Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Letting the train take the strain

Leaving the boat behind to take the train
Before Doctor Beeching wielded his axe, a steam railway line ran pretty much the route that we've been travelling by boat, from Blisworth through Northampton to Irthlingborough, Oundle and finally Peterborough.
And then it all vanished, until a bunch of enthusiasts with the assistance of the local councils created the Nene Valley Railway which runs via four stations to Peterborough where it terminates at the edge of the 'Railworld' centre.
So we left Harry moored by the NVR's base at Wansford and spent most of the day travelling on the steam railway. First of all we headed into Peterborough itself, the line crossing and re-crossing the winding river as we headed across the wide, flat expanses of water meadows and flood plain with those evocative clouds of smoke drifting back outside the windows from the little tank engine pulling us.
For someone who grew up as a child spotting numbers in the great age of steam, a steam railway always brings back fond memories of that distant youth. The carriages with their varnished wood surfaces, quaint toilets, sliding doors into private compartments and the clackety-clack over the track fishplates.
Last surviving example of the tracked hovercraft rail venture
Railworld (an otherwise rather forgettably scrappy place) was dominated by another memory from my youth, the sole surviving example of the tracked hovercraft or mag-lev railway which BBC Tomorrow's World I recall championing as the future of transport. It combined two British inventions, hovercraft and the linear induction motor, to create an ultra high-speed railway running along a concrete track. Sadly, like so many great sixties projects it all came to naught.
A stroll around Peterborough revealed a city a little smarter than I recall, especially the central piazza with its water features. Architecturally it's nowt special, though with low, dull buildings rather like the low, dull fens that surround it.
Homeward on the train we stopped at the excellent Ferry Meadows Country Park on the edge of the city where we would moor the next night, then went past Wansford to travel through the line's tunnel which emerges at the Yarwell terminus.
Then back to Wansford for a look around. It's well worth a visit for even the casually interested. There's an old mail sorting coach from the days when the GPO sorted the post as the train ran, a cafe, secondhand bookshop for the rail, bus or tram geek and all sorts of engines and associated hardware.

And the train even has a bar!

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