Sun, sand and … art

Roll up, roll up, the circus has come to town, it’s the greatest show on earth!
Within this fantastic ring you will see the world’s strongest man lifting incredibly heavy things, witness the death defying high wire and trapeze artists as they fly through the air, see the wild animals, marvel at the human cannonball and of course laugh at the madcap antics of the clowns.



So step right up because you won’t see this collection of amazing circus acts anywhere else on Earth.



The circus Ringmaster has a magnificent vocabulary to exaggerate and enhance the expectations of visitors to the circus, but one of his claims above is not an exaggeration, you really won’t see this collection of circus acts anywhere else in the world.



Welcome to the Weston Super Mare Sand Sculpture Festival 2018. This year’s theme, as if you haven’t already guessed, is the Circus. Every participant in this Circus is unique, it was created just for this performance it has never appeared anywhere else, and neither will it appear anywhere else.



Sand sculpture is the practise of carving fantastic works of art out of nothing more than damp sand, this is building sand castles on a heroic scale. But why do it on the beach at Weston Super Mare? The answer lies in the type of sand found at Weston which is a very sharp edged sand that enables it to lock together this property allows the artists to create finely detailed carvings.



And yes, they really are just compacted wet sand, there is no framework of any sort inside.
This year’s sand sculptures have been created by 17 artists from 9 different countries out of 5000 tonnes of sand.

There’s more of my photos of the Sand Festival on my website here.

Return to The Village.

As was mentioned in s previous blog post, my main purpose for visiting North Wales, and Porthmadog in particular, was to travel on the Welsh Highland Railway and as many other Welsh narrow gauge railways as I could fit into a one week holiday.

But one cannot go to the Porthmadog area without paying a visit to the location of one of the 1960’s most iconic and enigmatic TV series.

Each episode starts with a fast paced opening sequence dramatically cut to match the energetic title music, this style of opening sequence was fairly common in the 1960’s but today’s TV producers seem to have lost the art of producing them.

It starts with a man with determined look on his face driving a fast car along an empty runway, through the streets of London and down into an underground car park where he then walks resolutely along a corridor, throws open a door and delivers an impassioned speech, which is lost in the background music, to the man behind the desk. He finishes his speech by forcibly placing his letter of resignation on the desk and pounding his fist on the desk. As he storms out and drives away he seems oblivious to the black limousine following him, until back home his hurried packing is interrupted by sleeping gas being pumped into his room. When he wakes he is in what appears to be his own room, but when he looks out of the window he sees not the London skyline but an almost fanciful Italianate courtyard, he is in The Village. He is The Prisoner, he is number 6.



The location for the outdoor scenes of the series, which was not officially revealed until the final episode’s credits, was the village of Portmeirion which was designed by Sir Clough Williams-Ellis and is a collection of parts of demolished, or salvaged, buildings carefully set out to create a magical place that is greater than the sum of its constituent parts.



When I first went to Portmeirion after TV series original run, the place almost went out of its way to deny that it was the location for The Prisoner and it was almost surreal to watch the repeats of the series on TV in the evening and be walking round the actual site of The Village the next day. By the time of my second visit it seemed they were almost grudgingly admitting Portmeirion’s role in the series and there were a couple of shops selling Prisoner merchandise.



On my visit this year, just over 30 years since my previous visits, everything had changed, the charitable trust that now owns Portmeirion has not been slow to capitalise on the village’s TV stardom and gain some valuable tourist finance. However I somehow felt that the commercialism of the entrance area spoilt the charm of the village, but I was pleased to find that once inside the village it remains unspoilt and almost exactly as it was in the TV series.



In the 50 years since The Prisoner TV series was shown many articles have been written to try and answer the mysteries and meaning behind the series, who was Number 6, he is never named in the series, who ran The Village indeed the series asks more questions than it gives answers. I am going to make no comments about these matters because an Internet search will provide you with more than you would ever need. In the first episode there is a sign on the wall of one of the rooms, it reads:


“Questions are a burden for others, answers a prison for oneself”.


