The Pangolin Diary by David Stanley: 52 in 52 Book #19

The Pangolin Diary

Considering my profession and my passion for related books, fiction or otherwise, I’m surprised by how long it took me to read a midwifery-related book as part of this challenge. However, I’m glad this is a book I chose to read and took time to read and enjoy. Whilst it took much of my Easter break to get through due to academic demands, it provided me a few pages of solace when I was in the depths of dissertation attributed despair.

The Pangolin Diary is David Stanley’s autobiography describing his time as a midwifery lecturer in rural Zimbabwe. Just reading that description in the blurb had me hooked. Two things I love in one book: midwifery and Africa. This book was no disappointment. It took you from breech deliveries on a labour ward to driving through the African bush trying not to hit errant chickens. Descriptions of the vibrancy of life contrasted against the hardship of daily existence.

I don’t want to describe this book in too much detail as I hope people will go and read it themselves. There’s friendship, death, loneliness, joy, achievement and despair often all just a page turn away from each other. The book keeps you going, tempting you with a snippet of another tale.

To all those, like me who devour their midwifery related novels, this should be on your reading list. For those who enjoy novels that describe African life and existence, that applies too. For those who enjoy both, you must read this book. You will not regret it*.

 

 

Kat

 

* Once you have read this book, if you enjoyed it I also recommend Monique and the Mango Rains by Kris Holloway.

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MINI Festival – Brayford Pool, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

Red phone boxes, tea and scones and the Sunday Roast are all things that are quintessentially British. But none are arguably more iconic than the MINI. Built as a basic motorcar for the masses, this spritely little road runner is one of Britain’s most famous and most notable engineering feats. I have always loved MINI’s, be it from the humble original Morris MINI right up to the almighty BMW made Cooper and the world has held it in high regard too. Paul McCartney of Beatles fame owned one. Supercar company founder, Enzo Ferrari had one. Steve McQueen possessed the tiny car too. Three of them hurtled and screeched through the streets of Turin loaded with gold in the 1960’s car chase epic, The Italian Job. Mr. Bean was noted for owning a lime green one with a black bonnet. It was the offspring for many variants that included race cars, rally cars, vans, estates, saloons and pick-up trucks. This highly influential little car has created a huge following and today, MINI still continue to make high quality runabouts that are adored by many.

Brayford Wharf in Lincoln hosts the annual MINI festival organised by the Trent Valley MINI Owners Club and Lincoln’s Business Improvement Group and I was lucky enough to get a chance to finally go. Every time I have seen it advertised, I have always been busy and not able to make it. This time however, I was adamant on getting over there to check it because it was long overdue. I was not disappointed.

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Apparently more than two hundred different MINI’s ranging from the original right up to the brand new were on show along Brayford Wharf waterfront, just off the town centre in Lincoln. Lined up on the modern waterside, none of them looked out-of-place despite the majority of them coming from the swinging sixties. The sun was shining and the chrome gleamed and the paintwork sparkled.

Brayford Pool’s waterfront is fairly lengthy and MINI’s were stretched from the bridge at one end, to the bridge at the other. They came from all over the country with certain owners and enthusiast representing their respected clubs, showcasing their metal. We had the Lincs MINI Friends and Owners club, the Robin Hood MINI owners club, Bomber County MINI owners club and even the RAF’s own MINI club.

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The Royal Air Force show us their other mean machines

And because this was a free event, young and old alike could come and take in the sights as they pleased. The relaxed atmosphere of it all made it a pleasant event to witness. Take a long look under some of the hoods and revel in the finer details or simply dawdle through, the choice was yours to make.

