List of days out in date order, with links
Date Outing
03 June 2011 A trip to Faversham to visit the Shepherd Neame brewery
15 April 2011 Newport Transporter Bridge and Cardiff Bay
14 May 2010 Crich Tramway Village

Dan, Ian and I (sometimes with others) have got into the habit of taking a day out by train to visit some interesting engineering, with a few beers along the way. Ian calls these excursions 'last of the summer wine trips' (though we aren't quite that old). These outings often include a short walk - the excuse for including them here. Bridges and piers are favoured destinations. I don't usually write these trips up, but Dan asked for note of our trip to Newport to see the transporter bridge (15 April 2011), so I've started this page for these outings, moving the account of our trip to Crich Tramway Village here.

14 May 2010: Crich Tramway Village

View up Derwent Valley, from lane between Crich Carr and Crich

A day off to visit Crich tram museum (officially, Crich Tramway Village) with Ian, Dan and Bernie, which gave the opportunity for a short walk in Derbyshire, overlooking the Derwent Valley.

Tram in Crich Tramway Village

We took the train to Whatstandwell, changing at Derby. From the station platform we walked over the railway footbridge, and then a second footbridge over the Cromford Canal to follow an alley up to the B 5035. Across the B 5035 we followed the lane up through Crich Carr, passing Codington, to reach the museum just to the north of Crich village.

Trig point
Trig point and Sherwood Foresters memorial

The museum is worth a visit, particularly for the architectural oddities they have collected and carefully reconstructed there. I particularly liked the Red Lion, a fine tiled pub from Stoke-on-Trent. The site is on an old mineral railway, and though the top of a Derbyshire hill is an odd site for a tram museum, it works well.

After the visit, I suggested a walk up to the prominent monument above the museum, on Crich Cliff, and then a meander back to the station by footpath.

View north from trig point on Crich Cliff

The monument is a tower, rather like an inland lighthouse (as one museum volunteer joked, very effective, because they had never had a ship run aground in Crich). It was erected in 1922-23 as a memorial to the 11,409 Sherwood Foresters who had died during the Great War of 1914 - 1918. The tower replaced various earlier towers on the site, which is perched above the still-operational Cliff Quarry.

There is a trig point next to the tower (286 m), with fine views in all directions.

Cliff Quarry, Crich

From the memorial, we walked around the edge of the quarry, to cross the museum's tram line at the point where the trams turn back. From there we dropped down to Wakebridge (barely a hamlet), where there were a few campers and a couple of very inquisitive, very small, ponies.

Inquisitive pony

From Wakebridge we followed a path down a tributary of the River Derwent to reach the Cromford Canal. The lower part of the valley has been heavily quarried in the past, leaving picturesque scars. Beautiful flowers - ramsoms, bluebell, yellow archangel and wood-sorrel.

We then walked the short way along the canal to get back to Whatstandwell station, arriving just in time for the train for Derby.

In Derby we stopped for a couple of pints and a bite to eat in the famous Brunswick Inn. Excellent beer, and a good black pudding cob (without salad garnish for once). A short, but interesting and worthwhile walk.

Old quarry
Old quarry, approaching Cromford Canal

Ramsons Stichwort


15 April 2011: Newport Transporter Bridge and Cardiff Bay

Newport Transporter Bridge
Newport Transporter Bridge - general view

Back in January 2009 we took a trip to visit Saltburn pier and Middlesbrough transporter bridge. The only other operational transporter bridge in Britain is in Newport, over the River Usk. Ian thought a trip to see the Newport transporter bridge, combined with a quick tour of the redevelopment of Cardiff Bay, would make an interesting day out.

The gondola
The gondola, viewed from above

Ian found the bridge wasn't operating as usual because of a fault with a rectifier, but thanks to Newport City Council's very helpful structural engineer, he was able to arrange a visit. The bridge is still capable of limited operation, and we had the opportunity to both walk over the bridge and to travel on it.

Ian, Dan, Bernie, Mike, Bob and I therefore got the 08:45 from Paddington to Swansea. Sadly no restaurant car - not even a travelling chef. Paul joined us a Reading and we arrived in Newport on time.

View from the bridge, upriver

Newport station has a new northern entrance, designed by Atkins and Grimshaw and constructed by Galliford Try, which is 'covered in continuous ETFE (Ethylene TetraFluoroEthylene) cushions with aluminium-clad spirals' (so Newport City Council's web site explains). Curiously, the redevelopment of the station has removed any useful information like timetables from the platforms. I'm a fairly regular user of Newport station, and I now find it far less useable than the old station.

