Wednesday 28 September 2016

Severn Valley Railway, Pacifics and "Flying Scotsman"

More railway photography for this update… we recently took a trip down to the Midlands, and to the Severn Valley Railway for their special event with both “Flying Scotsman” and “Tornado” running. 
“Flying Scotsman” has been attracting much hype since its costly and long-delayed return to service this year, and I (Ben) had repeatedly told myself I wouldn’t be buying into that hype.  But I do quite like the loco (on a childhood Birthday trip to the SVR I went up in the cab of the loco, in 1990), and thought I’d take up a family invite to go see the loco.

Of course, we couldn’t afford the high costs of the pre-booked tickets to ride behind the loco, but a lineside walk between Highley and Hampton Loade seemed a good bet.  Predictions were that it would be busy in the valley, but we reckoned there would be some opportunities for photography.  The cycle and footpath here runs right beside the track for most of the way, with only a waist-high wire fence, so is good for photos.

The SVR were running a very intensive service, with lots of their bigger home-fleet engines out and about, and our arrival at the Country Park (where we’ve done many photoshoots over the years) was in time to allow us to see the recently restored Battle of Britain-class loco “Sir Keith Park”.  Unfortunately it meant shooting into the sun, but the new camera coped pretty well with it, even if it was Lens-Flare-O-Rama...

Moving along the path, “Tornado” was next, but a little annoyingly, tender-first.  Still, I had in the past managed a couple of photographs of this impressive, new-build loco out on the Settle Carlisle so wasn’t too bothered at missing out on a head-first shot.  It was however to be the start of a day of frustrations with photographing the trains, as everything seemed to be running past us tender-first.  Not the railways fault, and they cannot turn the locomotives round at each end of the journey, but it does make for boring photography.

Token arty shot of the very, very nice LNER Teak carriages.

It was a nice walk though, with a picnic in the grounds of Hampton Loade station, before Amy and I left The Childs with my parents and dashed back down the line to get a photo of Scotsman itself.  This would be tricky- it was only making a couple of journeys a day, and at this point, facing the right direction, at lunchtime, we anticipated difficulty finding somewhere to take a shot.  And indeed the path near the station was very busy.

But a little way along, a gap in the wire, with some ferns and bushes which obscured the crowds allowed a shot through the fence.  The loco was travelling slowly enough to mean there wasn’t any blurring, and the only downside was that the sky had gone to the classic ‘Tuppaware-Lid’ format which made the lighting a little odd, so I tried it in greyscale in post production.  Still, it was nice to see the loco after so many years.

A few more shots were managed on the way back down to the Country Park, including this one of "Erlestroke Manor" running through the Halt itself…

…and this last shot, through the trees, on the way back to the car (finally, the locos on the leg of their journeys where they would be facing the right way!)  Tornado wouldn’t be making a run down the valley, facing smokebox first, until nearly teatime so we headed home instead.  Not a bad day out overall.  There should be the chance for a bit more railway photography soon as well, when we head out to the Ffestiniog for the Victorian Weekend.  In the meantime, hopefully something else from Wales, or maybe the wedding we did at the end of August, in the next post.

Monday 19 September 2016

Railway Photography- Middleton Railway Diesel Gala

Right, apologies for the lack of recent updates… we did the photography for a wedding tail end of August, then we went to Wales, did a couple of photoshoots there too, and both started back at our Day Jobs for the new term, hence much busyness.  Editing the shots from those took forever, so in the meantime here are some pics from the weekend.
Whilst we both do quite a bit of railway photography, we haven’t had chance to try out many new locations recently, but the Diesel Gala at the Middleton Railway at the weekend gave a chance for a family trip out there and a day on the trains.

A bit of background first of all…  The Middleton Railway is one of the oldest railways in Britain, if not the world, and an early user of steam traction.  When the National Coal Board were trying to close it down in the 1960's, a group headed by a member of the Leeds University Faculty took it over as a pioneer of heritage railway preservation in the UK, but mainly (and uniquely) to run freight to an industrial customer who had lost out on rail transport when the Coal Board closed the line.  Freight has long ended (thanks, Thatcher) but the line continues as a small but friendly preserved line, in the somewhat incongruous surroundings of semi-industrial Leeds, running to the landscaped and redeveloped colliery site which once was the main source of traffic.
Now when I (Ben) was little, I had a 1960’s book about railways and there was a fascinating pic from the Middleton which was at the time preserved and run by enthusiasts, but uniquely still being used primarily to move freight rather than tourists.  When I moved up to Yorkshire a visit to the line was always on my to-do list, but its location in the industrial/suburban outskirts of Leeds made it a bit of an inconvenience, and then I ended up doing jobs which featured weekend running, when it tended to operate, so this is the first real visit (after a little recce a few weeks ago just to find the place).

