Ecclesbourne Valley Diesel Weekend.

I've been down to Rugby to visit my brother and family. On the way back I thought I'd visit the Ecclesbourne Valley Railway that runs between Duffield and Wirksworth in Derbyshire. It turned out to be diesel weekend, which was a bit disappointing for me but I nevertheless enjoyed the ride. There were classes 26, 31 and 33 in action and I enjoyed the sound of their growly old diesel engines. The class 31 was hauling a 3 car Metro cammell DMU (class 101). I don't know if its engines don't work or if they were just short of coaches. From Wirksworth a short line carries on up a 1 in 29 gradient to Ravenstor, the old limestone loading point. This was being worked by a Derby Lightweight railcar from about 1956, the sort that was used to try to save the Banbury Buckingham line. I don't think it's engine is in very good shape. As it climbed the incline it left a trail of blue smoke hanging in the air.

Diesel events attract serious railway enthusiasts. Megabytes of video and still photos were being generated, some people were writing things in notebooks and there was an atmosphere of serious study.

Opposite me on the railcar sat a fat man and a thin man, both in their 60s and dressed for a 1950s locospotters club outing. The fat man said in a disparaging tone "I think one visit is more than enough for me",. "Oh" said the thin man, the fatty continued wth a disapproving air "this line wasn't even part of the branch". "It was used for mineral traffic" the thin man ventured. "Yes" continued his friend, now sounding a little angry, "but it never had a passenger service"!  Clearly he will refrain, on principle, from the delights of the Foxfield Railway, the Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway and the Nant Gwernol extension of the Talyllyn Railway.

Class 31 arriving at Duffield with the DMU set

The Class 33 "Crompton" at Shottle, the crossing point for trains, viewed through the rear cab of the Metro Cammell DMU.

The Derby Lightweight waits for passengers then sets out up the incline to Ravenstor.

Serious railway enthusiasts mill about in the shade of the railcar at Ravenstor.

An industrial diesel with permanent way train in a siding at Shottle.

5th September 2010 The Wide Valleys of Middle England

2010-09-05 @ 18:19:15 by ashtonboatman

The wide valleys of middle England

It was still dark when I woke. I lay in my sleeping bag listening to the twittering of birds as the sky gradually brightened. Last night's fire had provided me with a flask full of hot water, so I made myself some black coffee and lay listening and watching.

With sleepiness eased away by the caffiene hit, I sat up in my bag and fumbled about until I had the makings of a bowl of muesli. The sun was up now and I heard early morning dog walkers on the footpath, no doubt wondering about my bike that was locked to a tree.

Breakfast completed, I dressed and started packing my equipment, dragging it through the hedge and loading it on to my bike. I noticed my friend the wren pecking around my rucksack and looking at me with interest. In folklore the wren is a king of birds, wise and cunning, symbolising wisdom and divinity I like the story of a wren winning a competition for who could fly highest by hiding in the eagle's feathers until the eagle could go no higher, then popping out and flying up some more.

A woman walking her dog eyed me with suspicion as I pumped my tyres. I mounted my humble steed and pedalled slowly uphill along the footpath, soon passing the woman along a field edge. The path led to the edge of an estate of middle class houses, circa 1970. My route lay through the middle of this, so I spent 20 minutes pedalling through suburbia looking for a way out. The ancient map that I was using was a little ambiguous about roads in this neighbourhood. My intention had been to find the little road that crosses the Derwent valley to the village of Elvaston. Instead, I found myself among the roaring traffic of the Derby ring road.

Desperate to get off this roaring dodgems rink I followed a track that seemed to follow the river downstream, but it petered out and the way was barred by a huge fence protecting a sewage works. I returned to the road and soon crossed the river. I was pleased to see that there was a riverside path heading downstream, and I thankfully set off along this peaceful, smooth surfaced route, encountering only friendly walkers and the occasional cyclist.

The Derwent is a beautiful river that tumbles down from the bold limestone hills, but here, in its last few miles before securing oblivion in the mighty Trent, it is ponderous and wide. It is a heavily managed waterway, with weirs every now and then, high, neatly graded flood banks and pumping stations. Nevertheless, it is pleasant to ride beside its gently curving banks. Eventually I reached the little lane to Elvaston and set out for this pleasant brick village. On my way I skirted the grounds of Elvaston Castle, Where the famous "Women in Love" scene of Alan Bates and Oliver Reed wrestling naked was filmed

After following the bendy road through the village I turned left on to what, not so many years ago was the main A6, now by-passed, so it was a pleasant quiet cycle ride into the river crossing place of Shardlow.

