Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Cable, What Cable?

Sunday, 24 July 2011

The Reception

As I mentioned in my previous post, the reception for Helen and Ian's wedding was held at Otterton Mill. As it's name suggests the mill is in the small village of Otterton right on the banks of the River Otter. The wonderful setting was fantastic for photos and the weather continued to stay fine so until dinner was ready most people hung around outside enjoying a pleasant evening.

I don't know what food is like at Otterton Mill during the day but it was absolutely wonderful for the evening reception. Proper sized portions of locally sourced food -- the pork casserole just melted in my mouth. There were no speechs and no music which meant the evening was filled with conversation and slowly wound to a close bringing a perfect day to a perfect end.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

The Wedding

We took a lot of photos at Helen and Ian's wedding last weekend. You've already had a teaser but given how many photos there are I though I'd split them across a number of posts. As the wedding and reception were held in different places I thought I'd start with a post about each before doing some photo mosaics/collages. So...

All week the weather forecast for Saturday had been getting progressively worse and when we woke upon on Saturday it was raining. I don't mean a slight drizzle but more the biblical downpour type of rain. Fortunately the wedding wasn't until 4:30pm so we spent a lot of the morning looking out of the window and crossing out fingers.

Fortunately by 4pm it had cleared up just in time for everyone to start to arrive at Woodbury Park Hotel for the ceremony. The ceremony itself was lovely and simple. By the time it was over the sun was out and we all headed into the grounds for photos.

As well as the traditional posed photos lots were taken of people randomly walking around through the tree covered paths and I'm sure quite a lot of excellent photos were taken by both guests and the official photographers. This is by far my favourite of the photos I took during this period. I was going to show you a close up of the grooms cane, as it is definitely different, but Helen has already beaten me too it and her photo is much clearer.

After the photos at the hotel, Helen and Ian headed to the beach for some more photos while we all made our way to Otterton Mill for the reception.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

There Were Hats!

We spent last weekend in Exeter as my sister-in-law Helen and her partner Ian were getting married. It was a great weekend and I'm sure there will be a number of blog posts (from both me and other members of the family) but I thought I'd start with...

Monday, 18 July 2011

The Return Journey

Having survived the descent of Golfa Bank we arrived into Raven Square station on the edge of Welshpool. The line originally ran through the centre of Welshpool to meet up with the main line, but this extension was closed when the railway was originally shut by BR and no longer exists. Having seen photos I would think that it would also contravene goodness knows how many health and safety laws!

Once uncoupled from the carriages I reversed the engine under the water tower so the water we had boiled off during the outward journey could be replenished, and then there was another round of lubricating moving parts before we had a brief tea break (to replace the water we had sweated out during the outward journey). Once the tea break was over Bryony changed the points and signals to allow me to couple up to the other end of the carriages and once everyone was aboard we set off back up Golfa Bank.

Going up Golfa Bank is much easier than coming down, and it is the one place on the railway where you can really appreciate the power of the engine. You climb a short distance to an access road where you have to slow to 5mph, and then you open the regulator, fully. It takes a few seconds before the power becomes apparent but suddenly that distinctive noise of a steam engine working hard appears, smoke billows from the chimney and you feel the acceleration. It was brilliant!

All too soon we were pulling into the terminus at Llanfair Caereinion, and I had to stop the engine one last time. Given the length of the train and the positioning of the points you have to stop in just the right place otherwise you can't move the engine to the other end of the train. Fortunately there is a painted white mark on the platform and the trick is to stop the train with the line between the engine and the carriages. Having spent nearly three hours driving the engine I was better at stopping than I had been to start with but I wasn't particularly confident of getting it right. I slowed as I approached the platform and kept applying the vacuum brake in short bursts until I came to a dead stop with the white line just behind the cab of the engine. It wasn't until I stepped off the footplate that I realized how close to perfect I'd managed to line things up -- you can see the final position in the right hand photo above. Now I'm sure they were just being nice to me, but the station manager did mention that they had been examining some trainee drivers the previous week and not all of them had managed to stop as accurately against the line -- I call it a fluke or beginners luck. I certainly doubt I could repeat the feat! Once stopped there was time for a final photo.

I honestly can't remember the last time I had such a fun afternoon. Part of the enjoyment came from the friendly nature of everyone I met at the railway and I'd like to say thank you again to all of them. From the lady running the tea shop, to the kids shoveling coal as well as the driver, fireman, guard and station manager everyone made us both feel really welcome and ensured that I had a wonderful afternoon.

