Thursday, 30 June 2016

Stratford upon Avon, North East Railtours

Following on from my previous North East rail tours excursion to Fort William post, I was able to follow this up with a trip to Stratford upon Avon, a place I had been wanting to photograph for many a year. From my home location a road trip was never an option so this provided the ideal opportunity to visit. The title image depicts the train arriving in Newcastle upon Tyne at the start of the day.

Shakespeare's Birthplace  GJC_008830

It is thought that William Shakespeare was born in the above house in Henley Street during 1864 and that he spent a good number of his childhood years there. Very little is known about his early life but he went on to become one of the worlds most famous playwrights, writing at least 37 plays between 1590 and 1613.
His birthplace is now a small museum which is run by The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and attracts many visitors over the course of the year. The Trust have restored this 16th century half timbered house, which at the time that Shakespeare lived in it would not have been thought of as modest. It was built from local oak taken from the Forest of Arden and Blue Grey stone from Wilmcote and features the traditional wattle and daub of the time. The property had an interesting history being passed down through the family line for some years but regrettably fell into a state of disrepair until it was purchased for the sum of £3000 by the Shakespeare Birthday Committee (which became the Shakespeare Birthplace trust) in 1847.

The Jester  GJC_008699

The Jester touchstone who was in the Shakespeare play "As you Like it".
It stands on a plinth and is made of bronze with the inscription "O noble fool, a worthy fool - The fool doth think he is wise but a wise man knows himself to be a fool"

Shrieve's Yard  GJC_008799

The Shrieve's barn and house is the oldest lived in dwelling in Stratford with the first house being built on this site in 1196. During the 16th century the building was used as an Inn with the landlord becoming the influence for Shakespeare to develop the character of Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor.

Shrieve's Barn and House  GJC_008801

It was later the residence of the first mayor of Stratford and also Edward Gibbs who was the person responsible for renovating Shakespeare's birthplace from an Inn to a museum.

The White Swan Hotel  GJC_008687

 The White Swan Hotel built in 1450 and renovated in 2012

Old Pub GJC_008741

The Garrick Inn is a timber building that dates back to the 15th century and is accompanied by a rich tapestry of stories including fatal fires, the plague and priest holes. It is still believed to be haunted and has the reputation of being the oldest pub in the city.

Old Bank  GJC_008745

The mosaic portrait of William Shakespeare is Venetian in style with the design being based on Shakespeare's monument in the city's Holy Trinity church. It was created by Antonio Salviati who famously installed venetian mosaics in more than fifty English churches.

Tudor Door and Window GJC_008750

A tudor style door and window adjacent to The Guild Chapel 

Hall's Croft  GJC_008757

Hall's Croft was owned by William Shakespeare's daughter Susanna Hall and her husband Dr John Hall (married in 1607). Interestingly the property boasts a walled garden at the rear which contains a collection of plants that may well have been used by Susanna's husband in his role as a doctor.

Hall's Croft door  GJC_008759

Nowadays the building hosts paintings and furniture from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Royal Shakespeare Theatre GJC_008764a

The Royal Shakespeare Theatre was built in 1932 and re-opened in 2010 following an extensive renovation project that it was part of costing £112.8 million. The aim throughout has been to create an authentic / traditional Shakespearean "one room" theatre experience. It seats over 1040 and stands adjacent to the site of the original theatre which opened in 1879 and was destroyed by fire in 1926.

The Canal GJC_008785

The Stratford upon Avon canal was built during the time of The Industrial revolution between 1793 and 1816 and runs for over 25 miles. The canal became unnavigable in the mid 20th century and was later used in modern times for pleasure trips and cruises.

Railway Station bridge  GJC_008836

Time to return for the train at the railway station ...  still thinking about what a canal side Shakespearian Ice Cream tastes like. It looks like he enjoyed it anyway !!

Ice Cream Barge GJC_008776

Monday, 30 May 2016

Fort William, Scotland, North East Railtours.