The recce obviously didn’t work, because we spent half an hour driving in circles around Suburbia and the hellishly stupid 1960’s Leeds motorway network (not helped by a satnav which couldn’t cope with short slip roads and being on flyovers… being instructed to perform U-turns on 50mph stretches of elevate dual carriageway wasn't particularly helpful).  We eventually arrived though at the main station for the railway, Moor Road.
We are used to our local line, the Worth Valley, which whilst relatively small compared to some preserved lines is nevertheless a big and very commercial operation.  By contrast, the Middleton operation is obviously smaller but really very nice and welcoming.  The Engine House (ticket hall, shop, café, and museum/rolling stock shed) is a relative new build, and a nice entrance to the railway.  The ticket staff were very friendly, and after a quick look at the variety of engines in the shed it was out onto the short platform.
Now much as I like photographing large engines, I rather prefer smaller, quirkier subjects, and the Middleton doesn’t disappoint.  With a locomotive collection inspired by local industries (Leeds once being a centre for industrial locomotive production) there is a wide variety of small shunting engines here.  In any case, the lightweight industrial track work and tight curves would preclude any of the ‘big’ mainline locos, and it isn’t too long a line in any case.  First up, a real veteran, an LMS loco which is one of the oldest diesel locomotive in preservation.

Also a quick word about the carriages.  Most British preserved railways use the ubiquitous, ex-mainline MK.One carriage and maybe a smattering of older types which come out at special occasions.  Being an ex-colliery line, with ridiculously tight curves, the Middleton needed something bespoke and thus their three four-wheel carriages are custom-modified from old Southern Railway parcels vans.  The wooden slatted seating on the inside is a nicely retro touch, but the best bit is that one of the carriages in the two-carriage train we rode had an open balcony/verandah end.  Thus much opportunity for photographs looking along the track or right onto the loco, a lovely smell of diesel fumes, wind in your hair etc.  Open ends and balconies was something of a common practice overseas, at least in the past, but a novelty here so we spent as much time as possible outside in the fresh air.  Of course it also meant much opportunity for arty long-exposure pics, and real-life versions of some of the effects I was trying for in miniature on the ‘Welsh Pony’ shoot back in 2014.

The terminus of the ‘main’ line is in the parkland on the site of the former colliery.  A simple loop with no building, but nicely kept (to be honest, given the problems with vandalism the line apparently suffers given its urban location, I cannot blame them for not having a station building here- only earlier this year the railway suffered an arson attack which all-but destroyed a unique railcar which had only just been refurbished).  Given the park setting of the terminus, in hindsight we should have bought a ball or a frisbee or something for The Childs to play with in the park and made the most of the weather, but it nevertheless made for a nice spot for a picnic between the regular train service.

Incidentally this may be my new favourite prototype locomotive, as something about the slightly brutal looks, the outside frames and the counterweights whirling around, give it a satisfyingly appealing ‘look’.  Also a smiley male and female loco crew who looked ridiculously younger than me… wish I’d followed up that ambition to drive trains after all.

Now this looks like a trespass shot, but amazingly the railway has no lineside fencing, so this was me just crouching in a hedge next to the footpath which borders the line here.  After several years of trying desperately to find a lineside spot on the Worth Valley with legal access, and which isn’t staked-out by dozens of other photographers, it was a nice change.  And also given the reputation for being an urban railway, the line runs between lots of stretches of heavy tree growth, which makes for a nice backdrop.

Trying long-exposure shoots with the new camera... not too easy given the bouncy nature of the ride, but a few pics came out nicely.

Spooky shots in the tunnel again.

We rode up and down a couple of times (being a relatively shorter line, the Childs didn’t get bored with the journey or need much in the way of entertaining) before breaking back at Moor Road for a brew- lovely cup of Earl Grey, reasonably priced, and again, friendly staff), with a good play area in the café for The Childs.  The shop is weighted heavily towards kids, and a large selection of toys there.

Whilst going out to get the sun cream from the car (in mid September!  Madness…) a train crawled over the level crossing which sits at the car-park end of the station, so I was able to get what I gather most photographers of this line define as the ‘classic’ gala angle.  The branch line here, down to Balm Road, isn’t usually used (largely I suspect because of this ungated level crossing which requires a couple of volunteers to stop the traffic with red flags) and runs, via a madly tight, snaking series of S-curves, down to an industrial estate and then eventually to the mainline, though the connection there isn’t used any more.  Again this is one of the unique aspects of this line, as I cannot think of any other off the top of my head where you can ride a train along unfenced track through the middle of a modern industrial area. 

Back out onto the platform, we joined the mixed train which was shuttling up and down this branch, and again got to ride out in the fresh air, on the verandah of a North Eastern brake van this time.  Two more veteran locomotives, both of Hudswell manufacture (hence would have been built very locally to the Middleton line), "Mary" and "Carroll" were top-and-tailing the mixed train here.  Being so close to the action, with the deafening squealing of the wagons negotiating the somewhat tortuous curves, was a new experience for me anyway. 

Returning to Moor Road, there was a bit of a gap now in the timetable, whilst locomotives were swapped around, so we decided (given The Childs were getting a bit hot and bothered in the somewhat unseasonable weather) to forego the planned last journey, and just look round the museum before heading off home.  I didn’t manage to get any shots in the museum itself, due to having to supervise the rabble, but it had a nice selection of locomotives there.

Overall then?  Good weather and the newer camera made photography very enjoyable, particularly given the subject matter.  We found the railway welcoming, friendly, good value, with polite staff everywhere.  It also had a nice quirky atmosphere compared to some of the bigger railways we’ve visited for photography (which can seem a bit standardised these days), and a very nice, good value day out.
Next up, either some shots from the wedding, or perhaps some of the shoots from Wales…