Glide

Now this is a pretty cool effect: Graeme Taylor ran his digital camera at 210 frames per second, but plays it back at the more regular 30fps, so one second of real time becomes stretched to seven seconds of film time. As BoingBoing notes the effect is like a smooth take on ‘bullet time’. As the train slows down further you start to get very small, slow movement added, the result is seriously cool:

God’s Wonderful Railway

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 01

This afternoon my dad and I took a nice trip on the rails down across the border down to Carlisle to see a rare visitor this far north – a GWR steam loco. Brunel’s Great Western Railway – known fondly as God’s Wonderful Railway because of the quality of the engineering – ran on the southwest of the UK, so unlike the old LMS and LNER locomotives they were not normally seen in the north of the UK. I have seen GWR engines before, but only static, preserved in musuems, never under steam. It’s very different to see a steam engine actually in action. Heat radiates out from it, it breathes smoke and steam, fuelled by fire and water, it’s like a living machine, a steel dragon with fire for a heart. This visitor was one of the famous Castle Class of locos, which inspired all the other railway companies of the era with it’s efficient engineering (a legacy of the early Brunel days which carried on throughout the GWR’s history),the Earl of Mount Edgucmbe.

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 011

Firing the powerful tapered boiler on a steam loco is hard work; smoke-blackened firemen take a break before the return leg on the Sett;e-Carlisle line (it must have looked amazing crossing the famous viaduct)

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 014

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 023

As they added more coal to the fire box in preparation for the departure the smoke blackens and thickens as it pours out of the stack, the air fills with the distinctive scent of burning coal, the hissing reaches a huge, loud pitch and then with a lurch it begins to move slowly, that distinctive chuff, chuff, CHUFF, CHUFF! sound, so evocative. I love the sound of a steam engine powering up, beginning to haul a huge line of carriages out of the station with seeming ease.

GWR Castle Class loco Earl of Mount Edgcumbe at Carlisle 025

I shot a brief bit of video as it was leaving, more to capture that fabulous sound than anything else:

Great day out with dad, see a beautiful bit of living history that makes us both feel like 5 year old boys and a good rail trip into the bargain.

Union of South Africa

Here’s what dad and I saw steaming in to Edinburgh this afternoon, steam whistle blowing, smoke and steam billowing, Union of South Africa, an A4 Pacific steam loco (the class which set the world steam engine speed record) with the streamliner casing. I know the streamlining was more about image and marketing and didn’t give much of an advantage in reality, but ye gods its lovely. Elegance and power from a different era when travelling the length of our islands drawn by some great steel, fire breathing dragon like this was an adventure and not the boring, over priced chore its become now.
Union of South Africa arrives in Edinburgh 4

(click the pic for the larger version)

Imagine charging down from Edinburgh along Britain’s east coast mainline to London behind one of these magnificent engines, the sea on your left as you roar down towards Berwick upon Tweed, the roar of the engine resounding across the landscape, easily pulling a long line of carriages with its enormous power, crossing the border, cruising into Northern England, passing ancient York, surging south on steel and iron and fire and water at a speed most people of the time would never encounter anywhere else in their life (this series could easily cruise beyond 100mph) until you arrive in King’s Cross in the middle of London. Before most people had cars, long before motorways existed it would have been remarkable to travel so swiftly, to go from one great capital city of the United Kingdom to another in just a few hours, and in comfort and style as well. God, that was the era to travel by train in this country…

Steam power

Here’s what my dad and I went to see arriving then departing from Edinburgh the last couple of weekends, a brand new steam locomotive (built to the old designs, but new build), the Tornado, created by the A1 Steam Trust. Not a static museum piece but a living, breathing, working locomotive, undergoing her shake down runs, here steaming through Edinburgh hauling a huge line of passenger carriages with utmost ease due to the raw power of such a huge locomotive. She drew a fair crowd and made quite a sight, steam whistle blowing, the roar of the engine and the sheer power and elegant beauty…

Tornado departs Edinburgh 6

The iron road to the Highlands

Early yesterday morning I caught the train for Inverness to cover a brand-new comics convention for the FPI blog. Crossing over the mighty Forth Bridge (I can’t remember going over that since I was a kid, usually I’m going over the nearby road bridge) the train went along the Fife coast to begin with, curving around past Burntisland, giving great views right across the Firth of Forth where you could see all of Edinburgh in profile, the Pentland Hills behind the city dusted with snow and an orange glow behind them as the early morning winter sun struggled to rise above the hills. As the train turned further inland the rolling hills of Fife were sprinkled with snow too, while the rich farmland between them was mostly snow (although not ice) free.


(click the pics to see the full size version on the Woolamaloo Flickr stream)

However, as I got further north, heading up past Perth, Pitlochry and further, the snow went from a light sprinkle to deeper, purer, whiter. As we got up into the Highlands proper and the Cairngorms national park it got colder and ever more spectacular. The view from the train window was quite simply spectacular: snowbound forests (fallen trees with their skinny, snow-covered branches looked like the skeletons of some long-spined creature), rivers swollen and fast-running with recent rain and snow runoff from the mountains, except where the water had frozen fast into ice.

Deer ran lightly through the snow; as the train past one field I saw a young buck, couldn’t have been more than two years old, bouncing through the snow and off into the treeline. There were a number of football fans, all loaded up with beer, on the train (I think their match ended up cancelled because of the weather) but even they grew quiet, totally taken in with the astonishing beauty of the Scottish Highlands passing outside their window to the clickety-clack, clickety-clack beat of the train on its rails. You can feel the pressure on your ears as the train begins to climb steeply – it isn’t as clear from the view but your body can feel it as the train pulls you ever higher into the land of mountains.

I haven’t been up that far north in years, not since going on a few ski trips many moons ago and that was driving so you don’t get to appreciate the view quite so much. Sitting on a train with a great big window you could just watch all of this slip past, one of most scenic parts of the whole of Europe just sliding past my window. God we’re so lucky to live in this country – next time any of us moan about our weather we should think about these scenes then realise just how utterly beautiful our mountain kingdom is.