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Big Engine, Big Wheels, Still a MINI

The calibre of MINI is staggering to say the least and the event had a good number of them. Vehicles ranging from those that had been restored to their former glory right to the over-the-top customised hot rods, there was something for all manner of tastes.  A lot of these motors clearly had hours of work and effort put into them and each and every one of them was different; none of them were identical with their full body kit conversions, extra foglights or simply chequered race flags, Union Jacks, and sports stripes. It was an amazing spectacle to see all these cars in one place at one time. 850’s, Coopers, Riley’s, Moke’s, Clubmans, Wosleley’s, Park Lane’s, a Marcos Mini, Metro’s – you name it – it was probably there. But not all of them had to be exuberant to be noticed. The MINI’s that had been well looked after were indeed just as eye-catching in their own right, slinked up next to ones that had chopped roofs or thick dragster tyres. Without sounding too poncy, there is something elegant about a MINI with smart aftermarket wheels, a white interior and a complete engine overhaul. It makes you think ‘wow. A car of this age can still hold its own to this day.’ It looks like a MINI in every detail but with some of the modern-day mod-cons splashed here and there; it verifies that this retro car can go on for what seems like, ever!

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But of course, there was room for the purists complete with original fittings and fixtures from the engine to the interior were an impressive insight on how much people hold these cars to high acclaim. Keeping each one to a near-mint condition for any number of years is an arduous task in itself and to these owners, I doff my bowler hat. Owners and Lincoln’s own ‘Soper’ dealership showed off their newer MINI’s such as their John Cooper Works and Cooper Coupé powerhouses up to the not-so-mini Countryman to show that even though the MINI has moved into the 21st Century; the original cars are just as influential and the heritage (albeit covered in Germanic overtones) is still buried deep inside the heart of each of these cars. They send out a clear message; they are still just as fun and as vibrant as they used to be; something that I don’t see changing anytime soon.

I have always liked MINI’s and I don’t really know why. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re small and cute yet have that quirky British charm. Or maybe it’s the fact that each one can be tailored to anyone’s personal preference because they were cheap, affordable cars and bits and pieces could be added and taken away when the mood seemed right. It could even be that they are just great little cars that are fondly remembered in the same league as great Aston Martin’s or great Lotus’ of the era. It could be that the MINI is ageless and that it will never grow ‘old’ per se. It will age but it won’t become old-fashioned. Or possibly (with the exception of maybe the Fiat 500 or the younger Volkswagen MK1 Golf) it’s that there hasn’t really been another car like it. Maybe it’s all the above, but what’s more, it proves that no matter how small or simple things can be, they can rub shoulders with the big boys and be just as incredible!

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Post by Jimmi

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Leeds Castle – Maidstone, Kent, United Kingdom

Nestled away off the M20 outside of Maidstone lies Leeds Castle, described as ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World.’ Dating back to the 1100’s, the castle is shrouded in history. From Edward I to Henry VIII right up to Lady Bailey’s private ownership in the early 20th Century, this magnificent building has become one of Kent’s best and most attractive tourist attractions.

Leeds Castle in all its splendor Photo Credits: KS. Wigley 2013

Leeds Castle in all its splendor
Photo Credits: KS. Wigley 2013

We have been a few times – we’ll come to a reason why shortly – and have been impressed by its spectacle and grandeur. With its beautiful and vast five hundred acre gardens, moat and lake, it is impressionably quaint, especially around the spring and summer months when the flowers are in bloom and the resident peacocks are in feather. Around autumn, it evolves with the browns and oranges as the trees get ready for the cold, turning the once green foliage into a burning secret gem. What is magnificent is that it still holds a lot of charm no matter how the weather is. You can appreciate the best of the grounds even if it’s incredibly cold or blisteringly warm.

The peacocks actually own the house. Well at least they think they do... Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

