04 November 2019

Monday - An Almost Azuma from Lincoln
The down side of academy-run schools is that greater authority has been given to executive boards over when school holidays take place. My children had two weeks off during what was traditionally the October Half-Term holiday. One big advantage, though, is that when taking the kids out during the second week, when the majority of the rest of the county's (and country's) schoolchildren have returned, travel by train is a little more pleasurable - even with the Tin Lids in tow.
     We drove to Spalding and caught the 1213 EMR service to Lincoln. Currently this is the only journey on the Peterborough-Lincoln route to extend to Saxilby, Gainsborough Lea Road and Doncaster. There is no southbound equivalent. Come December 2021, EMR has suggested the routes will be joined and travel via the complete 'Joint Line' will become commonplace. Our plan was to catch the 1323 LNER 'Azuma' service from Lincoln to Peterborough. LNER introduced its additional direct Lincoln trains on 21 October after many years' delay. The 'City that thinks like a town and acts like a village' now receives a far more realistic link to the Capital. 
     Except today it was cancelled. In fact the cancellation was only partial as LNER somehow decided to turn the clock back to last week and terminated the incoming journey at Newark Northgate, from where the return commenced. I suspected that either driver or train manager didn't have the sufficient route knowledge for the section between Newark Northgate and Lincoln. Of course, this was of no use to us! Thinking on my feet, we remained about the Class 153 and travelled through to Doncaster. I thought we would use the unusual 'Up Slow' route from Black Carr Junction along the ECML effectively the wrong way, since track diagram website Tracksy showed just that. Except we didn't; we crossed over the ECML after Bessacarr Junction and headed in via the old Royal Mail depot, terminating at Platform 5. Yet the diagrammatic map of Doncaster showed our train on both Platforms 5 and 2 (the bay platform that trains using the Up Slow would use).
     We returned to Peterborough from here instead of Lincoln, catching the 1426 LNER 'Azuma' bound for London King's Cross. We were going to sample Fist Class again, taking advantage of travelling mid-day on a Monday when the Rest of the Day menu is offered, which includes hot food. To this end, the very attentive staff (who'd just finished service for those who'd boarded at Leeds) managed to keep track of those who'd not yet been served and came round offering the full menu and details of the Specials section, which today was Macaroni and Cheese. As ever my children managed to pull at the heartstrings of the hosts and ended up acquiring double portions of everything they wanted. I can't seem to recreate whatever it is they manage to do! 
     We left 800105 at Peterborough and hung around for the 1625 EMR service to Lincoln - the last departure of the day that extends beyond Spalding - and left when we got to the Tulip Town at 1645. The round trip unfortunately took around 1:15 longer than we'd initially planned since the cancellation of the Azuma from Lincoln meant we could not return from Peterborough to Spalding on the 1511 departure.
     Azumas now feature heavily along the ECML, with the Class 91/Mk 4 trains being the first casualties of their introduction. HSTs will start being removed en masse from November, so I may head out to capture a few more photos of these iconic trains along the ECML in the next few weeks. With Hull Trains introducing Class 802s by year's end, the only variation from this Hitachi Super Express train will the the Class 180s operated by Grand Central and Class 158 DMUs operated by EMR passing through my neck of the woods. 

Wednesday - More Monsal Meanderings
I took the kids into deepest, darkest Derbyshire today where we met with their grandparents. We recreated a walk I'd undertaken twice in the last two years, between Millers Dale and Monsal Head. I was a little reticent about taking my kids on a three-mile trek in the countryside as they've never done such a thing before, but the distance is no greater than walking from home into town and back, something they've done countless times in the past, though usually with a break in between. We drove to Nottingham then boarded the 1147 EMR train for Liverpool Lime Street. We met my parents at Sheffield and caught the 1335 Stagecoach in Chesterfield Buxton-bound service, formed of SN63 YPT, which wore appropriate route branding. We left under the dual viaduct in Millers Dale at 1456 and ten minutes later, having climbed the Wormhill road hill to reach the site of the former station, the walk began. As I've previously written, the route follows the former railway trackbed of the route that linked Matlock and Buxton via Bakewell. A number of years ago the three tunnels along the route were opened up and the Millers Dale-Bakewell section of this former railway line became accessible and a popular destination for cyclists.
     Walking through a tunnel is an unusual experience and one my children had hitherto avoided. Needless to say both enjoyed the experience and we walked through two of the three tunnels (Litton and Cressbrook). At the impressive Headspan Viaduct, we climbed to the top of the mountain and with minutes to spare boarded the 1627 Hulleys of Baslow service bound for Tideswell. Unusually for an operator that prides itself in an immaculate fleet livery, the Optare Solo that provided our travel was in full Connexions livery and rather bizarrely had Stagecoach notices inside. The vehicle in question was former Stagecoach fleet number 47123 and registered KN54 XYP. While my kids were off school for a second week, students attending Lady Manners School in Bakewell were not and around half the seats contained school children returning home to Tideswell. Here, the bus returns to Bakewell via Cressbrook, where we dropped the remaining three children off. The route then negotiates the infamous hairpin bend before running along the valley floor and then a steep climb up to Monsal Head, where we initially boarded.
    From here we headed to Bakewell where the route ends. Previously I've witnessed this bus then work the 1715 service 172 to Matlock but not today; it returned from whence it came. We headed to the toilets and then to one of the pudding shops that sell the traditional Bakewell Puddings before we caught the 1745 Trent Barton 6.1 to Matlock. This very yellow/mustard bus looked a lot tidier inside than on my previous travels and the USB charging points were handy. We then headed to the railway station and caught the 1836 EMR service to Nottingham, formed of 156405 which was lovely and warm inside. Sadly darkness had fallen so there was nothing much to do other than formulate ways to stop the children from getting too tired.

