Saturday, 13 August 2016

"The Welsh Marches": A Castle to Hereford...

"5043 Leaves Droitwich Behind" (Pic - J.Donohoe)
Evening all. Today Tyseley's immaculate Castle Class 4-6-0 No5043 "Earl of Mount Edgcumbe" would be out and about in South Wales. "The Welsh Marches" railtour would see the formidable double chimney 4-6-0 leave Birmingham before racing down to Gloucester, onward to Newport and then skirt around through Abergavenny and on to Hereford. There would be a few hours break at Hereford, allowing the many passengers to explore the city and stretch their legs. The Castle would then come home via Walsall and the Sutton Park Line before arriving back at her 84E base at Tyseley. Not long after dawn, I was in the car and on route to Birmingham. Nothing can draw me out from my blurry eyed tiredness better than a visit to McDonalds for the now traditional 'railway day' breakfast...
Breakfast devoured, I changed into my overalls before heading down to the shed frontage. 5043 was already outside with the fire lit and smoke rising steadily from her double chimney. The next hour or so saw the typical morning oiling procedures take place as well as a final buff up of the brass-work and buffers. The Castle looked splendid...
With the 9-coach train, plus the GUV (Water Carrier), waiting on the demo line for the 9:30am departure, the Castle was watered at the shed. The large Hawksworth flat-sided tender certainly holds strong quantities of both of the necessaries...
Not long after 8am, the Castle was moved over onto the waiting set as final preparations got underway. With the turning of 9am, the passengers would begin boarding in all classes in readiness for a prompt departure. The Tyseley site's own platform ("Warwick Road") was in use once again, allowing passengers to board 'away' from a main line station...
"The Castle Awaits Departure With The 'Welsh Marches' Railtour"
This is about the time that we on the Support Crew take a break and have a most welcome cuppa'. Meanwhile, aboard the Support Coach, bacon chef Tony can often be found slaving over a hot cooker making the morning sandwiches! We were soon all aboard the train and ready for the off. The Castle got the weight moving effortlessly before roaring out of Tyseley bound for Snow Hill. The dark mouth of the gloomy 635-yard long Snow Hill Tunnel soon beckoned and the Castle made an impressive sound barking up into the platform. More passengers boarded at Snow Hill before 5043 got the train moving once again. Due to being aboard the Support Coach, I can only take a very limited number of pictures during these days out on tours and therefore rely on the kindness of photographers sending them in. Thankfully, a few have taken pity on me for this post and the first image of our progress is seen below. The roar through the Jewellery Quarter tunnels is always worth a listen...
"Passing The Jewellery Quarter" (Pic - G.Nuttall)
Leaving the suburbs of Birmingham behind, the Castle was well into a sprint as we sailed on towards Stourbridge. The 4-6-0 whistled loudly, with speed at roughly 60mph, through Kidderminster, passing No7802 "Bradley Manor" and Autotank No1450 as they simmered away on Severn Valley metals. The assembled crowds admiring the Manor at the SVR station all turned their heads in unison as the four-cylinder beast flew by! Not long after Kidderminster, the brakes were applied in readiness for a water stop at Droitwich Spa. The tender was replenished from a road tanker before the Castle steamed onwards...
"Leaving Droitwich Spa" (Pic - J.Donohoe)
The engine then made wonderful progress, speeding along for mile after mile. All you could hear was the occasional Great Western whistle over the unending chorus of crisp beats leaving the copper cap...
"5043 Near Ashchurch" (Pic - S.Tucker)
After Gloucester, the Castle roared past the Dean Forest Railway at Lydney and, though we saw no steamer, I think we heard a separate whistle replying to the cry of the Castle! Progress slowed as we approached Pontypool - I think we were stuck behind a stopper...
"Castle Class No5043 at Pontypool" (Pic - A.Williams)
After Pontypool, the Castle was flying once again through the Welsh countryside...
The run through Abergavenny and onward towards Hereford was nothing short of storming! The Castle was absolutely flying and the noise was just tremendous as she bowled along. At Hereford, the passengers left the train before the ECS was backed into some nearby sidings for the loco to be serviced. The fire is cleaned at this point, the loco re-oiled and the tender coaled and watered. In short, its a pit stop! Our departure from Hereford was scheduled for tea-time and the Castle was back in the platform right on time, feathering loudly at the valves...
"5043 Is Ready For The Homeward Sprint at Hereford"
The run back to Tyseley was quite staggering. The Water Carrier was topping up the tender on route, allowing the 4-6-0 to run non stop as far as Wolverhampton, where passengers were set down. The pull out of Hereford was completed with ease and the Castle was flying once again, mile after mile. What a machine! Passengers were also set down at Walsall before we arrived home 15-minutes or so early at just after 8pm. The usual evening ritual of putting the train away then took place, shunting the yard with the help of the 08'. The Castle was shunt released and turned on the table before steaming gracefully back into the shed after a most energetic day out! Well done 5043...
"Goodnight 5043"
It absolutely amazes me how an engine like 5043, at 80 years old, can still do what she did today. The fact that she can perform like this at her age is testament to the quality of the restoration and maintenance undertaken at Tyseley. Everyone aboard the fully loaded train seemed to have a very pleasant day today and 5043 seemed to take on some kind of celebrity status. There were people on every bridge and crossing as well as every field and station. Main line steam is still certainly very popular. These railtours really are an adventure all of their own. We steamed out of the industrial heartland of Birmingham this morning, through Gloucester, along the estuary into Wales and then around into the Welsh hills before racing back up into the Midlands once more. Great stuff! I must thank the Tyseley lads once again for their hospitality and of course the four photographers who kindly sent in images for use in this post. All the best everyone, Sam...

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