One of the first buildings in the village was a shop, a welcome sight as I needed provisions. In particular I wanted a battery for my camera, but the shopkeeper shook his head and said I'd only get one of the sort I needed at a specialist camera shop. I trundled on and crossed the canal near the magnificent restored warehouses

It would have been nice to head down the towpath, which would keep me close to my straight line on the map, but I was aware that the long horse bridge at the junction of the canal and the Trent had been removed, sparking a long running controversy about its replacement Instead I carried on past the marina and across the Trent bridge until I saw a cycle route marked Long Eaton and Kegworth. Kegworth was on my route, so I followed it. Somehow Kegworth disapeared from the sign posts, but I carried on alongside a road until I reached a river lock. I realised my error. I was looking now for the river Soar, but this was Sawley lock on the Trent. My map was of little use, pre-dating many of the roads and omitting the smaller ones. I retraced my pedals a little way and decided to strike off down a lane that said "no through road for motor vehicles", which seemed to indicate that unmotored vehicles would be able to get through.

After skirting Sawley Marina, the road took me through rough low lying fields. A tractor with a flail mower was busy macerating the hedges. The land had a degraded feeling, as often happens in the vicinity of cities. I passed a gravel pit and struggled up a steep bank to find myself at a huge roundabout, mad with hurrying traffic. This was just what I was trying to avoid.

I dodged across the roundabout and followed a dual carriageway that was familiar to me as I had often driven this way on journeys to and from my parents home. It led me to a junction on the M1. After crossing this I was able to leave the motor mania behind as I freewheeled downhill into Kegworth.

I turned off the A6 and rode gently downhill through Kegworth until the river came into view. Some steel boats were moored in a loop of the river and beyond the main river bridge the road crossed a cut that took boats on a shortened route. A flood lock, with the gates chained open most of the time, closing only in times of flood to control the water.

I left the road and carried my bike down some steps to join the towpath, no more than a rough path through a field. I sat down and ate some of the food that I had bought in Shardlow. I watched first a fibreglass cruiser then a smart washer josher type narrowboat with brass all over it pass by.

My map didn't show my destination, Zouch, as it is such a small place. I wasn't sure of the best way to complete the trip. My thought had been to follow the river, but the path looked very rough. The alternative would be to go along the Eastern edge of the valley through Sutton Bonington. My judgement was swayed by a signpost pointing towards a bio-energy project, so, lunch over, I set off along Station Road towards Sutton Bonington.

The station was a long lost stop on the Midland main line. Little trace remained and today's trains whizz past without a thought. A right turn on to College Road took me parallel with the railway past the campuses of this a university village. I imagine that the bio energy project that took my interest was somewhere within this complex, but I saw no further trace of it. 

Another right turn took me across the railway again and down Marle Pit Hill to join the long long main street. Eventually the village was behind me and I came to a junction. A right turn took me across the flood plain of the wide Soar valley. My destination, Zouch, was entered by a bridge over the lock cut of the Soar navigation. Just upstream the weir stream leaves under a low towpath bridge. The village is just a gathering of houses each side of the single road. On one side is the main flow of the river and weir and on the other side is the navigation channel leading down to a lock. It seems a pleasant, unassuming place, though it must be rather nerve racking to live here in the winter, at the mercy of the Soar's vicious floods.

Zouch is the last settlement in my gazetteer of british place names, which is why I selected it as my first destination. It should not be confused with the nearby town of Ashby de la Zouch, though I suspect the derivation is similar. Ashby got it's name from the Norman Roger la Zouche, which apparently means stocky. I have found no source for the name of this little gathering of houses, but I imagine it was in some way related to the same short fat frenchman.

20th August 2010 Derby

2010-08-20 @ 21:41:55 by ashtonboatman


I'm not sure exactly where the path left the old railway track, but parts of it became obviously too steep for trains. I suspect that the railway once went on to a now long demolished viaduct. The path ended at a gateway on to dreary industrial estates and roaring dual carriageways. I'm afraid Derby is a city that has never attracted me. It has always seemed too quick to replace the old and interesting with the modern and mundane. Perhaps I have been over influenced by accounts of the campaign to save the Derby Canal back in the 1950s. The canal had fallen into disuse and was one of the few that didn't get nationalised in 1948. The Derby Canal Company sold it to Derby Council who systematically destroyed it. Now volunteers are trying to get a least some of it ressurected.