Thursday - Derby and Back
I had to head to Derby for work today and this meant an earlier than usual start for me. I chose to drive to Bottesford station and intercept a Boston-Nottingham train there rather than Grantham since I'd discovered that travelling a few extra miles means not having to search for a parking space outside  Grantham station's limits. Bottesford is the only station along the Grantham-Nottingham route that is in Leicestershire and the small station car park is free and managed by EMR. Our train - 156404 - arrived punctually and we headed toward Nottingham calling at Aslockton, Bingham, Radcliffe and Netherfield. I was surprised at the numbers boarding at Bingham and Radcliffe since both locations benefit from a very frequent service to Nottingham operated by Trent Barton. We arrived in Nottingham a few minutes after our booked 0753, though I wasn't in too much of a rush as I had two options now to reach the Home of the Railway: CrossCountry's 0807 to Cardiff Central or EMR's 0820 Matlock train. I opted for the latter since the '170' (that CrossCountry employs) will soon become the staple diet locally, while the Class 156 generally used on the Newark Castle-Matlock won't be around for too much longer.
     As it transpired, the 0820 Matlock was operated by two Class 153s. I boarded the rear unit which was lovely and warm on what was a colder than usual morning. It was one of the ex-GWR '153s' that was acquired around eighteen months ago and benefits (in my opinion) from not having vestibule carpets which I feel offer a less than inviting smell. The train was exceptionally busy, though many left at the first station, Beeston. This journey calls at Spondon, where quite a few left the train. I've often wondered why Spondon's service frequency is so poor. The area's population must surely rival that of Hykeham and its proximity to Derby is similar to that of Hykeham's to Lincoln yet so few trains call here. Is it because the station is located on the Midland Main Line and Network Rail's planners worry that too many stops could slow everything down?
     My return was aboard CrossCountry's 1540 departure which called at Long Eaton and Beeston. I then had some time to wait in Nottingham before the 1645 EMR train to Skegness, which this afternoon was formed of just a lone '153'. No passengers were left behind but conditions on board were certainly intimate. One chap was particularly vocal about the lack of capacity on a peak-time train, and I tended to agree. Though while I was travelling for over thirty minutes, he left at Netherfield, where the alternative option would be to travel on Nottingham City Transport's Service 44 that would, at this time of day, offer similarly cramped conditions. There were no ticket checks on this leg, presumably because the guard would struggle to walk the length of the train. The '153' continues to be a workhorse though with the evolution of the railway, it is increasingly becoming unfit for purpose. That's not to detract from its usefulness and versatility and that these attributed helped fend off possible line closures three decades ago.

Saturday - Diversions to Garforth
I took the kids to see my brother today. Warnings at Peterborough station I'd seen previously had warned that engineering work over the coming weekends would see a reduction in capacity for LNER services and that the company recommended booking a seat. Thankfully, though, the time I wanted to travel today meant the engineering works in the Peascliff Tunnel area of the ECML hadn't yet started and so the outward journey at least would be diversion free!
     The fist issue I encountered was booking seats after having already purchased and collecting the tickets. I phoned the number LNER themselves tell you to on their website and dealt with a fairly affable chap who frustratingly struggled to understand English. It honestly took me 38 minutes to ask for seat reservations to be applied to already-purchased return tickets. The poor guy, no doubt exasperated by the to-ing and fro-ing ended up signing off by thanking me for booking with London Northwestern Railway! I would imagine, then, that the number I called was a rental location that deals with all TOCs.
     Our 0951 departure from Peterborough was bang on time and formed of a Class 91/Mk 4. So often I forget that these trains will soon go the way of the dodo along the ECML, along with their elder HST siblings. The weather was decent enough and the service on board the train was excellent. Once in Leeds and having been met by my brother, we had a wander around the station to make use of our connection time. The station has had significant improvements and has been somehow widened to reduce - but sadly not remove completely - the bottleneck there. On the occasions I've been to Leeds station it's always felt welcoming and typically Northern. We then boarded the 1148 TPE service to Hull, alighting eight minutes into the journey at Garforth.
     The heavens had opened and for what seemed like hours it was exceptionally precipitous - so bad that while an umbrella was obviously needed, this only really protected your head since puddles were forming everywhere and it was impossible not to splash your legs. The TPE service was formed on one 3-car Class 185. Our return from Garforth was aboard the 1626 TPE from Hull to Manchester. Not only was this on time, it arrived ahead of time and sat at the station for a few minutes. Rain was still falling and my children and I stood on the overbridge and watched our LNER Azuma arrive that would form the return journey.
     I was impressed with the speed at which LNER managed to turn around the train. Our 1714 departure was punctual and we avoided football fans who, thanks to the proximity of Elland Road from Leeds station, would be required to catch a subsequent departure. 800110 worked the journey and from Doncaster we travelled the entire length of the Joint Line to Spalding and then direct to Peterborough. Generous running time was afforded and we sat outside Peterborough station for eight minutes which was rather frustrating since the OpenTimeTrains website showed that Platforms 1 and 2 were both devoid of trains. But then this is the railway and 'rules is rules'.
     It was a good day and trains were punctual (if a little crowded on the return) and LNER were correct to request as many passengers as possible made seat reservations. There were regular ticket checks and the crews were friendly and approachable. A good day all round.

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