The peacocks actually own the house. Well at least they think they do…
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Spring and summer are best suited to castle and gardens as it is the perfect time for picnics with a fantastic backdrop of the castle. And the geese. And ducks. And swans. And many, many peafowl. Due to the warmer climes a botanical wonder also beholds any who enter the grounds with many beautiful and brightly coloured flowers in bloom to delight and amuse you. The gardens hold a serenity that not a lot of places can match. They are well kept throughout the summer and you can wander at your own leisure. As for spring and autumn, parts of the grounds are kept sealed off so the plants and flowers can be replaced without interference. The lakes are linked up by small streams that run the course of the gardens. At one end, there is a summer house and a traditional Japanese-styled zigzag bridge that crosses one of the ponds. At the other is a waterfall that feeds the lower lakes from the larger moat that surrounds the castle itself. The expansive garden also has its own hedge maze, which is as fun as it is frustrating. You start and you can see the finishing point; a raised concrete mound at the centre. You just have to find the route. It’s a fun little time-spender and out of the times we have been, we still haven’t known which way is the correct one. We still recognise specific parts of the maze but don’t know how to get there. Once the middle has been reached, you can see the entire maze to retrace your route and see the correct route you should have taken instead of aimlessly drifting through the hedges, which is what we did the majority of the time. Getting to the middle was just pure luck, we feel.  Once you’ve finished going over your failed route, you exit via an underground grotto, complete with carved stone statues, eerie lighting and this ghastly face…

As if the grotto wasn't creepy enough! Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

As if the grotto wasn’t creepy enough!
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

When you’ve had enough of the gardens (or indeed the rain) you can wander around the castle itself and learn all about its history. The walk past the water cascade to the gatehouse hits home that when you see the castle, you realise that this wasn’t built as a defence. There are no portholes or secret nooks for soldiers to hide in, battlements only look decorative, cannons don’t line the front garden, and the castle itself is not belligerent; this was purely built as a place to live. It just so happens to have a moat. With a choice of an audio tour or simply making your own way, you get to explore the majority of the rooms. Starting out in the wine cellars on the lower floors, you work your way up and around the grand building learning about its colourful history as a royal residence and under private ownership. Some of the rooms have encapsulated the Tudor splendor very well and the furniture, decorations and awnings have remained.

Elegant yet tasteful Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Elegant yet tasteful
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Other rooms have a more modern décor from the turn of the 20th Century; with the bold colours and striking but simple lines. You make your way through into the different rooms, laid out in a labyrinth style, which is somewhat confusing if you don’t know where you’re going. This is an over-thought though as you do make you way through rooms such as master bedrooms and down corridors, peering into servant quarters, the music room, drawing room, the spectacular bathroom and various exhibition spaces. The grand marble staircase brings you to the end of the tour. The castle also features a courtyard; a magnificent spiral staircase made out of one large tree; period art works; historical artefacts and sizable library full of old books.

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Mostly about birds
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Although not as big or even as spectacular as some royal palaces, Leeds Castle is still an eye to behold. It’s quaint within its surroundings which suites it perfectly.

Leeds Castle does also hold special events in its grounds. We visited during a St. George’s day festival and on a plot of land, overlooking the castle, an arena had been set out and various skilled recreationists took part in jousting challenges. Crowds gathered around, cheering and booing for their respective knights in shining armour; watching on in awe as they stormed down the track on horseback; charging at each other with lances, only to continue their battle on-foot with carefully choreographed swordfights. The castle has been known to hold special open air concerts, guided garden tours and photo walks, a supercar showcase, hot air balloon flights, fireworks displays and Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. These events are rather limited and can be somewhat quite pricey in their exclusivity but on the more down-to-earth front, there are regular occurrences that do take place also.

Moses watches his dinner Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Moses watches his dinner
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Falconry displays are held at specific times and if you have time during the visit it is worth it. You get to watch the birds of prey dive and swoop whilst a trained falconer talks you through the stories and the procedures of being a falconer and how these winged hunters work. If birds of prey aren’t your thing and you prefer water-bound birds, there is also an opportunity to feed the swans and ducks that reside in the lakes. There’s also a children’s play area where you can let your kids burn themselves out to their hearts content if you so wish. And then there’s the…

If that's your thing, you're in luck! Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

If that’s your thing, you’re in luck!
Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

And once you need a break you have a choice of a Costa coffee café, the restaurant that serves hot food, a snack bar selling chips and the like or, our personal favourite, the ice cream parlour that sells delicious frozen Kentish diary treats! There are also a couple of souvenir shops that sell gifts such as personalised fridge magnets and key rings so you can immortalise your visit forever.

