‘My name is David and I am an anorak.’ I’m pretty sure that’s how my opening line at Anoraks Anonymous would go, were such an organisation to exist.
Having proudly completed (‘travelled along’) the entire UK passenger rail network the day before my Young Person’s Railcard elapsed for the final time, I have fed my habit by finding increasingly obscure railways to travel along – those normally restricted to freight traffic or diversionary routes.
This month was gearing up to be quite a spectacular month in this regard. I had booked a ticket on a charity railtour to take in the esoteric wonders of Felixstowe docks. Frustratingly, this was postponed due to ’a dispute between DB Schenker and ASLEF [which] has meant the long standing agreement for drivers to work on their days off has fallen’. A bit shoddy for a not-for-profit fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Society, one might think.
Undeterred, I booked myself on another railtour – this time to the 11-mile branchline to Boulby potash mine in Cleveland. Passenger trains are as rare as hen’s teeth here, so I was thrilled to bag one of the last tickets. This trip, the delightfully-named Grinkle Belle, was due to take place today. However, on Friday morning – with less than 48 hours to go – the organiser had to send out panicked emails, text messages and first class letters explaining that this excursion too had been ‘cancelled by train operator DB Schenker due to the escalation of an industrial dispute with members of the train drivers’ union ASLEF’. Great.
Note: since tweeting crossly about this, I have been chided by the ‘National Organiser’ for ASLEF. He alleges that the cancellations are down to ‘abject mismanagement’ and ‘if DBS actually had enough people to resource the contracts, the charters wouldn’t be canceled (sic)’. Which are clearly weasel words. It’s patently obvious that when a union directs its members not to work, that is going to have a detrimental effect on the number of staff available. Targeting charity fundraisers in this way seems mean-spirited and counter-productive - not exactly conducive to public support.
Anyway. I needed to find some obscure track in an ASLEF-free zone. And found this gem of a railway, just north of Henley-on-Thames:
The Ordnance Survey aficianados among you will note that this is a mile-long railway completely disconnected from the national network and with no public road access to it. So what is it?
The answer: it’s Sir William McAlpine’s back garden (he of construction company fame). Having a bit of spare cash, and being a fellow candidate for Anoraks Anonymous, he’s built his own private standard-gauge railway to house some of the ephemera he’s collected over the past seven decades. And why not?
The Fawley Hill Railway is normally an invitation-only affair. But being fine upstanding members of the local church (one of the stations is called Bourne Again Junction), the McAlpines opened their grounds to the public yesterday for a fête to raise money for the church building’s upkeep. There were all the usual sideshows – coconut shy, cake stall, tombola, beer tent, bouncy castle – and to ensure a healthy dose of English eccentricity, a display of post boxes.
The railway, naturally, was the main draw. As I arrived, the Hudswell Clarke 0-6-0 saddle tank (eponymously also known as Willy) was trying its best to climb up the 1:14 gradient, a fearsome climb for an adhesion railway. In the end, it had to be given an unceremonious shove from the rear by a Class 03 shunter in a scene reminiscent of Thomas the Tank Engine.
After much headscratching and consternation, it was ultimately decided to detach Willy from the train and allow the diesel loco to do the hard work. Thus D2120 conveyed me from the beautifully restored Somersham station to the junction (watched by bemused emus – the avians, not electric multiple units) and on to line’s end at ‘Inverernie’.
The other highlight was the opportunity to look around Sir William’s personal collection of railwayana on an hour-long guided tour. A staggering array of relics from the Great Western Railway era right up to the modern day, with exhibits including the old departure board from Brighton station.
I’m sure Fawley Church will have benefited handsomely from the entrance fees, donations and cake sales, etc. Many thanks to the McAlpines for hosting the event and opening their fabulous gardens (and railway) to the likes of me for the day.