I picked my way through a great greyness of light industry until I eventually found the city centre. Aside from the roaring roadways I found an old bridge over the Derwent with an old chapel of warm brick clinging to the far side.

The main reason for my excursion was to get an effective bicycle pump before the shops shut. I rode further into the centre looking for a pedestrian to ask. A woman directed me to the main bicycle shop and I started riding along the route that she indicated, but quickly forgot the details. I came upon a pedestrianised area and wondered about the legality of cycling through it. I was reluctant to walk because my foot was sore with plantar fasciitis. A cyclist rode confidently across the paved area, so I decided to do the same.

Turning a corner I noticed a small black skinned police officer. I don't know if they've abandoned height requirements for police, but this one was tiny. I doubt she would be much use breaking up a pub brawl. She waved me to a halt and politely explained that cycling was not allowed in this area and they were going to have a crack down and start fining people next week. It was the nicest ticking off I've ever received ( and I've had many). I wonder if this little arm of the law has learned to charm criminals into submission. Another cyclist came the other way as she spoke and she stopped him too. Luckily I remembered that the shop I sought was on Ashbourne Road, so I diverted her attention from my misdemeanor by asking directions. The way was straightforward so, giving my thanks to the smiling law enforcer, I hobbled round the corner before remounting.

The route was straightforward, though clogged with traffic and roadworks. It took me along Friargate, under the ornate bridge that once carried the railway near which I was to stay. It is now a bridge to nowhere as the continuing viaduct has been bulldozed away to make way for yet more roads. Apparently these are the arches that inspired Flanagan & Allen's famous song

The bike shop was full of expensive space age bikes. I wandered round fascinated. I like bikes, and like to have a range of different types to ride. Poverty restricts me to only having the ones that others throw away. This is fine as many people are hugely wasteful. I was once given an almost new racing bike because its owner didn't want to be bothered fixing a puncture. This shop made me briefly wish for wealth. I particularly liked the ingenious hi tech folding bikes, lightweight and with a million gears but folding to the size of a briefcase. I felt a bit silly just going in for a bike pump,but it's hard to get proper ones nowadays.

I picked a suitable traditional pump from the display and paid for it at the till. Outside I went to pump my tyre but found that I didn't have the adapter to enable it to pump through a woods valve.

The Dunlop valve, (also called a Woods valve or an English valve) is a type of pneumatic valve stem in use in some countries, such as Japan,[1] Czech Republic, India, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, Russia, the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, and developing countries. It has a wider base than a Presta valve, similar enough in size to a Schrader valve to use identically drilled valve holes in rims,[2] but it can be inflated with a Presta valve adapter.[3] The inner mechanism of the valve can be replaced easily, without the need for special tools. The inventor was C. H. Woods. It superseded Dunlop's original valve for pneumatic tyres.[4]

I must have left it with my gear at Breadsall. I had to go back into the shop for one. The young assistant looked in vain through various boxes of bits. "Sorry" he said, "but we don't seem to have one", then added "I don't think we've sold a bike with Woods valves all the time I've worked here". This was better than the last whizzy bike shop I went into for a Woods valve where they actually laughed at me. They are rather unfashionable it seems, though a lot more practical and easy to use than any other type. I asked directions to Wilkinsons as they sell adapters.

After running the gauntlet of traffic and roadworks again I found Wilkinsons, bought the adapter and, at last, got my back tyre properly inflated.

It was teatime. The shops were beginning to shut and my stomach was feeling empty. I had some bread and various spreads that needed using up, so I decided to consume these. I cycled around until I found a bridge under the railway that used to be for the canal, now a cycle track. I sat on the lawn between the old canal route and the river and ate my simple meal. Cyclists whizzed past, giving me odd looks as I dined. Trains whirred and rumbled over the bridge.

With the loaf finished, and the last dregs of coffee squezed from my flask, I decided to try to follow the line of the canal. This took me through some riverside parkland and under a concrete road bridge until I came upon the weir above which the canal used to cross the river on the level. Boathorses crossed a simple wooden bridge as they towed their boats. I wondered how they managed when the river was in spate.