Curving train  GJC_011719

It's been a while since I posted due to life and further adventures in Scotland and as I have been majoring on these parts for some time, some readers will be pleased to know that I will be posting from south of the border from the next blog onwards. If anyone wants to see anything in particular please feel to comment.
North East Railtours (formerly Whitley Bay Horticultural Society) have been running day charter rail tours around the UK for as long as I can remember from railway stations in the North East of England. Charter (or special) trains need to fit in around the timetabled services with the routes and timings having to be painstakingly worked out, particularly on scenic remote lines such as The West Highland Line (shown above). Many of the outpost or picturesque lines are made up of single track and passing places where if a locomotive fails, most of the services on that day suffer passenger delays.
As a background to this post, there have been issues with The West Coast Railway Company (WCRC) that own the railway engines used for these trains. A driver of a WCRC steam train failed to stop at a warning signal in Wootten Bassett, Wiltshire last year and as a result the licence to operate was withdrawn from the company. It was the intention of Network Rail who withdrew the licence, to ensure the safe operation of future outings with a view to renewing it as soon as feasibly possible. As a result, the proposed tour in May 2015 was cancelled at short notice and the renewal of the license earlier in 2016 did not allow enough marketing time to repeat the trip this year. Provisional timings that the operator received for this outing were ridiculously early in the morning and with the lack of uncharted territory generally elsewhere, it was decided to combine their efforts alongside the Scottish Railway Preservation society (SRPS) in fewer outings mainly to English destinations.

Corridor train  GJC_011727

As the SRPS already run numerous tours from various starting points in Scotland, it seems unlikely that this day trip will ever run again. This set of photos is a nostalgic look back at the May 2013 event. Unfortunately the weather wasn't great and as a result the image quality suffers too, apologies for that as I have so many great images taken from the train window on previous occasions.

Alnmouth Sunrise  GJC_011700

The day began very early in the morning with the sun rising over the Northumbrian coastal town of Alnmouth.

Breakfast  GJC_011705

Breakfast is a sterling effort cooked on the train and served in mass catering style near Edinburgh.

Heather  GJC_011709

On passing Glasgow the train follows the north side of the River Clyde and on reaching Helensburgh, the railway line is known as The West Highland Line.

West Highland Line architecture  GJC_011710

The stations have a country feel with unique West Highland Line architecture.

Station building  GJC_011721


The landscape becomes more scenic eventually turning to remote and desolate moorland. It is usually uncommon but always advisable to watch for wildlife such as deer.

Duncansburgh Mackintosh Parish Church  GJC_011733

On arrival in Fort William, the clouds were very low as seen behind Duncansburgh Mackintosh Parish church.

The Crannog  GJC_011737

Even the Crannog fish restaurant at the loch shore couldn't provide the colour to brighten the day !!

Lochside sculpture  GJC_011741

I did come across a bizarre sculpture near to the waters edge of Loch Linnhe. To me it looked like a celebration to water skiing but further investigation revealed it was made of old mountain equipment to honour the local mountain festival.

Umbrella or Ice Cream !!  GJC_011746

There are not a lot of shops in Fort William but most seem to represent a mix of clothing and tartan tourist stores. This one gives the more interesting variety of the British weather depicting the sale of both Umbrellas and Ice Cream. There wasn't a lot sold of the latter on this day.

Lastly, due to the long train journey, the time allocated at Fort William was about 2 hours giving enough time to walk up and down the main street and visit the favourite shops. The larger woollen mill at the far end of the street is usually a step too far as my dabbling with sign alterations show ...

No Shopping  GJC_011742

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Wemyss Bay railway station, Inverclyde.

You'll all be pleased to know (including myself !! ) that this is the last post in the South West Scotland series. There's no need for me to remind anyone that it has taken me over 1 year to post about 1 weeks travel.
It may seem a bit unusual to talk about a railway station but this is one of my favourites. In the past I have only visited the station by special charter trains but there were too many people about to capture the place properly. Having arrived by car, visited Rothesay and Mount Stuart by the ferry, it seemed an ideal opportunity to photograph it late in the day between the ferry arrival / departure times.

Tower  GJC_017642

Wemyss Bay railway station first opened in 1865 with the extension incorporating the pier being designed by Glasgow Architect James Miller and completed in 1903.
The 19th century Industrialists of Glasgow opted to escape the city by living to the west of the conurbation and along the Clyde coast. With the rich history of shipbuilding in Glasgow, Clyde steamers provided the means of reaching the new found holiday destinations of Dunoon and Rothesay.
The Steamers initially sailed directly from Glasgow to Rothesay with options of Dunoon and Largs. In 1841 a rail route was opened from Glasgow to Greenock that reduced the journey times significantly by an hour to the destinations of Largs and Rothesay. The ferry service from Glasgow still ran many years later, but due to river pollution, only the poor used it with economy fares. On a similar theme, there were concerns about the wealthy having to pass through the poorest part of town from Greenock railway station to the dockside.

To the ferry  GJC_017591

... variations on a theme ... 

Curve  GJC_017608

There were operational difficulties between rival railway companies who  owned the boats and large financial losses resulted. It was necessary to have a dedicated railway station / pier terminal to improve the situation and an extension to Weymss Bay (for Rothesay) was built in the late 19th century.

Train  GJC_017594

The 10 mile branch to Wemyss Bay that opened to passengers on 15th May 1865 was most unusual in that it was designed to carry passengers first and not freight.