Leeds Castle is a unique place to visit. It’s fairly hidden away but it is a highly recommend place to go. Unfortunately ticket prices aren’t cheap and this may come as a downside – an adult ticket costs £21 – something that when cash is hard to come by, will turn people away, especially if they have . However, what you get for the price is as many visits over the course of a year. Perfect if like us, you live only thirty minutes’ drive away, which is why we’ve been as many times as we have. Not so perfect if you plan on only visiting once. If you are local, you can of course behold the castle in all its splendour. Take a picnic and enjoy the views. Take a raincoat and enjoy the house itself. Or merely take yourself and wander peacefully through what the gardens and grounds have to offer and realises why they call it ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World.’

Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Photo Credits: KS Wigley 2013

Jimmi and Kat

Visit the Leeds Castle website

Follow Leeds Castle on Twitter: @leedscastleuk

Like Leeds castle on Facebook

Mallard’s Festival of Speed – Grantham, Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

Just imagine being in a cramped, small cab that’s shaking, hissing and spitting ash, steam and blistering heat. Read-outs are maxing out into the red; the fireman is shovelling coal onto the burning fire and the driver is trying to maintain control to keep it at its top speed. Gravity is on your side and there’s no head wind on a short section of track and the train blast through stations, over fields and into tunnels. The journey eventually comes to an end and you are elated to just be out of that small sauna on wheels. And then news comes to you. Important news… ‘You’ve travelled faster than any other locomotive in the history of existence. One hundred and twenty-six miles per hour was recorded just outside of Grantham; You’ve broken the World record for the highest top speed of any steam locomotive to ever grace the rails…” or words to that effect. A smile spreads to your face and you realise that this engine is one of a kind. And yet what you don’t know is that this engine will keep its record for seventy-five years. And seventy-five years later LNER’s 4468 Mallard A4 Pacific was returning to the place where she broke that very record.

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It wasn’t that long ago since I was in York seeing this very fine engine and her five remaining, streamlined sisters at the National Railway Museum’s ‘Great Gathering of the A4 Pacifics.’ Word got to me that Mallard was taking a very rare trip to where the record was achieved. This was right in my home county of Lincolnshire. The small town of Grantham hosted this special event on the 7th and 8th of September and with it being practically on my doorstep, I couldn’t exactly say no to see this amazing piece of machinery once more. Hyped by Facebook and Twitter, it was apparent that this event was indeed quite extraordinary. Temporary track was laid close to the station and Mallard was ready to be moved from her home in York for the weekend, bypassing through another station just down the road from my home. Naturally, I took time out of my busy summer holiday to wait on the station with a bunch of fellow enthusiasts to see Mallard and a Class 55 Deltic being towed through on the previous Wednesday ready for this one-off celebration. I opted for the 7th, as did a lot of other people. A reported 7000 plus people, young and old came through the gates to see some magnificent engines over the weekend. It was sight to behold as the sun shone throughout the seven hour event. With many opportunities to take photos and get close up to Mallard and Royal Highland Fusilier, it was an incredible day out.

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Partnered up the Class 55 “Deltic,” the special event was an informative insight on how the railways progressed from the age of steam, right up to dieselisation in the 1960’s. Deltic was the A4 successor and both were present right here at Grantham.

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With only two engines to see, the paddock wasn’t huge and so the event wasn’t as big as originally thought. But people came in droves and these two engines pulled up an incredible crowd on the first day. With different events being held through Grantham that included a model rail exhibit and a collection of vintage sports cars from the 1930’s; the same decade that Mallard rocketed up to her top speed, there was a good amount to see and do, including a few shops and stall, miniature railway rides and an open LNER buffet coach acting as a cafe, as well as helpful volunteers keeping the visitors in the loop on what was going on in and around Grantham over the weekend.

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It was great to see the varying amount of people coming to see what was essentially the Concorde of steam locomotion. This very record breaker with its sleek, modern curves, enormous red wheels and an overall presence that dominated the entire paddock showed that this was no ordinary engine and what it had done was no ordinary feat. As I mentioned in my post about the event in York, fast train travel in the 30’s was what every railway company aspired to achieve. LNER went above and beyond to prove that they had the fastest locomotives and Mallard is their swansong.