So I ask you no questions and I give you no answers.


Portmeirion is a fantastic and beautiful place to visit, even if you’ve never watched an episode of The Prisoner and never heard a word about it. If you’ve done both, then it’s an essential place to visit if you’re ever in the area.


“Be Seeing You”.


More of my photographs of Portmeirion can be found Here.

A Dream Realised

Back in the late 1960’s and 1970’s I spent many of my holidays in North Wales and those holidays also involved visiting the many narrow gauge railways in the area or exploring the remains of those that no longer existed.  One such railway was the Welsh Highland Railway and the part of its route that went along the Aberglaslyn pass had become a footpath I remember walking along this section several times.  This section includes two tunnels, one quite short and the other rather long and it was always exciting to walk through them, on the second and subsequent visits I remembered to bring a torch with me, which helped to avoid pools of water and trip hazards but somehow spoilt the fun of walking through the tunnels, especially the long one.



One more than one occasion while walking this route I thought how wonderful it would be if the line could be restored and it would once again be possible to ride behind a steam loco through the magnificent Aberglaslyn pass.  But it was clear that this seemed an impossible dream because of the number of missing bridges, overgrown cuttings and damaged embankments.

It therefore came as a surprise to learn in 1989 that the Ffestiniog Railway planned to restore the Welsh Highland Railway starting from the Caernarfon end and in 1997 the first section was opened.  The line finally opened all the way through to Porthmadog in 2011.



In 2018 my impossible dream from the 1970’s became a reality and I rode in a train behind a steam locomotive along the Aberglaslyn pass and through those tunnels that I’d walked through and travelled over the rest of the line that I was unable to access back in the 70’s.

The locomotives used on today’s Welsh Highland Railway are a far cry from the ones used by the previous operators of the route.  The railway’s NG/G16 Bayer-Garretts are the world’s largest two foot gauge locomotives.


Cotswold Festival of Steam: 2018

“Give my regards to Broadway” was the theme chosen by the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway for their Cotswold Festival of Steam this year.
It might sound a rather odd choice of theme if you’ve not been following the GWSR’s major project to reopen the line from Toddington to Broadway, a project that has involved extensive repair work to the bridges between the two stations and the total reconstruction of the station at Broadway, British Railways having totally demolished the original after the line closed.



The reopening of the extension at Easter this year was the culmination of many years hard work by a dedicated band of volunteers. So it was only natural that the 2018 Festival of Steam celebrated the achievement.

For the event the railway lined up an impressive cast of guest performers:

GWR King class no.6023 King Edward II
BR M7 class no.70013 Oliver Cromwell
GWR 64xx class no.6430
USATC S160 class no.5197
Along with resident performers:
GWR 28xx class no.2807
GWR Modified Hall class no.7903 Foremarke Hall
GWR Manor class no.7820 Dinmore Manor
SR Merchant Navy class no.35006 Peninsular and Oriental S.N. Co.

Without doubt the star of the show had to be the King resplendent in its early British Railways blue express passenger livery. Which was the co-star would be a matter of some debate as each of the locos would have their admirers, but for many the choice would be the S160.



S160’s are a bit like Marmite, you either like them or you don’t, these large American no-nonsense Second World War austerity designs were built to haul heavy freight trains not to win beauty contests. The majority of them were shipped to Europe and beyond but some 800 of them worked on railways in Britain. Like them or not, the S160’s are impressive locomotives and provide an interesting contrast to British locos.



Unusually for an English Bank Holiday weekend the weather was quite decent, if you ignore the very misty start of the day and a short shower of rain on Saturday morning, but by mid-afternoon the temperature had increased to give us a pleasantly warm afternoon.



The first gala featuring Broadway station was clearly a big draw as nearly every train on Saturday, and quite a few on Monday, was full and standing even though there were two eight coach rakes and one 7 coach rake in use. The railway appeared to have every serviceable coach they had in use even to the extent of using their three car DMU, with its drive disconnected, as an additional train which was in the charge of GWR pannier no.6430.