View from the bridge, downriver, Newport docks behind

Ian persuaded us that we had a tight timetable and that therefore we ought to take taxis to the transporter bridge. Shared amongst us, the cost was very modest.

We were met at the bridge by John, the engineer responsible for all Newport's structures, who gave us an introductory talk about the bridge and its history. It's a Grade 1 listed structure, opened in 1906.

Main girder
View along the main girder

Paul doesn't like heights, and took one look at the bridge and decided he wasn't going to walk over the top (the main girder is 177 feet (54 m) above the road according to Wikipedia). John said he would call the gondola to fetch Paul across the river - at which point Ian decided to join him.

The rest of us climbed up the zigzag staircase on the south-west tower to reach the main girder. The views from the top were wonderful, although the day wasn't completely clear.

Suspension cables
Suspension cables

The bridge is an unusual suspension bridge, using both cable stayed and parabolic suspension systems. There is an interesting technical description in a paper in the Proceedings of the ICE, published in February 2000, available on Newport City Council's website.

Engine room
View over engine room and anchor structure

The main girder has a noticeable dip in the middle, and John explained that though the suspenders from the suspension cables which support the main girder are in principle adjustable, nobody had managed the trick of getting both the girder straight and an even tension in the suspenders.

Winding drum
Winding drum

Surprisingly, the walk along the main girder, over a mesh-floor walkway, doesn't feel that exposed. The gondola ran a couple of times whilst we were walking across, allowing us to see the travelling frame from which the gondola is suspended. The travelling frame spreads the live load over 32 m.

We climbed down the zigzag stairs on the north-east tower, giving us a view over the engine room and the anchor structure for the suspension cables.

Gondola approaching the bank

The Gondola (or rather, the travelling frame) is pulled to-and-fro by a cable loop wound round a drum, turned by an electric motor. The drum is made from thick wooden planks, which need to be replaced every so often as they gradually wear away (I think the operator said every 7 years). The motor is controlled by a simple 4 step controller. Bob was allowed to drive for one crossing, under strict supervision. At each step, time needs to be allowed for the drum to gain speed (or slow down), before moving to the next step.

We all then took the gondola back to the Newport side of the Usk and took our leave of John. Our thanks to him and the bridge staff for a superb visit.

Cardiff market
Cardiff market

Ian had found a pub, the Waterloo Hotel and Bistro, across the road from the bridge, that featured in a guide to architecturally interesting pubs, and it did gastro-style food. He therefore assumed that it sold real ale, which it didn't. The pub was nicely tiled, and did good food, but the best they could do was to take the sparkler off the pump before serving us the Brains Smooth (actually not that bad). A couple of people had bottled Rev. James instead - a very good beer, but at 4.5% ABV, a bit strong for lunchtime.

Cardiff castle - tower
Cardiff castle - tower

We got another taxi back to the station, then a train to Cardiff. Here Ian had planned a lightening tour, showing us one of the city's covered arcades and the covered market, and then the castle (an extraordinary affair, Victorian medievalism at its most extravagant). Ian reckoned that it was the fastest he had ever gone through the arcades and the market (there were no shoppers amongst us). Outside the castle we stopped at the Goat Major, one of Ian's favourite pubs in the city. I had the Brains Dark, a rather good beer.

AquaBus, approaching Cardiff Castle stop

We then took the AquaBus from the Cardiff Castle stop on the River Taff to Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay. A nice little boat trip, costing £3.

At Cardiff Bay Ian gave us a quick tour round the principal sites (including a shrine to some character from a TV series called Torchwood).

Mermaid Quay
Mermaid Quay in Cardiff Bay

The Wales Millennium Centre is impressive. Inscribed on the front, above the main entrance, are two lines written by Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis. The Welsh version is 'Creu Gwir fel gwydr o ffwrnais awen', which means 'Creating truth like glass from the furnace of inspiration'. The English is 'In These Stones Horizons Sing'. The lettering is formed by windows in the upstairs bar areas.

We then got the train from Cardiff Bay Station to Cardiff Queen Street Station, and from there a train to Cardiff Central, with enough time for a quick pint (but slow service) in the nearby Wetherspoon's (The Great Western) before the train home.

All-in-all a very good day out.

