason for the special open day was to launch the newly restored Wightwick Hall locomotive back into service. (GWR, 4-6-0, No. 6989 if that sort of thing is important to you.)

They've spent more than forty years rebuilding this machine, which is incredible. That means I was still at school when they started. That's commitment.

At least the sun could have come out for the event. But unlike last weekend February had returned, wet and windy. Ideal for making pictures of trains but only if your name is JMW Turner. For those of us working in bits and bytes rather than oil on canvas it was a bit more challenging trying to keep the water out of the electronics.

The Railway Centre covers quite an area. Based around the disused Quainton Road Station built by the Great Central Railway and the Metropolitan Railway which ceased to see passenger services in 1963. It was also the junction with the excellently named Brill Tramway until 1935. The main entrance is in the building transplanted here from Rewley Road Station where there's a cafe and gift shop as well as the ticket counter. Admission was £14 Adult, £13 senior, and £10 child as this was a special event. It's slightly less on normal days.

Mildly depressing (apart from the weather) was being asked "adult or senior" when I bought my ticket. Cheeky bugger was almost certainly older than me as well 😄.

As were many of the visitors, especially the Men-Who-like-Trains™ although there were quite a few families out too.

No Thomas the Tank Engine, thankfully.

You could spend a few pleasant hours exploring this place which has a large collection of locomotives and rolling stock and several tons of bits and pieces dotted about the site, many with information boards adjacent. There's also two restoration sheds and a museum shed with more formal displays including a good collection of signs.

A return visit will have to be planned.

Today they had two trains running, the star of the show Wightwick Hall pulling a couple of carriages up and down about half a mile of track - it's a shame they didn't have access to the single freight line that still runs through the site - and a small Bagnall 0-4-0 saddle tank locomotive doing similar with an open ended brake van. It wasn't the weather for standing in an open brake van but I did ride on the Wightwick Hall hauled special. Standing room only which limited opportunities for photography.

I did manage to get some photos though which are in this Flickr Album.

And this atmospheric video with the atmosphere mostly moving sideways 😀