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Regular readers will be familiar with my occasional outings with my local church, starting with Ely, then York, Oakham (for the Grainstore Brewery) and Spalding. Recently I thought that a trip I had done personally a few years ago would make a good outing to invite others to join in, involving a country walk, rides on both our local main line train and the Nene Valley Railway, and lunch at a country pub.
Half a dozen of us booked, mostly "usual suspects" but also two people new to these "adventures", but on the day a couple of the regulars had to back out for health reasons so in the event only four of us travelled, but we had a great day nonetheless. For me it was rather special, as you will see!
We began as all these parish outings do with a rendezvous at Stamford station. Given the last-minute cancellation it was as well that I had not bought the tickets in advance, but I collected everyone's fares for the whole day's travels and then bought the day return tickets to Peterborough, using the Railcards of the three who had them. We caught the train on time and those who had not joined in the trip before were shown where the former direct line from Stamford (East station) to Wansford used to cross over our line and then where landmarks familiar from the road could be seen from the train, Burghley House being the main one. At Peterborough we made our way, slightly diverted any roadworks, to the Nene Valley Railway station on the other side of the river: in places this is just back streets and card park, but once at the river is a pleasant walk with swans on the river and some interesting railway bridges. Plenty of main line trains were passing overhead as we went to the station, arriving just as a Brush type 2 (class 31) diesel locomotive brought in our train. This was the first time I had ever known this train be on time!
We watched the locomotive, 31 271, being uncoupled and set off to the other end of the train to haul it in the other direction, and I couldn't help noticing the shunter looking at me as he climbed back onto the platform ...
We boarded the train, taking a compartment, for its novelty value, rather than a table in an open coach, and near the buffet counter from which I bought a round of drinks, although my companions would not let me pay for them. We were approached first by a man selling first day covers in aid of a fund to complete a Victorian postman's uniform - the railway operates a travelling post office train and has quite a display of postal equipment - and then by the one selling tickets (well, taking our money and giving us a receipt). The train pauses for about twenty minutes at Wansford before working forward to our destination at Yarwell, and it was here that another man entered our compartment, the shunter I had seen earlier, who had recognised me as a former neighbour. It had been ten years since we last spoke but as soon as he introduced himself I recognised him, too, and he went to have a word with his friends on the locomotive and I joined them in the cab for the ride through to Yarwell. The locomotive crew were directors of the small company which owns the locomotive: a lot of people who invest and a handful who do the work - both are needed to maintain and operate the small fleet of locomotives they have, all of them class 31s. I have always liked these engines and have three of them on my 60s era model railway.
At Yarwell I said farewell to my new friends and collected my original friends from the train and we walked to Yarwell village, a stroll of about half an hour. It was a lovely day for a walk in the country and we were ready for lunch when arrived at the Angel Inn. They do wonderful chips at the Angel, and some great ales and we enjoyed a splendid pub lunch before setting off back to Yarwell station. We had to stride it out a bit because we did not want to miss our train. Although it was not the last of the day we did not want to spend the rest of our day out waiting for it at the station: the idea was to catch this one to Wansford and spend some time there looking at the items displayed there and having tea at Wansford station. The first of us, striding out in front, arrived on the platform as the locomotive was being uncoupled, the rest of us easily made it onto the train before it was ready to leave. Yarwell station is in a delightful rural spot and if you do not want to walk to the village for lunch there are picnic tables there and you can bring your own lunch or buy it on the train and spend a quiet couple of hours between trains.
After the short journey back through the tunnel and under the A1 we left the train at Wansford station and spent some time looking at what was there: a visit to a model railway set out in a carriage parked in a bay platform; a walk among the locomotives being repaired and restored, to the shed beyond where more restoration work was being undertaken; tea in the station café. During our time here the train came through once more on its way back to Yarwell, and then later we boarded for our ride back to Peterborough city centre. This time my shunter friend had arranged for me to ride in the locomotive cab all the way to Peterborough and I had a good chance to get to know more about the operation to keep the class 31s running. Judging by the condition of the steam locomotives at Wansford, the hiring-in of this diesel would seem to have been necessary to keep the railway going this summer - and with the hot, dry weather that has been consistent for some weeks now, diesel turned out to have been a good choice, because lineside fires would have been difficult to avoid with steam traction, and many preserved lines have resorted to diesel only this year.
This article first appeared on www.mwtrips.co.uk
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