If you are ever in the area go have a relaxing ride along a wonderfully scenic railway, or if you prefer book yourself on a driver experience course and have an unforgettable afternoon.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Steam Induced Heart Attacks

Just like roads, railways have speed limits. The maximum speed on the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway is 15mph, although the speed limit is 5mph at road crossings, facing points, and within the stations. The difference between cars and steam engines though, is that a steam engine doesn't have a speedometer. This means that you have to guess how fast you are traveling. The instructions I was sent before the driver experience suggest that 5mph is a smart walking pace, 10mph is jogging and 15mph is a sprint. While this sounds helpful it is difficult, especially for someone like me who doesn't drive a car, to figure out exactly how fast you are traveling.

As I said before, slowing a steam engine down is much harder then starting it moving. Add to this the changing slope of the railway and it can be quite easy to suddenly find your self moving quite fast. According to my instructor for the afternoon I definitely hit 20mph on one section of the line when I was surprised by a slight dip. Obviously if you know the line well then you can preempt a slope and slow the engine accordingly to avoid going too fast. Unfortunately I didn't know the line that well.

The Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway claims to be "Britain's steepest adhesion worked railway" because of Golfa Bank. Golfa Bank is towards the end of the outward journey as you drop down towards Welshpool. The gradient profile of the line records the bank as 1 in 29. As a comparison most mainline railways in the UK have a gradient of 1 in 40 or less, so the Golfa Bank is most definitely steep.

So if we combine my inability to determine how fast we were traveling and my lack of experience of the railway then clearly disaster couldn't be far away.

We had just rounded a corner and in front of us there was a slight rise and a 10mph speed limit sign when my instructor said "you have to be doing 10mph when you pass the sign otherwise you will never make the bank". Given the slight rise and the fact that I though I was doing less than 10mph I slowly started to open the regulator...

It took a few seconds and the fireman was actually the first to react. He dived across the cab and pushed the vacuum brake on full slowing the engine to a crawl (but surprisingly not to a full stop). Of course I had been going at almost 10mph and the curve in the line was hiding the fact that we were about to descend Golfa Bank. A quick conversation ensued where it became clear that not knowing the line I'd misunderstood the instruction, but at least we were all alive to tell the tale!

Descending Golfa Bank is actually quite demanding. The weight of the engine and carriages is more than enough to propel it forward down the slope. As the driver you have to be constantly slowing the engine down by applying the brake. The line isn't straight, so this is really important, as the last thing you want to do is end up jumping the tracks or rolling over! Fortunately after the little health scare we made it down the bank into Raven Square station in Welshpool without any further problems.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Pick, Soak, Boil, and Set

Pick, soak, boil and set are the four stages to making a truly heavenly strawberry jam. We planted five strawberry plants in the border last year, and while we got some fruit, there wasn't enough to do anything other than just eat them. This year, however, the plants have gone mad. So far we must have picked at least 3lb of strawberries and there are still plenty ready to pick and plenty that have yet to fully ripen.

When we came back from holiday (don't worry there will be more holiday themed posts) I had a few days before I went back to work and given the amount of strawberries I decided that some of the time should be spent slaving over a hot stove producing strawberry jam.

Of course while making a batch of jam is rewarding, there is a feeling of accomplishment as well as a sweet food, you can't really eat jar after jar of jam on it's own. So this weekend I made fruit scones.

So the last two days have been pretty good; eating homemade scones with home made strawberry jam while watching the British F1 qualifying/race. What more could a person want?

Under Steam

So once the driving lessons were over we were ready to depart on the 8.5 mile journey from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool.

The carriages we pulled along the line are interesting as they have an open balcony at each end. This meant that Bryony was able to stand just inches from the locomotive throughout the journey. So unlike many photos taken from a train, where you have to wait for a curve to get a good shot of the engine, Bryony had a perfect view, which explains the unusual angle you will see in this and the following few posts.

As well as taking lots of photos Bryony took a couple of short videos. As half the fun of steam engines is the noise I thought I'd show the video of us in motion along the open line rather than a whole bunch of still photos.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Driving Lessons

So as you saw from the sneak peak I gave a few posts ago I spent an enjoyable afternoon, whilst on holiday, driving a steam train. Specifically I drove The Earl on the 19 mile round trip along the Welshpool and Llanfair Light Railway. This all came about because Bryony was looking for interesting tourist attractions we could visit while on holiday and found not only the railway but that you could have a driver experience course. Bryony had no real interest in driving a steam engine but she decided that it would make a brilliant early birthday present for me. As regular readers may remember I've been interested in steam trains since an early age and unsurprisingly I jumped at the chance to get behind the controls.