The Wales Millennium Centre
The Wales Millennium Centre



03 June 2011: A trip to Faversham to visit the Shepherd Neame brewery

Faversham Creek
Faversham Creek from Front Brents

For some reason engineers are fond of breweries as a destination for technical visits, and we are no exception. Last year we had an enjoyable outing to visit the Adnams brewery in Southwold (with the added attraction of a pier). Ian suggested that his year we ought to visit the Shepherd Neame brewery in Faversham.

Thames barges
Thames barges in Faversham Creek

I proposed that we combine the visit with a short walk around Ham Marshes, following the Saxon Shore Way, with lunch in the Shipwrights Arms, one of my favourite pubs. Eventually eight people decided they would like to come on the trip - Ian, me, Dan, Tim, Ron, Bernie, Keith and Graham.

View back to Faversham across Ham Marshes

Some of the party wanted to travel from St Pancras International, to try the new Javelin service. Others travelled from Victoria. Eventually six of us met up at Faversham Station - Ian, me, Ron, Bernie, Keith and Graham. Dan had missed his train, and would catch us up by taking a short cut across the marshes meet us in the Shipwrights Arms, and Tim (who objects to early mornings) would follow even later and get a taxi to the pub.

Faversham Creek
View over Faversham Creek, towards the Shipwrights Arms

We set off down Preston Street and then West Street, the main shopping streets in Faversham. I thought I knew Faversham well, but somehow I missed a planned turn along Flood Lane and we ended up taking a (not very scenic) detour along Davington Hill and Brent Hill, getting back on track at Brent Road and picking up the Saxon Shore Way along Front Brents, a street running alongside Faversham Creek.

Isle of Sheppy
Isle of Sheppy, from the Shipwrights Arms

The Saxon Shore Way runs along Faversham Creek. After a short diversion inland around a small industrial estate in The Brents, the path keeps to the flood defence wall around Ham Marshes until it gets to the Shipwrights Arms at Hollow Shore, at the confluence of Faversham Creek and Oare Creek, with a view over the Isle of Sheppy.

The Shipwrights Arms
The Shipwrights Arms

Bernie was rather disappointed by the apparent lack of birdlife, but it’s the wrong time of year, and I’d advise birdwatchers to try the nearby Oare Marshes and South Swale Nature Reserves.

Boat in Oare Creek

The Shipwrights serves Goacher's Maidstone Ales, which I prefer to Shepherd Neame. We met Dan and Tim at the pub, and had a very pleasant lunch - though I’d have liked to have taken longer over it. I tried the Goacher's Real Mild Ale (abv 3.4%) - excellent.

Cow and calf
Cow and calf, Ham Marshes

My original plan was to return to Faversham by way of the Saxon Shore Way along Oare Creek, and the Swale Heritage Trail. However, we hadn’t time, and as Dan pointed out, it involves some not very pleasant road walking. We therefore took the footpath directly across Ham Marshes, through Ham Farm and so back to The Brents. From the Brents we followed Bridge Road (which has a swing bridge over Faversham Creek) and North Lane to reach Court Street, the location of the brewery’s visitor centre.

Mash Tun
Mash Tun, Faversham brewery

The tour was excellent - very well presented, with a beer tasting afterwards. Shepherd Neame make a large range of beers and lagers as well as their own brand real ales. When Tim asked about a pipe labelled ‘sugar’, it was explained that this was for supermarket own-brand beers, and the sugar never went anywhere near Shepherd Neame’s own beers.

Faversham brewery
Faversham brewery

After the tour we had a free half pint in the brewery’s visitor centre, followed by a paid for pint or two.

Parish Church of St Mary of Charity, old Rigden's brewery on the right

I then suggested a walk along Abbey Street, which has been amazingly restored over the years, containing some beautiful medieval houses. When my mother was a child, she was forbidden to go down Abbey Street, which was then a disreputable slum. At the end of Abbey Street we called into the Anchor Inn for some more beer.

Dan and I then remembered that the Bear Inn in Market Place was a good pub, so we stopped off there for a pint on the way back to the station. And since the Railway Hotel on Preston Street was just opposite the station (and had been my grandfather’s local) we stopped there for a final pint or two. The Railway's advertising slogan is 'We are not as cheap as Wetherspoons'. To be honest, the day had become a very enjoyable pub crawl. A very jolly day out.

The Guildhall
The Guildhall in Market Place