I didn't feel like going home to my hedgerow, so I thought I would go and watch activity at the station for a while. I'm always fascinated by trains coming and going. I parked my bike at the bike rack. Every other bike there seems to have a noticed attached warning that it will be confiscated if it's not removed by a certain date. Some of them were very expensive looking bikes. The station was very active. I wondered what had become of the old Derby Works. I was just speculating about this when an Inter City 125 or HST set emerged from the works, which I think is now an East Midlands Trains maintenance depot. It passed the station, then cruised back on a parallel track with an orange boiler suited mechanic hanging out of the cab and waving like royalty to the passengers on the platform. It's odd that it seems like yesterday that these trains were the latest thing, but that was 35 years ago and now they are being retired.

I don't know why, but when I'm in a strange town on my own, which I like,I always imagine that, when I feel the need for company I can overcome my natural reserve, go into a pub and become the wonderful witty gregarious person that I always think I should be. This was what I thought to do next. I had spotted an old fashioned looking pub called The Brunswick, so I moored my bike to a convenient lamp post and entered. The interior was pleasantly traditional with lots of wood. There was a huge range of real ales, some brewed on the premises I understand. I was served a pint of one of these, can't remember what it was called, by a dour barman and sat in a corner. The beer was very pleasant, but there were hardly any other customers and I began to feel uncomfortably socially inept. I became very aware that I was oddly and scruffily dressed and a little dirty from my day's activities. I drank my beer and silently left to return to my hedge.

I unravelled the dirty blue tarpaulin that would form my shelter and tied it to the bushes. As I did this I noticed a wren hopping from branch to branch, almost within touching distance and showing a curious interest in my activity. At first I thought that I might be near its nest, but it showed no sign of distress, just interest. I dug some paper out of my bag and broke up some thin sticks for kindling. With a flash of flame from my lighter I soon had a good little blaze going and, with some bigger sticks added, settled the kettle on it. The wren continued to watch, though from more of a distance. The light began to fade and I poured the boiling contents of the kettle into my flask before extinguishing the fire and wriggling into my sleeping bag under the tarpaulin.

31st July 2010 On My Way at Last

2010-07-31 @ 05:29:46 by ashtonboatman

On my way at last

The donkey rattled and bucked along the line that had miraculously escaped Dr Beechings axe. It deposited me and my bike at Romiley and then scuttled off up the single track to Rose Hill.

The Sheffield train soon arrived and I climbed aboard. It was full of elderly walkers with boots and rucksacks heading for the hills. One venerable gentleman had a bagfull of maps and kept everyone else informed about the passing countryside with a running commentary. We threaded the beautiful Hope Valley and at each stop some walkers got off and other returning ramblers climbed aboard. Strangely, the homeward bound walkers were visibly younger. Perhaps the hills have a rejuvenating effect.

The geographical encyclopaedia got off at Grindleford, where we entered a long tunnel through to the suburbs of Sheffield. Soon the diesel unit was sliding into a platform to terminate at the main station.

In a bay platform there rested a shiny and sleek new East Midlands Railways train for London, first stop Derby. I boarded it but couldn't find a place for my bike. The train was empty and not due to leave for 30 minutes, so I went to look for another. Sure enough, a few minutes later, a Cross Country Voyager arrived and soon me and my bike were aboard and swishing through the Derbyshire countryside like a guided missile.

My destination, Duffield, flashed by and the train began to slow for the Derby stop. I unloaded my bike and went to look for the next Matlock train as these stop at Duffield. I had not long missed one, and so I spent 45 minutes happily watching trains come and go. Across the tracks the former headquarters of the Midland Railway is now a college.

A single railcar clattered into platform 1 with Matlock on it's destination panel. I clambered aboard and were soon rattling along back the way I had come. As we slowed for the Duffield stop I went to get my bike, but my way was blocked by the guard who was trying to fine an old lady for not buying her ticket at the station. She was having none of it and was quite happy to pay the proper fare but not a £20 fine. I thought this was a brilliant technique for discouraging passengers. It was obvious to me that the lady was not a fare dodger but just someone who didn't understand the rules.

Reluctantly, the guard let me past, then opened the door to allow me to detrain at Duffield. The bike ride could now begin.