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During the day, Mallard’s cab was open and I couldn’t exactly leave without having a peek. The last time I got close to it was well over ten years ago but this time, visitors could actually go in and on the footplate rather than peeking through! The queue… well the less said about the queue the better, was long. Almost two hours long. That didn’t bother me because it gave me a chance to take lots of pictures and get close to the workings of both Royal Highland Fusilier and Mallard. There was much time discussing with my dad and Grandad about railways and trains and such and there was a good view of the East Coast expresses thundering through Grantham station. Each train that passed through even gave a celebratory blast of the horn in celebration of Mallard’s return.

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We also discovered that Deltic’s power output was only 1,600 horsepower per single engine (which in itself is only the same amount of power as two Lamborghini V12’s) and that it produced 100 mph; so sadly, it wasn’t even the fastest train there. Nit-picking aside, being so close to either engine, we managed to get a good look around the workings, in a way that wasn’t entirely possible when we were at the museum in July.

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Sadly, the queues for the Deltic were long also, so unfortunately we had to give that cabin tour a miss, however, it didn’t go unappreciated. It was a welcome addition to the event and struck interest amongst those who preferred the more modern-day, cleaner, more reliable high-speed express trains – my dad included. Royal Highland Fusilier made the event that little bit more special and gave something else to look over. Although personally I prefer the old-fashioned rip-snorting steam engines, the Deltic symbolises how much modern-day, fast travel meant to people travelling up and down the country and as such has become an icon in its own right, with this being one of only six left.

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The queue eventually got shorter and shorter and we got much closer to Mallard. I for was getting excited. I had never been in the cab before and so this was the highlight of the trip. I finally got to live out my boyhood dream. The sense of what once was and how hectic it all would have been in there on that 3rd of July with the crew battling with an iron monster, keeping every valve, dial and lever in check whilst it seared through the Lincolnshire countryside. Every little detail about it told its own story from the regulator that pushed the engine to bursting to the wooden floor-boards under my feet. There was one thing that I couldn’t leave without doing. I went and sat in the driver’s seat. I couldn’t help myself…

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The free event, although small, was grand enough to matter to the enthusiastic but also small enough to give a flying visit. The vintage buses ferrying people to and from the station was neat touch but the real star was of course seeing something that has meant so much to me for such a long time (again). There’s a picture of me when I was much younger being dwarfed by the front buffers and not much has changed – I still feel dwarfed by this colossus; the sense of every bit of Mallard working in harmony to do the very best. These two iconic parts of British Rail history coming together made a very nice day, if some-what on the small. No! ‘Small’ is the wrong word. Quaint, I think suits it better; personal; involved. A lot of people may not know about Mallard and the record-breaking event but I’m guessing a fair few who went just out of curiosity know about how important this really was. We overheard a gentleman from the museum say that Mallard is the most popular attraction. With the amount of people at Grantham on that eventful and somewhat nostalgic Saturday, it’s amazing to see that this seventy-five year old spectacle of engineering is still peaking interest amongst thousands of people from all over the world. It’s highly inspiring that this nation can create so much hype over what was essentially a quicker way to get to and from London or Edinburgh. As steam ventured out of mainline service, it has preserved that record. Mallard’s success has created something that not a lot of railway locomotives will ever do. She has created a legacy that will last for an eternity.

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Jimmi

Keep up to date with Mallard’s celebrations by checking out @railwaymuseum, nrm.org.uk or /nationalrailwaymuseum

Alternatively, check out #Mallard75, @mallardgrantham and mallardatgrantham.co.uk

National Railway Museum – York, Yorkshire, United Kingdom

Ah, the National Railway Museum. I have held it in very high regard for a long time. I last went in the early 2000’s and so, this July was the first time I had been in quite a while. The multi-award winning Museum, owned by the Science Museum group is one of York’s and, indeed Europe’s, most popular visitor attractions. Holding over one hundred locomotives, the NRM has been capturing the essence of rail travel for well over thirty five years. However, this year something special was happening, an event that the railway enthusiasts had been looking forward to. Amongst them was me. The event was of course the celebration of the record breaking run for steam locomotion – Mallard 75.