The timetable worked well on the two days I was there with no serious delays or late running. During a gap in the timetable at Winchcombe the GWR 28xx no.2807 kept everyone entertained by shunting up and down the station with a couple of wagons.



The North Gloucestershire Narrow Gauge Railway was also operating, but there was so much happening on the main line that I didn’t get the opportunity to ride on that this year. At Toddington there were several traction and showman’s engines on display, both full size and miniature, there was also an impressive fairground organ.



A lot of planning and organising clearly went into the gala and all those involved in the planning and operation should be congratulated for putting on such an enjoyable event.




Some more of my photographs of the gala can be found on my website here.

Bluebell Railway Branch Line Gala 2018.

While it’s always good to go to a steam gala and see the big impressive main line locos strut their stuff we shouldn’t loose sight of the little engines. The tank engines that hauled passenger and freight trains on Britain’s myriad of branch lines, the unsung heroes, if you will, of our railway network.



It was these little engines that the Bluebell Railway choose to feature at their Branch Line Gala, better yet, it wasn’t the well known locomotives of the Big Four that were action, no, it was Locomotives from the pre-grouping companies resplendent in their original liveries that were in action.



The locomotives taking part were:

SER O1 class no.65
SR Q class no.30541
SECR H class no.263
SECR P class no.323
and special visitor GWR no.813. (Originally Port Talbot Railway & Docks Company no.26)



In keeping with the branch line theme the Bluebell Railway marshalled several short rakes of beautifully restored vintage carriages, some dating back to the 1900’s along with some slightly more modern stock. Riding in a four wheel coach with only basic suspension you felt almost every rail joint, but it was all part of the authentic branch line experience, rail travel as it was at the start of the last century.



I went on the Friday and Saturday, on the Friday there were three locos in action running a standard timetable with each train running the whole length of the line. On Saturday the timetable was very different with most trains terminating at Horsted Keynes and then returning to where they’d come from which created a busy branch line junction atmosphere at the station with loco changes and coach rakes being combined and split.



On two occasions trains terminated at Kingscote which led to the interesting spectacle of three trains being at the station at the same time. This meant a bit of shunting with the loco on the terminated service having to run round its train and then shunt it into a siding to make way for the two through services to pass each other.

Congratulations and thanks to all the staff and volunteers at the Bluebell Railway for the time and effort they all put in to make this such an excellent and enjoyable gala.



Here’s my video of the gala, it looks best in full screen mode (click the little X at the right of the player bar) and don’t forget to turn your computer’s speakers on.



You can see more of my photos of the gala on my website  here.

Kempton Steam Museum

In April this year I visited the Kempton Steam Museum, this isn’t the first time I’ve visited it’s my third, but each time I never fail to be amazed by the size of the impressive pumping engines.



The museum has two of these fantastic machines which can be enjoyed in their original surroundings, indeed, at 62 feet high and weighing 1000 tons each there is no way they could ever be seen anywhere but their original location and that location, a magnificent Art Deco building, is worth a visit in its own right.



One of the engines has been restored to working order and is the world’s largest working triple-expansion steam pumping engine, the other engine is kept as a static exhibit and on open days the museum arranges guided tours to enable visitors to get a closer look at the engineering than would be possible on a working engine.



I have no head for heights whatsoever, but on my first visit I went right up to the top of the static engine and got some nice photos, while keeping a very firm hold of the railing with one hand and holding the camera with the other. It was an interesting experience, but not one I’d want to repeat!



The engines were built by Worthington Simpson Ltd at their works near Nottingham and were installed in 1927. They were finally decommissioned in 1980, during their working lives apart from down-time for maintenance they worked 24 hours a day seven days a week pumping millions of gallons of water to homes and businesses in North London.



Coal for the pumping engines was delivered to a wharf on the river Themes at Hampton and transported to the Kempton site by a 2ft gauge railway which was completed in 1915 and dismantled in 1947. However, parts of the track bed still exist and there are plans to reopen part of the route as a passenger carrying heritage railway. To this end the Hamton & Kempton Waterworks Railway has opened a circular track to give rides behind their narrow gauge steam locomotive and no visit to the pumping engines is complete without a ride on the railway.