Entrance  GJC_017619_edited-1 (1)

The formative years were not easy due to all the different rail and ferry companies not agreeing on a variety of operational issues.

Posts  GJC_017606

Steamers ran complex routes and were often late causing trains to miss their paths on a single railway line network. Competition from the later Gourock extension and pier caused some disagreement due to platform rights at the brand new Glasgow Central station.

Centrepiece  GJC_017601_edited-1 (1)

The enlarged and updated Wemyss Bay station created a statement of railway grandeur that defied other terminus rivals on the Clyde coast.

Windows   GJC_017580

The station underwent a major restoration programme and was completed in 1994.

Station GJC_017610

Time to allow the sun to set on my South West Scotland travels ...

Ferry lines  GJC_017645

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Mount Stuart, Isle of Bute.

Having visited The Isle of Bute on several occasions previously on charter boats and long distance rail day trips, there was never enough time to visit both the town of Rothesay and Mount Stuart house. However on this occasion as I was based in Ayrshire, the opportunity presented itself to do both, using the regular ferry service from the mainland.

Lion  GJC_017430

The Bute family have lived on the island for many centuries and descended from the kings of Scotland. You may remember from the previous post (Rothesay) how the ancient family lived at the Castle in town but due to successive raids from invaders, they chose the peace of The Old Mansion House across the street.

Back view  GJC_017433

This change proved unsuccessful to one of the successive residents and the more roomy grounds of Mount Stuart was chosen as the new permanent home.

Back Door  GJC_017441

The Original Mount Stuart was built in 1716 and has allowed four generations of the Bute family to live here before an accidental fire destroyed the central part of the house in 1877.

Mount Stuart House  GJC_017422

The rebuilding programme of the Gothic revivalist structure by the third Marquis of Bute began in 1880 using his family inheritance from South Wales coal money. Work continued for many years and remained incomplete at the time of his death in 1900. Finance of buildings like this in the twentieth century took a hit as the world moved on in many ways but the 6th Marquis of Bute began a programme to complete the building in the 1980's.

Door  GJC_017424

Unfortunately he wasn't able to enjoy the finished product as he passed away before completion. It is believed that the house was the first home in the world to have a heated indoor swimming pool and the first in Scotland to have central heating, electric lights, passenger lift and a telephone. Due to the enormity of the task, a temporary railway had to be constructed from Kerrycroy village to the house to transport all the necessary building materials.

On a personal note, some of the internal decor was the most amazing I had ever seen. The standout features were the Gothic church and the main marble hall reaching to the sky or rather 80 ft over several levels. The tower window including studded diamonds reflected light and various colours onto the walls beneath.

The marble hall was constructed from a variety of Sicilian and Italian marble along with Granite and Sandstone, drawing its inspiration from History, Astrology, Art and Mythology  It was a little unfortunate that photography was prohibited but I have copied a link here to give you a flavour as Google image stills don't do it justice.

Rock Garden  GJC_017440

Whilst the house itself is stunning, so too is much of the 300 acres of grounds in which it sits.

Augusta Column  GJC_017444

There are many walk ways and avenues throughout the grounds that connect the key features of the site. The Augusta Column in one of the avenues was built in honour Augusta Dowager Princess of Wales in 1772 by The 3rd Earl.

Rear arch  GJC_017425

There are three gardens of note namely the Rock Garden, The Wee (small) Garden and The Kitchen Garden, each exhibiting their own unique features.

Garden  GJC_017427

The Rock Garden behind the house could also be classed as a water garden due to the stream running through it creating a series of ponds.

Rock Garden Path  GJC_017438

The designer of the 2 acre Rock Garden, Thomas Mawson, also created a dramatic "Stations of the Cross" garden walk, part of which featured a statue of Christ as a centre piece, which was later removed to the family chapel by the shore.

Pavilion Kitchen Garden  GJC_017452

The Pavilion in The Kitchen Garden was bought by the 6th Marquess of Bute following its exhibition at the 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival and then moved to Mount Stuart. It contains plants from around the world.

Kitchen Garden Hedges  GJC_017448

The 5 acre Kitchen Garden is unique in its design having only one wall, the other three having been replaced by shelter providing trees. Until very recently it was a traditional Kitchen garden providing fruit and vegetables, but now it is mainly used for decorative purposes with hedges that are used to divide it into further sections.

Entrance view   GJC_017413

It was time to return home and back to the 21st century of the exit via the newly built visitor centre. This in itself provided a spectacular photographic moment although not quite a Gothic Revivalist structure externally that you could be thinking of ....

Visitor Centre  GJC_017453

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