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In the1930’s, railways were owned by one of four big companies. LMS focused on the routes from London to Scotland via the midlands; GWR – The Great Western Railway – took people and goods along the West of England and Wales; The Southern Railway crossed the South of the country; and finally LNER, the London Northern Eastern Railway took trains up the east coast from London to Edinburgh. These companies were constantly trying to outdo each other on luxury, comfort and reliability; the more reputable company got more customers and more customers made a better company and a better railway. In a country where the motorway was just a spark-in-the-eye and even the road network was just starting to take shape, the railways connected the big cities to each other and so, if you wanted to get somewhere quickly, the railways were the only readily accessible way to travel. However, there is one thing that sells any mode of transport more than anything else, and you see this with cars, planes, and boats. Trains also follow this rule; speed. LNER had a record of speed runs from London to Edinburgh with the Flying Scotsman, the route through east of England taking a train from Capital to Capital in just over seven hours, which in the 1920’s was the equivalent of Concorde taking flight over the Atlantic. LNER’s A3 Pacific Class No. 4472 Flying Scotsman reached a top speed of 100mph on a non-stop run to Scotland. LNER and their chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley knew that they could go much, much faster. LNER and Gresley started experiment with streamlining and eventually the superfast A4 Pacific express engines were created. One of which was No. 4468 Mallard – the fastest steam engine the world has ever seen.

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July 1936 was when Mallard ran non-stop and broke the speed record of a huge 126mph, which in the 1930’s is practically warp speed, a record that has remained unbroken to this day. To put this in perspective, 125mph is the official speed limit today on modern railways. Mallard has been on static display at York’s NRM for a number of years but for Mallard 75 she was joined by some special guests.

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‘The Great Gathering.’ Six out of the thirty-five built A4’s survive to this day, along with the original NER Dynamometer coach which was used to record Mallard’s top speed accurately, and they were all bought together for Mallard 75, a truly wondrous sight for any train enthusiast, I can assure you. Bittern, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Sir Nigel Gresley, Dominion of Canada, Union of South Africa and of course Mallard were united for this special rare occasion. Bittern and Sir Nigel Gresley both run today and often take specialty trains around the country. Dwight D. Eisenhower normally resides in Wisconsin in the US…

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…whilst Dominion of Canada normally lives in Quebec. Both of these live half way across the globe and so the museum had commissioned to bring these engines back to their country of origin. All engines were then repainted with fresh coats of paint putting them back into LNER’s Garter Blue or British Rail Green.

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The build-up was hyped by the NRM on Facebook and Twitter showing extensive details in bringing these engines back together including the shipping of the two over-seas additions; newspapers published special articles and enthusiasts could not stop talking about it. In early July the engines where shunted into place and went on display in the Great Hall around the turntable and the museum was opened up to the public for the extravaganza. And I was part of it! The events cherry on the top moment was a visit from HRH Prince Charles, who is patron of Mallard 75. He was bought straight into the museum by a special train pulled by Bittern as part of the end of the two week run special event.

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The Museum gives the public a window of heritage of railways and an opportunity not to be missed, something that lacks in this modern era. Today, rail travel isn’t the way it used to be. The romance of rail travel helped people get out of their home towns when the car was not readily available and a lot of travellers became holiday-makers. The thought of waiting at a station for your holiday to begin must have been exciting, only for your attention to be diverted by a long blast of a steam whistle and a cloud of thick smoke to appear at the end of the platform for a giant iron horse pulling coaches to emerge from it hissing and spitting with heat, steam and the undeniable aroma of burning coal. The Railway Museum encapsulates everything that made the railways what they were. Their collection is impressive, and even though a lot of York’s collection is currently at its sister museum ‘Locomotion’ in Shildon in County Durham for Mallard 75 to make room for the A4’s, there is still plenty to see and do. Take for instance the Station Hall; the part of the museum that has been recreated to look like a station terminal, housing Royal coaches used to carry members of the Royal Family up and down the country. One of which is London, Brighton and South Coast Railway B1 Class No. 214 Gladstone which pulled Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee train in in 1897.