Now before I was allowed to pull the train (no paying passengers, just Bryony and the guard in three empty coaches) from Llanfair Caereinion to Welshpool and back I needed to have some driving lessons.

A year or so ago I read a really informative book entitled How Steam Locomotives Really Work so I had a rough idea of what driving a steam engine would entail and helpfully once I'd registered for the course I'd been sent some material to read which included a diagram showing the layout of the cab controls as well as instructions for both starting and stopping the locomotive. Of course instructions are useful but there is nothing like hands-on experience.

So having been introduced to the driver and fireman who were going to be teaching me (I'm embarrassed to say that I can't remember either of their names, but they were both brilliant and made the afternoon really enjoyable) I was given the simple task of starting the engine moving and then stopping it at a given point on the track. Interestingly they had me start by going backwards. This might sound strange but actually for the driver it is much easier to see where you are going when going backwards, as the body of the engine doesn't obscure your view.

Starting the engine moving is easy. You slowly open the regulator (the big red handle in most engines) allowing steam into the cylinders and the engine starts to move. Stopping, however, is much more difficult. Closing the regulator is never enough to stop the engine as once it has some momentum it just keeps on going (for quite a distance anyway). The Earl is fitted with two braking systems; a handbrake and a vacuum brake. To start with we worked with just the handbrake. This involves turning a handle to apply the brake, and I found that is was exceptionally difficult to apply it quickly or accurately as such I overshot the mark by quite a long way! So we went backwards and forwards a few times while I got a handle on starting and stopping the engine.

Once they were happy that I understood the basics, even if I didn't have much accuracy yet, it was time to couple up to the carriages. So I slowly moved the engine along the track but yet again my skills at stopping the engine left a lot to be desired as there was quite a bang when we touched up to the carriages. No damage but it was a lot louder than it should have been.

Once we were all coupled up then it was time to check over the engine before the trip to Welshpool and back. This meant lubricating many of the moving parts to ensure smooth running.

By this time I was already really enjoying myself and we hadn't even left the confines of the station area. Just imagine how much fun I was going to have on the open line!

Friday, 8 July 2011

94% Roses

As I've mentioned before we tend to take a lot of photos, and our recent holiday to Shropshire was no exception. On the second full day we were there, however, the photos were all pretty similar in content. In fact 94% of the 356 photos we took were of roses!

There is of course a good reason for the vast number of rose photos -- we spent the day at the David Austin Plant Centre just outside Albrighton. It was a perfect day with an almost cloudless blue sky and in the sheltered gardens without even a hint of a breeze it was unbearably hot. We had to have a number of trips to the tea-rooms just for the shade and a cold drink.

The clear skies and heat were certainly helping the gliders though. I'm not entirely sure where they were being launched from but they were close enough that you could see the winch cable drop away as they gained height.

The only problem with the whole day was that we had intended to have afternoon tea at the gardens but hadn't noticed on the website that it suggests booking in advance. There weren't any tables left so we just had to make do with lunch. Mind you lunch was fantastic. We both had a ploughmans, with some of the biggest chunks of cheese you have ever seen, and then I finished with a scone (lots of jam and cream) and Bryony had a lemon cake with elderflower icing (at least I think that's what it was).

I don't suppose I can get away without a photo of roses, so I'll finish with one of the more interesting shots. I know that not everyone likes (can see) the 3D photos, but give this one a try, you might be pleasantly surprised.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Fabulous Beast

As I mentioned in my previous post we have recently had a few nights away in Shropshire. We were actually staying in the village of Much Wenlock just outside Shrewsbury (more on the village later), but we spent our first day dodging rain showers in Shrewsbury. There is a lot to see in Shrewsbury and we didn't make any concerted effort to see everything but we started with the abbey as that was were we parked. Across the road from the main abbey church is one more surviving abbey building (lots of the buildings were removed when Thomas Telford drove the A5 right through the abbey precinct). The building, which dates from the late 13th century, is now known as the Infirmary but was probably a guest house. The Infirmary now forms one corner of a quite green space in the bustle of the modern city and is the headquarters of the Shropshire Wildlife Trust.

Within the courtyard there are a number of interesting sculptures and flower beds, but this statue entitled "Fabulous Beast" caught my eye. At first I thought it was going to be some classical beast of mythology, but I'm beginning to think it is simply the product of a weird imagination!

Friday, 1 July 2011

Driving The Earl

We recently spent five nights on holiday in Shropshire and the Welsh borders. I'm intending to do a few posts on the holiday, but as a taster here is a photo Bryony took of me enjoying Monday afternoon.