Robert Hampton

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3rd May 2013

For What It’s Worth

Leeds is a station that has a lot of trains. It took several minutes to comprehend the departure board as I sipped my overpriced coffee from the station café.

Leeds station
Somewhere in that massive list is the train I wanted – the service to Keighley, which was to take me to the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway for their diesel gala.

I haven’t visited the KWVR in a very long time. I can’t remember the exact date of my previous visit, but I do remember the old slam-door electric trains were still in use on the West Yorkshire commuter lines, which must date my visit to the mid-1990s. I do remember it was part of a family day out, and my mother insisted on dragging me away from the trains, alighting at Haworth to trudge up the hill to the Brontë museum, where she cooed over every aspect of the sisters’ lives for what felt like a bajillion hours. Very good authors, but I was not that interested in their kitchen, to be honest.

Where was I? Oh yes. Normally the KWVR is a steam-orientated experience. Once or twice a year, however, the steam engines are shuttered up in the depot and the diesels are allowed out to play. These are heritage diesel locomotives; the generation of engines which caused so much dismay among rail buffs in the 1950s and 1960s when they started to supplant steam locos, but have now themselves passed into history.

KWVR depot

I was there at the invitation of my friend Mark, whose interest in the railways (both as a railway employee and enthusiast) makes me look like a rank amateur, frankly.

Mark warned me to expect “specimens” – the hardcore, obsessive spotters who let nothing get in the way of their desire to ride behind their favourite loco. I’m not suggesting that rail enthusiasm attracts some oddball characters with poor social skills – I’m saying it outright. Don’t get me wrong, the vast majority of people there were focused on enjoying the show of heritage traction. There were a few disruptive elements; our train was stopped for 20 minutes at one point while the staff remonstrated with someone who had chucked a toilet roll out of the window as we passed over a bridge. It didn’t help that there was a real ale buffet car on board; the beer was lovely, but by late afternoon on the Saturday, alcohol had made some people rather lively.

On the Saturday evening, Mark and I, accompanied by another new friend, David, did make a stop at Howarth; thankfully not to visit the Brontë Parsongage, but to have some dinner (we went to The Fleece Inn, which I highly recommend – they do a burger too big to fit in my mouth).

The long trudge uphill from the station to the village was livened up when David mentioned we were on Butt Lane. This was quickly followed by a side street, Penistone Mews.

Butt Lane Penistone Mews

I was already questioning the judgment of Haworth’s street naming committee, but I was pleased to see they followed comedy’s rule of three, as we got to the top of the hill and found we were on, well, see for yourself…

Purvs Corner

We headed off to the pub, not entirely sure if someone was playing a practical joke.

On Sunday, the KWVR allowed their “new” class 101 diesel multiple unit out to play. I’ve always been fond of these ancient slam door trains. Introduced as part of British Rail’s Modernisation Plan in 1956, they clung on in service even as newer trains came and went. By 2002, when the privatised railway was supposed to have swept away British Rail’s old-fashioned ways, several examples could still be found running around Manchester, chugging along the track next to shiny new Pendolinos. The last examples were only withdrawn in December 2003, after 47 years in service – a record surpassed only by the elderly 1938 stock still running on the Isle of Wight.

Class 101 DMU

The humble DMU gets short shrift from a lot of rail enthusiasts. Even the examples that have been preserved tend to be for practical, rather than sentimental reasons – running short DMUs at off-peak times allows the heritage lines to save money and still provide a service. However, they played a big part in the history of Britain’s railways, and deserve their place on the heritage lines just as much as any other train.

As the engine revved up and the window frames started rattling, I was reminded me of a trip to North Wales in the early noughties, when I returned to Llandudno station for my train home to find that First North Western had provided a 101 for an express service to Chester. We roared along the North Wales Coast, with the train vibrating so much it felt like it was going to shake itself apart. My fellow passengers were unimpressed, but I loved it.

All in all, it was a most enjoyable weekend. We’ll gloss over Friday evening, when Mark and I went into Leeds and spent the night in Queen’s Court. Largely because I can’t remember much of it. *ahem*

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