Steam Travel: Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express and dinner in the sauna with Anna
We are fortunate in Britain to have a wonderful railway netwiork and a thriving heritage movement that manages to organise excursions, many headed by steam, throughout the year. One such is the Railway Touring Club and I have had the good fortune to take part in several of their well-oranised outings, mostly in the UK but also to other parts of Europe.
Earlier the month I decided to book myself on the club's Winter Cumbrian Mountain Express, a one-day trek from London Euston station to Carlisle, over Shap and back via the renowned Settle-Carlisle line. As usual the train was made of 1950/60 period rolling stock, including original Pullman cars. I was sitting in Anna.
From London to Carnforth in Lancashire we were hauled by an electric locomotive; from Carnforth to Carlisle and back to Farington Junction, near Bolton, we progressed at a more leisurely gait behind 46233 Duchess of Sutherland. For steam buffs, the old Duchess is a Priness Coronation Class 4-6-2 Pacific of the former London Midland and Scottish Railway.
Built in 1938, the Duchess spent much of her life hauling some of the fastest passenger trains, including the Royal Scot between London and Glasgow. She cost £34,000 to build (now equivalent to £1.6m) and, after standing idle for 37 years, was rebuilt between 1998 and 2001 at a cost of £350,000.
Anna the Pullman
I wouldn't describe myself a railway buff but I do enjoy train travel, especially when breakfast, lunch and dinner are served in the classic surroundings of Anna, the Pullman car. I just like the occasion and,of course, the opportunity to grab some photographs. Everyone else on the train has the same idea, so any stops find the engines besieged by snappers.
On this trip, though, we got a little more steam than we bargained for: Anna's heating pipes sprung a leak and increasing gusts of steam came floating down the aisle during dinner. At one stage we couldn't see from one end of the coach to the other. Nothing could be done because turning off the steam would have disabled the heating in the rest of the train. As it happened, the sauna was preferable to the cold alternative.
THE PHOTOS, top to bottom: The Duchess of Sutherland; Anna the Pullman; Steam enthusiasts waiting patiently for the first puff; Duchess in Carlisle station, a maelstrom of gantries and cables; Steam engines need water, a rest-stop at Appleby; Welcome to Appleby; Steam an unwelcome fellow traveller during dinner; Steam excursions attract a spritely kind of clientele.
In my experience, the food on these excursions is usually good. On this occasion it was provided by Gravy Train Catering and they did a sterling job of keeping us happy despite the irregular heating and steamy interludes.
One of my main motivations in joining these steam outings is the opportunity to get some good photographs. Unfortunately, on this occasion we had little chance, with a gantry-filled Carlisle station and a brief watering stop at Appleby giving us the only time off the train. Even at Carnforth we couldn't alight.
This was a major disappointment because Carnforth is one of the most famous stations on the British railway network. It was the scene of much of the action of the classic 1945 film, Brief Encounter, where a considerable part of the dialogue (in cut-glass accents) took place in the platform buffet and where there was much scampering to and fro amid missed opportunities in the underground tunnel between the platforms.
The buffet is now preserved as a museum and I, for one, was looking forward to paying another visit. We were thwarted by being confined to our Pullmans in a siding and we couldn't get off to watch the engine's arrival and coupling or visit the famous cafeteria. This must have been pretty galling for some of the passengers who had probably acted as extras during the filming. Next time, I hope, the organisers will allow a longer stop in Carnforth instead of two hours in Carlisle.
Usually there are more stops and plenty of photo opportunities. On this occasion I took along the Leica M-P and 50mm Apo-Summicron.
But you can get a taste of the action in this video by Paul Whitehead who was lurking at Oxenholme as the Duchess with Anna and her friends steamed through. Blink twice and you will miss me sitting in Anna with a glass of Gravy Train's best Merlot. It reminds me that there are probably more photographers thronging wayby stations and wild moorland fells than there are passengers on the train. Precise timetables of our passing would have been on the web weeks before the great day.