Wednesday 3 August 2016

Steam, beer and King Richard - a day in Leicester

Beer and bunny on way to Quorn & Woodhouse
A very good friend of mine had begun building a model of an imaginary section of the Great Central Railway and so when he and his wife came to stay, an obvious day out was to visit the preserved section of the Great Central Railway between Leicester and Loughborough. My last trip to that railway was reported here at If you go down in the woods ... but this time it was not a day for teddy bears but, being in Easter Week, the Easter Bunny. Ah well, there would still be steam trains and my friend could see the buildings and the way the stations were laid out. And neither of our wives had ever been there,  either, so it was all new to them. The weather was great and a grand day out was in the offing.

We started as always with a stroll down to Stamford station to get the first off-peak Cross Country train to Leicester and then made our way across the city centre to the bus stop we needed for Leicester North, the terminus of the current Great Central Railway. I knew which bus I needed from my previous visit but a glance at the internet before leaving revealed that the bus station was being rebuilt and buses were terminating at street stops nearby,  so we were able to go straight to the right place without being at all discomfited. A very friendly driver sold us a group day ticket which we did not even know existed, and off we went. First stop on arriving at the railway site was the café, it being coffee time by then, and our train to Loughborough was not for a few minutes.

And so to the railway and our first steam train. This came into the little terminus hauled by LMS 8F class locomotive, built for freight but quite capable of hauling passenger trains at the sort of speeds expected on preserved lines.

Leicester North station is new and is not of interest for those studying the Great Central, and the first section of the line is only single track, but the other stations are double-track and each is preserved to reflect a different era of the railway's life.

We got off at Quorn & Woodhouse station which is decorated in LNER colours and portrayed as it might have been during the Second World War. This is a typical Great Central station with island platform and access via a staircase from a road over bridge, all the buildings being in the middle of the platform.

We left the station and looked back down to see how these buildings were laid out - my friend's task in building such a station (his period is the 1970s - when in reality this line was closed down) is made easier by these buildings being ready-made in his scale by a commercial manufacturer.

Walking down the bridge ramp we made our way back in through the former goods yard entrance to the recently opened café nestled against the road embankment where we had our lunch, and then back to the platform via the walkway through the former goods yard where a number of vintage road vehicles were on display but we had not had time to give them more than a cursory glance (although we did see a steam road roller trundling past while we ate lunch).

And so to the the main station at Loughborough Central. From here we took a stroll alongside the line to the sheds where locomotives are restored, and beyond them followed the trackbed to where a new bridge was to be built over the current Midland Main Line which would allow the northern section of the GCR to be joined to this section, one day giving through steam trains towards Nottingham - if the funds can be found to relocate the steam sheds here, which currently stand where the main line should be.

After a good look around the locomotives being renovated at the sheds we made our way back to the platform at Loughborough Central and after a look around the little museum we caught a train back to Leicester North, this time hauled by a LMS "Black 5" locomotive.

Making our way back to the city centre by bus, we then visited the Cathedral which is now almost dominated by the tomb of King Richard III recently reburied there. The visitor centre opposite, on the site at which his remains were found, was just closing for the day and we determined to return to Leicester and explore the city properly another time. It was a very friendly city and, with a little time to spare while we waited for our off-peak tickets to be valid for a train home, we enjoyed a pint of ale in a pub near the Cathedral and then walked back to the station and so home.

We could not have wished for a better day, with perfect weather and plenty of interest. And good company always helps!

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