Watch the pumping engine in action.



This is the railway.


Creative 2

Here is another selection of my rather more unusual photographic creations.

First up is this HDR image of Great Western Railway 2-8-0 no.2807 at Cheltenham Racecourse station on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway. Designed by the GWR’s chief mechanical engineer G.J.Churchward and built in 1905 no.2807 is the oldest GWR loco in working order.



This jig-saw triptych of the grade 2 listed Battersea Power station was a little more complicated to produce than the previous picture. Once one of London’s most well known derelict landmarks Battersea Power station is now the centre of a redevelopment project. From what I have read in various places the redevelopment project itself was a bit of a jig-saw puzzle to put together.



Fun with polar coordinates for this next image creates a very different view of Montacute House, an Elizabethan mansion in Somerset, was completed in1601.



This image of B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B at Duxford has been processed in a line art or cartoon style. One result of this treatment has been the greater emphasis on the sky which gives the whole image a much more dramatic appearance.



Another line art style image. This time of the beautifully restored GWR Sandford and Banwell station.



A digital kaleidoscope. The central image is the same simple pattern repeated seven times then surrounded by a lace style border.



A chrome effect metalic lace surrounds this head-on photo of a Victor, one of the so-called V-Bombers, part of the United Kingdom’s nuclear strike force the. The Victor, the Valiant and the more well known Vulcan were designed to carry nuclear weapons but could also drop conventional bombs. Thankfully, they were never called upon to carry nuclear weapons and were retired form service in 1982.


West Somerset Railway Spring Steam Gala 2018

This year the WSR’s spring steam gala was held from the 22nd to the 25th March, the theme for the gala was “Great Western Routes and Branches”.

Those of you who know me, or have visited this blog before, will know that I am a GWR enthusiast so this was an especially interesting gala for me. There were six Great Western locomotives in action; 6960 ‘Raveningham Hall’, 6990 ‘Witherslack Hall’, 7822 ‘Foxcote Manor’, 94xx class pannier tank no.9466, 57xx pannier tank no.7714 and 14xx class no.1450 which was running with GWR autocoach no.178.

There was one other locomotive in action that was not Great Western, or even British, this was the United States Army Transportation Corps S160 class no.6046. This large and impressive 2-8-0 was in charge of the gala’s special attraction, a military goods train which included several flat wagons loaded with small military vehicles accompanied by a squad of British army ‘soldiers’ riding in the brake van to guard the train.  The inclusion of this American loco is not quite as out of place as you might imagine, at one time during World War 2 there were 174 of them working on the GWR.


The S&DJR 7F no.53808 was on station pilot duty at Minehead while Pecket no.1788 ‘Kilmersdon’ and Andrew Barclay no.1219 ‘Caledonia Works’ on display at Washford completed the line-up of locomotives.

The timetable for this gala was slightly unusual in that it was the same for all four days, the only thing that changed was the loco allocations for each train, except for the military goods which was always hauled by the S160. As has become a feature of galas some of the trains were extended to the end of the line at Norton Fitzwarren rather than terminating at Bishops Lydeard. 1450 and the autocoach ran regular shuttle services between Norton and Williton.


For those wanting to travel in luxury the WSR Association’s Hawksworth designed GWR inspection saloon was attached to one of the coach sets. Another of the sets included the WSRA’s Quantock Belle dining cars where passengers could enjoy either a cooked breakfast, lunch or cream tea depending on the time of day.

One unusual attraction was the 1931 Sentinel steam omibus ‘Elizabeth’ which is the only working steam omnibus still in public service today. Part of the Crossville heritage fleet it was running between Minehead and Dunster.


West Somerset Resorations and the Diesel and Electric Group’s workshops were open at Williton as were the museums at Bishops Lydeard, Washford and Blue Anchor. The Taunton Model Railway Club’s clubhouse at Bishops Lydeard where visitors could see the club’s layouts in operation.

