Thursday, 27 December 2012

"Arrowvale Belle": My Birthday At The GCR...

Hi everyone. Today was a pretty special day: My Birthday! In a style reflecting the way I like to spend my free time we had booked a special carriage on the Great Central Railway, based in Loughborough. We had hired the 'Arrowvale Belle' Directors Saloon, a beautiful maroon coach built in 1959 and kitted out with its own dining facilities. At one end there is a sitting room/lounge with sofa's and wooden chairs, offering unspoilt views of the Leicestershire countryside whilst in comfort. There is then a small kitchen, a guards compartment and a w/c which all take off a corridor on the right-hand side of the coach. The opposite end of the coach is home to the Dining Room where up to 10 people can sit comfortably around the grand table, still enjoying unspoilt views! The coach is completely self contained with no corridor connections and offers complete comfort and privacy. Though the price for hiring such vehicles on preserved railways seems to be ever growing for one reason or another, the quality of them is worth paying for in my eyes. Why put up with being pressed up against windows in corridors in a Third Class Mk1 when you can travel like this? Mind you, saying that makes me sound like a complete snob!
Though we had hired the Arrowvale for the day, the train it was coupled to would perform three round trips of the line. We opted to travel on two of them: the 1:30 and 3:30 departures from Loughborough. Our locomotive was the small but plucky BR Standard 2 Mogul No78019: a Loughborough resident, and regular GCR performer. We joined the coach in our 13-strong party and the '2' departed on time. The Buffet was already aboard the train and it was served whilst the on-board steward served the Tea/Coffee. Meanwhile, 78019 was making good progress along the Great Central metals, passing N2 No1744 on the way. With steam heating on and the food & drink served, the Arrowvale offered a cosy haven on this chilly winters day.
At the terminus station of Leicester North, I jumped out and walked along the platform to capture the little '2' running round. With the Ivatt style tender the Standard shows just how small she actually is. It is worth bearing in mind that a Pannier Tank of the 57XX type is a Class 4, whilst these BR tender engines were only a Class 2. It would be misleading to assume that a tender means a big, powerful loco! Don't get me wrong, the 2's were a popular engine as they were easy to work on and everything was in the right place: particularly for locomen. This one: 78019: was built in 1954 at Darlington Works and spent some of her working life at Nuneaton's 2B shed. Only 12 years old when withdrawn from service in 1966, she was sent to Barry Scrapyard. From Barry, the engine came to the GCR via the Severn Valley, to finish her restoration at Loughborough. In service since 2004 or there abouts, the Standard seems to do mile after mile at the GCR, proving her worth and paying for her no doubt expensive ex-Barry restoration.
With 78019 running round, I reboarded the Arrowvale for another cuppa'.
With Dessert being gobbled up, 78019 hauled us smartly back to Loughborough, passing 1744 again at Quorn. Pulling into Loughborough at 2:45pm, we alighted to have a look in the Souvenir shop and enjoy a quick leg-stretch. Loughborough station is something straight out of the 1950s, echoing GCR charm and elegance. "Brief Encounter" wouldn't have looked out of place if filmed here: not in my mind anyway! 78019 was soon back on the front of the train and steam heating again. We departed on time at 3:30pm, this time enjoying Sparkling Wine and Birthday Cake on the Saloon.
78019 At The Head of The Train
As the daylight faded, candles were lit aboard the Saloon as: not forgetting that we are dealing with heritage equipment once again: the lights were not working!
Once again 78019 pulled us smartly along the line, passing the N2 one last time.
At Leicester North the GCR Rep had kindly said that two people could ride on the footplate of the little '2' as she ran round. I didn't really mind as I have been on 78019 at some point in the past. However, as nobody else seemed to want to get a little coal dust on the soles of their shoes I stepped up to the mark and went on myself, accompanied by my dad who, following the countless "its very hot on here" comments has never been on a footplate before! 
The little '2' took the points carefully as she ran round, with 160psi on the clock (full pressure 200) and what seemed to be a thin fire with a thicker back end. The driver reported that it "went alright" but "she doesn't like second valve when accelerating up to speed". I was surprised that the '2' was not so good when you 'gave her the big valve' - in my estimation it  would probably require that sort of treatment to get the right 'GO' out of it with a heavy train. It was very nice to travel on the footplate at the GCR again - if only briefly. After thanking the driver & fireman we rejoined the Arrowvale for the final 8-mile stint back to Loughborough. The ambience aboard the Saloon was spot on: warm, cosy and comfortable. On arrival back at Loughborough's Platform 2 we detrained after a very pleasant afternoon travelling in style on the Arrowvale Belle.
The 'Arrowvale Belle' At Loughborough This Evening
Thanks for reading folks, and certainly thanks to Mum for paying for this day out! Though I am now elderly, I'll be arising early tomorrow to light "Sir Gomer" for a day on the passenger services at Shackerstone so no heavy partying for me tonight! Cheers guys. Sam.

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