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The Museum also houses some famous engines apart from Mallard of course. Currently, Flying Scotsman is in the museum’s active workshop undergoing an intense boiler overhaul to keep it running on British lines as well as various other steam and diesel locomotives that come to York to be kept in working order for various events and preserved railways up and down the country. The Main Hall is home to such engines like a replica George Stephenson designed Rocket (the original is in London’s Science Museum), a tearaway BR Ellerman Line Merchant Navy class to give an insight on how steam engines work; and another record breaker, in fact the first to break the 100mph barrier, GWR’s City of Truro

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…and the last steam engine, 92220 Evening Star, ever built by British Rail before steam was removed from service and replaced by more efficient diesel and electric engines in the sixties.

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Not forgetting engines from over shores such as the mammoth China Railway’s KF 607 and Japan’s Shinkansen 0 Series, famously the original Bullet train that travelled at well over Mallard’s 126mph but only just at 140mph.

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There’s a lot of history between the walls and on the rails of NRM and due to the Great Gathering of the A4’s, the popularity of the museum increased. The museum isn’t particularly big, you can see most of the exhibits in less than three hours or so, it just depends on how interested you are in the exhibits. There’s a second replica Rocket that runs people up and down a small track layout; as well as a huge collection of railway paraphernalia such as model engines, signals, nameplates and general objects; a working model railway (Hornby, the model railway manufacturer sponsors Mallard 75); a miniature railway and the biggest archive of railway records in the country. When I went, with my family and Kat, it was almost a double edge sword. It was fantastic to see these remarkable feats of engineering but everyone else also wanted see them. People had come from all around the world to see these engines and so the queue was long on a very hot Saturday morning and the people made it all the more warmer in the museum, but that aside, the museum still retains its charm that won me over when I was a kid. Going around, looking at all these engine thinking that once upon a time, these were the life-blood of the country. I remember seeing Sir Nigel Gresley pull a special train through my home town of Lincoln when I was much younger and the museum bought me into touching distance of something that defined my childhood.

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With this, comes a great deal of longing. I understand why diesels and electric engines came about and phased out steam but I get the sense that the railways will never be the same as they were. I find this quite odd because I never grew up in that time yet I still feel highly moved by the ingenuity and sheer power of a steam engine. York’s National Railway Museum keeps all those memories in one place for me and many others. I could sense that all the people at the museum that day and no doubt the other days had a wistful glint in their eye of what once was. I know trains and railways aren’t everyone’s cup of tea in much the same way certain museum pieces such as cars or art or weapons of torture aren’t, but the National Railway Museum is, like I said, one of York’s biggest tourist attractions. This incredible museum is free and is run extensively by friendly volunteers. Facilities wise, there’s café’s in the Great Hall and Station Hall so you can have a coffee in the presence of some engineering heavyweights and two gift shops should you need to buy a NRM fridge magnet, like what I did. Fortunately, Mallard 75 is still running up until February 2014. The engines are to go back on display in the autumn at York with special night time celebrations coinciding with the ‘Illuminating York’ event where the engines will be lit up around the Great Hall’s turntable. They will then travel to Shildon to be put on display for two more weeks. The six A4’s will disband after the ‘Great Goodbye’ before the end of February. Another event of interest to me is Grantham’s ‘Festival of Speed’ where Mallard will be taken and shown off with various sports and racing cars of the 1930’s this September. Expect an extensive report on that!

And so with these locomotives that surrounded the Great Hall, the Station Hall, the Workshop and in the nearby sheds and indeed in Shildon, the museum help preserve and epitomise what was great about this countries rail network. York is a beautiful city and its greatness is excelled by its history, mystery, heritage and, for me, its National Railway Museum.

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Posted by Jimmi