Away from the Turkey
27 December 1997
The origin of the post-Christmas trips is obscure, but they have been an SRS tradition now for several years. I hadn't been on one for several years, and decided it was time to "get away from the turkey", as suggested by organisers John and Keith, on the North Wales coast.
I bought my "North and Mid Wales Day Ranger" ticket - not bad value at £16.50 - and joined the party on the platform at Shrewsbury. A total of 9 members and friends boarded the 156 unit forming the 0845 Salop - Chester. Despite some worries about not having a guard, it arrived and left more-or-less on time. Two more members - Messrs Price and Hatch - completed our company at Gobowen.
Chester marked the last point at which we had a full party - we left on at least three different trains! A 158 unit arrived (unexpectedly - it was running late....) on a Holyhead train. A member of the station staff insisted it was for Bangor only, so we didn't bother, though Messrs. Spurr and Ecclestone (x2) got on. It left clearly displaying (!) "Caergybi" as its destination. The Price / Parry / Hatch / GC contingent boarded the next train - a single class 153 unit for Holyhead. "I'm not going on that!" exclaimed Mr Hatch (he did, though). We got away promptly, and soon we were passing Shotton steelworks. A yellow industrial diesel was visible across the Dee. "None are listed here by the IRS - what do you reckon it is?" (Mr Price)
Before very long however the power was off, and soon we stopped beside a very ordinary field. The guard thought it was a signal failure "storm damage..". After nearly 25 minutes ("We could count sheep"), we pulled away again, to stop once more near the disused station at Mostyn. "Unit failure ahead" explained the guard. We moved forward again, exploding a detonator before, with a bump, ("there's a man up a signal here!") we stopped again. The bump was probably felt by the threesome who were first to leave Chester - their unit was the failure, and ours, after much revving of engines, its rescuer. With a struggle away from each stop, we eventually arrived at "the Junction", to be reunited with the aforementioned contingent.
"I wonder what they'll do now?" (Mr Parry). So did the railway staff. They stopped passengers (not "customers" any more) getting on what they might have thought was a Holyhead service, then, after a while, they decided that the train was no longer in service, and asked us to get off.
Time for debate. After a minute or two, Messrs Price, Ecclestone (jnr), Parry and 2404 decided on a ride to Llandudno, for lunch. "When's the next train?" asked Steve. His question was answered by the tannoy - "the train standing at platform 3 will form the next service for Llandudno". It was of course the train we had just arrived on, so we reoccupied our (still slightly warm) seats, and soon were able to begin the lunch hunt.
Mr Parry clutched the names of three pubs which were in the "Good Beer Guide". Sadly, the only half-decent looking (looks can be deceptive...) hostelry that we could find was certainly not destined for that, or any other guide. "No real ale? Humph". Mr Price glowered at his half (sic) of Guinness (but drank it just the same). The chips from the Chinese fish and chip shop opposite the station were due compensation (for some of us, anyway) and could truly be described as excellent.
Three-quarters of the party fancied the idea of a run up to Blaenau Ffestiniog (having gone off the idea of Holyhead) so we awaited the 1328 service. The 1318 for Holyhead arrived in the form of an aging Metro-Cammell 101 unit. It was getting decidedly chilly, and the 1328 had not arrived yet, so we boarded the 101, taking the driver's view seats at the front. "A pity this isn't the Blaenau train". We would ride to the junction in this unit, and change there. A minute or two before departure time, the signal was pulled off, despite the fact that we had no driver.
Departure time came and went, without driver, then the signal returned to danger. A minute or two later, a 153 unit rolled in towards platform 3. "We can't go until that's in" announced the guard, who had come to grumble a bit at us. ("It's all this storm damage. It's my day off today. I shouldn't be working 'till Monday. I haven't had a day off for four years" or words to that effect). "Our driver is on that train, and its driver is on this one."
Eventually the drivers sorted themselves out, and we chugged back to the junction. Leaving the 101 for its trip to Holyhead, we hopped onto the 153 a few minutes later for a very pleasant run to Blaenau. "We" now being a mere three - Steve, being quite determined that he could go no further without a decent pint, left the station with his tongue hanging out.
I had travelled on the Conwy valley route twice before, both journeys being in mid-summer. Today, with no leaves on the abundant lineside vegetation, we had a better view of the scenery than ever, as the sun broke through and sparkled on the sands of the estuary.
We were probably the only SRS "turkey avoiders" to see steam today. "Sian", an attractive 7 1/4" model of a narrow-gauge tank locomotive, chuffed around the loop at Betws-y-Coed railway museum. At Blaenau Ffestiniog the storm clouds gathered (as usual, some might say). We sheltered under the Festiniog canopy to watch double Fairlie "David Lloyd George" pull in, to the accompaniment of thunderous hail on the roof!
An uneventful run back down the valley saw us back on the platform at Llandudno Junction shortly after four o'clock, ready for the journey home (with any luck!).
A happier Mr Price greeted our arrival. "I was going to get the 1555 back to Chester, but it hasn't materialised". We decided we would travel on the 1641, but it didn't materialise either. In fact there was a definite dearth of trains, and for that matter announcements and station staff. (The latter were occasionally observed scuttling into their office, carefully avoiding eye-contact with any of the "punters", as a certain former SRS treasurer used to call them.)
At least the indicator on platform 1 still offered a 1641, even if it was now a quarter to five. The indicator on platform 3 advertised a westbound 1532, expected at 1629. (The indicator at the platform entrance was not on at all, and platform 2's indicator appeared to have had a nervous breakdown).
We began to wonder where all the other intrepid SRS travellers were, and what sort of journeys home they might have. We (Steve) began to amuse ourselves by speculating on what the initials NWT really stood for. "No working trains" perhaps.
At last an announcement - "Would passengers for Bangor please join the member of staff in the station entrance, who will escort them to their taxi..."
Another announcement - "The train now standing at platform three will form the 1648 all stations to Chester and Crewe". The 158 unit had sneaked in unknown to us. My guess is that it should have gone to Bangor and back, but that this was as near as it would get for now.
So we joined the 1648, which left at 1658, but at least it was a train.
Our return journey to Chester was fairly uneventful. The aforementioned Mr Hatch was on the platform at Rhyl, and on seeing us joined the train. "I was going to catch the next one" he explained. "This is the next one" we persuaded him. He had ventured on to Anglesey after we had left him, and had succeeded in getting back again. "But the other poor b.....s are still out there". He showed some signs of anguish - however, it transpired this was due to being bogged on by a passing gull.
Some signalling problems remained - we had to stop at Talacre box, where the signalman passed our driver a note, before proceeding on to Chester.
Some entertainment remained - this time for us as observers rather than participants. A westbound service arrived, well down, formed of two different trains which had, like ours this morning, had been combined. The announcer insisted that it would go forward (just the front bit) to Bangor (or was it Holyhead) despite the destination board on the train showing Llandudno. Or was it the other way round? A poor lady in the crowd waiting approached us for enlightenment - we must have looked as though we knew what was going on.
It was at about this point that the Shrewsbury train rolled into the bay, so we got on and left the platform to its mayhem. It struck us as rather sad that, throughout all this, there were two rakes of loco-hauled stock in the loops beside the station, complete with 37s ticking over and ready for action.
Our train, the 1628, left on time and we were soon nearing Shropshire again. Steve was heartily glad that he had joined the train at Gobowen though - when we ran straight through Chirk without stopping! He and Mr Hatch left at their joining point, leaving the Blaenau party to return to Shrewsbury. What a day out it had been - definitely an improvement on tangling with the turkey. I wonder when the others got back....