Friday 29 September 2023

Harlech Castle in August.

After two weeks in France, it was back to reality and work for a fortnight, before a trip to Wales for the end of the summer.  We try and do a castle whenever we go to Wales, and chose Harlech for this time, with the both of us snapping away.

I (Ben) in particular have happy memories of this place, one of my earliest trips to Wales as a toddler was to a holiday-house in Harlech, near the castle.  

Sadly, the battlement walk was out of bounds for building work (to be fair, the last time we came up here a couple of years back, it was a bit precarious up-top, so it needed some new railings).  

There was still one tower open, even if it meant a bit of a crush at the top, and lots of congestion on the stairs.  The panoramic shot at the top is one of Amy's, she had to rush it somewhat to get the odd minute where there was nobody else up there.

A train shot from the battlements has been on my (Ben's) to-do list for years, but our visits to the castle have always coincided with either engineering work on the line, or huge gaps in the timetable.

Another nice trip, if brief, but we were cramming a lot into this holiday, as the next few posts will show...


Wednesday 27 September 2023

Flowers by the lake

A final little post from our French holiday; some more flowers and wildlife around the lake in Meribel, mostly Amy's shots, some pretty pics to round-off the holiday.

We've fallen in love with the French Alps; after a decade of trying to get here, we finally got the right circumstances, free time, and finances to make it work.  We've fallen in love with Meribel.  We'll be back.


Monday 25 September 2023

Ou Est le Gare?

More railway photography!  Yes, it wouldn't be one of our trips without some.

On the drive to the accommodation, we'd driven on an autoroute which paralleled a single-track, electrified railway, and spotted all manner of branch lines, industrial sidings, and interesting bridges.  Towards the end of the holiday a free morning saw me (Ben), Father-in-Law, and Elder Child, heading down the valley with the cameras on an astonishingly lovely, sunny day.

Outskirts of Aigueblanche, and this looked a good bet (not least because, as is common for France, there was no lineside fencing).

Lovely old lattice bridge.

The only problem was that SNCF have no equivalent of Real Time Trains, and what I could find online suggested the train was in fact a replacement bus.

About five minutes after taking this shot (of a nearby, very modelle-able bus shelter), a train roared past.  Just after I'd packed the camera into the car.  Sods law.

A quick drive up the valley towards the next spot, some sidings we'd seen from the Autoroute, and on a whim we stopped at the pretty, well-kept station of Notre Dame de Briancon.  

I have a thing for French railway architecture, and so got loads of reference pics.

Having thought we'd missed the train, a loud clanging of the level crossing announced the arrival of a push-pull service, hauled by this electric loco.  Typically, it's got graffiti on it, but that seems to be standard for France.

Off it goes, towards Moutiers.  Consulting the timetable showed a bewildering variety of trains, some of which ran but with caveats such as, basically, 'only on summer Thursdays, but not in summer, on days after a full moon, after a unicorn has jumped over a rainbow, and only if a little girl in compartment ten has remembered to bring more than three teddy bears, and the train is painted gold'.  After some Enigma-Machine-level decoding of the timetable, we worked out there wouldn't be another train for either two hours or possibly a week, so set off up the valley to the sidings.

Clearly, despite how it looked from the road, there hadn't been a train in a while to the factory sidings.

Apparently France has had the same downturn on rail freight traffic as the UK; I've heard since the road haulage lobby have become as powerful in France as Britain, which might explain it.

However, in a rare display of common sense compared to Britain, the sidings have been left intact, awaiting a possible re-opening.  No doubt in the UK the scrap metal faeries would have had all this away, and the land had about 400 houses built on it.

Lizard basking in the ballast.

What had thrown us, into expecting the sidings to be in use, was this.  A lovely yellow Locotractuer parked up on a rake of tanker wagons in the factory.  Either they tarmacked over the level crossing before remembering they'd left a train behind (not impossible, British Railways did it at Silloth when that line closed), or the factory still uses a train of their own for internal use.  There wasn't anyone around except some builders, and my schoolboy French isn't up to explaining the concept of industrial railway enthusiasm, so we didn't go into the works to photograph it closer.

We headed for home, along the back roads, when we spotted this lovely little station.  Aigueblanche is a terrifically run-down, slightly tatty town, with a station to match.  By this point I'd decided I wanted to do a model of a French station, so nipping up to this one with the camera was a must.

Despite the well-turfed platform and station house in private ownership, this seems to be an open station.  I can't quite picture Eurostars stopping here, but it has signage, lights, and a timetable board.

We were running low on time by now, so after a few pics, we headed off.  So only one train seen (technically two with that locotractuer), but loads of inspiration for model-making...



Friday 22 September 2023

Tramway du Mont Blanc

Well it wouldn't be one of our holidays without a bit of railway photography, would it?

It wasn't the most auspicious of starts... the parking for the Mont Blanc Tramway was quite some way out from the Saint Gervais Le Fayette station.  After the 15 minute walk, we thought we'd hit the 'facilities' then get some lunch, before going up on the tram.

For a massive station, and a tourist gateway to Mont Blanc, there was a distinct lack of facilities.  The toilets were what we were coming to think of as "SNCF Standard", to wit; small, flooded, filthy, and stinking.  Most French mainline stations are still manned, but clearly someone has gone on a successful strike in the past and won the right for the workers never to wield a plunger or mop.  The only thing I can say was this was slightly better than Moutiers, where the SNCF station (served by TGV and Eurostar) had a loo where the females was overflowing with faeces, and the gents appeared to be in use as living accommodation for drug addicts, with only one urinal of 5 not overflowing onto the floor.  Back at Le-Fayette, the irritation mounted when we found the large and well-appointed station buffet, to serve this tourist interchange, was in fact a poorly-appointed building site.

Bizarrely there was not one mini supermarket or similar hereabouts, just tons of restaurants who all wanted booking in advance.  We'd not been anywhere in the Alps up to this point which didn't have a little shop, so this was a bit annoying given we'd not bought a packed lunch. 

So yes, our mood was not terrific when the time for our tram up the mountain finally came, though we did manage to get the last packed of sliced white bread and a pack of cheese slices from the ill-stocked corner shop near the station, the only game in town.

Vintage tank loco near the terminus.

The trams themselves, built by Stadler for this season, were very impressive though.  Smooth, comfortable, and quiet.

At the terminus.

And there is Mont Blanc.  Annoyingly, the line wasn't working up to the snowline, as they're still rebuilding it.

We arrived at the last-but-one station, where there was an astonishing lack of anything to do.  Or toilets, which on a hot day where we were trying to stay hydrated, was a little vexing.  You also had to queue up at the portacabin station building to buy a ticket for a train back down, so we spent most of our time here in a line waiting to arrange our trip back don the mountain (these shots were taken from the queue).

Nice scenery on the downward trip.

The second-last station on the descent is actually the main station on the line (and naturally has insufficient parking).  It has toilets, a shop, somewhere to buy food, and absolutely no clear way to enjoy it as you have to book your train.  You couldn't just get off, and get on a later service.  In the end we stopped here for 15 minutes, so an announcement we could get off and on wouldn't have gone amiss.

Sidings back at the lower end.  

To be honest, a mixed day.  It was an enjoyable trip when actually on the trams, but the experience around it (and the lack of facilities at either end of the line) shows just how well the UK does tourist railways.  As I type this, we've just got back from Wales, and encountered numerous preserved railways half way up mountains with tiny stations which manage to have cleaner, working toilets, let alone well-stocked cafes.  So yeah, worth doing for the ride, but certain aspects of the day left a sour taste in the mouth...