Altogether it was another excellent and enjoyable gala and a credit to all the railway’s staff and volunteers who worked so hard to organise it and make it happen. Special thanks must go to the loco engineers who worked through the night to repair the S160 so it would be back in action for the following day.



Here’s my video of the gala.

There are lots more photographs of the gala on my website here.

Are railways ‘cool’ again?

Years ago if you admitted to being a railway enthusiast you would be just asking to be regarded as some sort of strange weirdo, the stereotyped nerd in an anorak standing at the end of a station platform with a notebook and pencil.
But in 2016 hundreds of thousands of people packed into stations and stood by the lineside to watch a steam locomotive go past, that locomotive was the world famous A3 class LNER pacific no.60103, also known as 4472, Flying Scotsman. The occasion was its return to steam after a long, and expensive, repair and restoration.



Similar scenes were witnessed in 2009 when the then newly built LNER A1 class no.60163 Tornado made its first run on the main line.



Over the past few months there have been almost more programmes on television about railways than you could shake a fireman’s shovel at. There have been several programmes chronicling the history and restoration of Flying Scotsman, programmes featuring the Canadian Rocky Mountain Railroad, Australian Railroads, a series documenting the incredible feats of engineering that were required to build railway lines across inhospitable landscapes and the lengths they went to to cross mountains, rivers and canyons, a series exploring the coastal railways of Britain, even one about a group of enthusiasts who built a railway to take a miniature live steam model locomotive through the forests in the highlands of Scotland. We should also not forget Michael Portillo’s Great Railway Journeys, a programme while mostly concerned with visiting places of interest by train does, on occasion, feature a visit to one of our heritage steam railways.



When considering famous locomotives like Flying Scotsman we should not forget that other locomotive that’s well known around the world, a small blue 0-6-0 tank engine called Thomas. Personally, I wouldn’t go anywhere near a Thomas the Tank Engine event. But don’t get me wrong about Thomas, he’s a great ambassador for railways and a great way to introduce young children to railways. Like many children I grew up with Rev. Awdry’s engines, although in my day the main character was Edward supported by his friends Gordon and Henry.



The return to steam of Flying Scotsman and, to a lesser extent the arrival of Tornado, would appear to have ignited a renewed interest in railways. I certainly find that people are keen to tell me that they’ve seen a steam locomotive on the main line or about their visit to one of the heritage railways so it seems to me that being a railway enthusiast is now OK and ‘cool’.



So what do you think?

Getting Creative

Most of my photographs are straightforward normal photographs, a record of the event I attended with minimal processing in Photoshop. But I also create some rather different images which could be described as creative, artistic or just plain weird depending on your point of view. This post is about some of those.


This first one is a fairly simple affair. The original is a photo of a US Navy F4 Phantom jet fighter, a classic, some might even say iconic, fighter aircraft. The original photo, while good lacked impact so I reprocessed it in a line art style which has resulted in simplifying the subject and by reinforcing the basic lines and shape of the aircraft creates what I think is a much stronger image.



This next image is slightly more complex. The original colour photo of Black 5 no.45379 departing from Ropley station was quite a dramatic picture, but by reprocessing in a line art style and applying a strong sepia tint has added more dynamic impact to the picture.



You may have seen one of those Chinese style paper fans with a picture printed on them, well here we have two such fans. The top one has the train printed on it while the lower one has the rest of the track on it.



This next one is rather more abstract. A single image of a railway signal and locomotive headlamp repeated eight times to create a circular montage.



“How to rescue a totaly ruined photo” would be a good description of this image. The original photo was totally spoilt by lens flare from the early morning sun but by solarising the image and cutting and pasting the coloured buffer beam and nameplate from the original photo has resulted in the dramatic night effect image.



This last one is a total piece of whimsical fun. A starfield background with the Interplanetary Express traveling between the Earth and Saturn.



With the exception of Britannia at night all the photos were created in Photoshop Elements using the excellent Photoshop actions available from PanosFX.