30 Nov – Festive Frolics

There was a sense of fun abroad this morning at the Racecourse Station. The timing of the first day of Santa Specials being in November seems to have meant slightly less than a ‘full house’ today which in turn ensures that all the elves, the station & train staff and, presumably, Father Christmas himself could take it slowly and work up the routines for the onslaught during the rest of the month (I am told the tickets are almost sold out!).

As such there was an informal competition for the zaniest Christmas item of clothing. Some strong entries from train staff:

and associates:

But, though I may be biased, I feel that our own shop assistant Ben takes top spot:

Dave T, Dave G, Mike, Maurice, Steve and Andy B were amongst the volunteers ensuring that all was presentable and ran smoothly. And, of course, thanks is owed to the many extra helpers who man the car parks, provide festive fare – see below – and oversee the ongoings at the ‘North Pole’ (aka Toddinton).

Well done all, only another 20+ days to Christmas.

Next week, by popular demand, an Election Special in which I’ll be speculating on what the political parties will be doing to support the Cheltenham Area Group, post 12 December.

I bet you can’t wait!



29 Nov – Black Friday!

As the world (or at least the so-called developed part of it) engages in an orgy of spending on-line I thought I’d enjoy the sunshine (such a change) and spend a couple of hours at the Racecourse Station. So a short blog on what transpired.

As Santa Special season is upon us tomorrow, and major works will be suspended for a while, it was a good opportunity to get rid of some of the burn pile.  Unusually, there was very little breeze whilst the material was green and wet, so my fire was a reluctant starter!20191129_1409126232404540056634858.jpg


However, after a lot of puffing and blowing I did manage to reduce some of the debris to ashes.

Meanwhile, Dave G (fettling things for tomorrow) had been and gone, when I heard the noise of an old goat:


Billy that is not Dave T obviously!  And, very commendably, he was taking care to collect these oak leaves specifically for composting:20191129_1320259125566198643122010.jpg

This is, apparently, the 2018 vintage – looks like it’ll be a while before it’s mature!

And if holly is in short supply then we have plenty other red berries available:


More news of Christmassy stuff tomorrow hopefully.



25 Nov – Santa on Water Skis?

Santa 2

A quick glimpse of what we have in store for December on the GWSR!  Or, this may be what has to happen if it doesn’t stop raining soon!

Anyway, there was in fact, a short window between about 1230 and 1530 when it didn’t actually rain at the Racecourse Station.  So, a small but highly select group (Dave T, Dave G, Mary & Pete) got on and did some more work.

For a genuine change of scene Pete was tasked to scrub the white platform edge line so that a new one can be applied. 20191125_1449337972997772326080790.jpg

Somewhat cruelly no-one has pointed out to him how long the platform is and therefore how long this task will take with a piece of glass paper and a hand scraper.  Just joking we did rescue him from this task after a hour or so!

Elsewhere, I removed a few more stray laurels from overhanging Platform 1 and here’s Dave T strolling away from delivering to the unofficial laurel ‘crossing point’ (ie opposite the bonfire site).


A further long-standing Racecourse Station mystery was subject to scrutiny today – whose water meter is where, what supply feeds what usage and who’s supposed to be paying!  This is a debate between the Severn Trent Water, the Racecourse and the GWSR proper (rather than us!) for which we are merely facilitators.  So here are a couple of trusties being reassured by DT that we aren’t liable!


So we can put the lid on the matter:20191125_142340193512905368966369.jpg

Sadly we stayed 5 minutes too long in our tea break and by the time we emerged it was ….. raining again!  So we tidied up and went home.

Santa Specials proper from Saturday 30 November!!  Book early.



23 Nov – How Many Volunteers does it take………?

There was a surprising (to me at least!) number of volunteers at the Racecourse Station this morning – given the very dull, damp conditions (for a change!).  It was a bit of a slow start but the final tally was 7: Dave T, Steve, Mary, Andy B, Andy M, Maurice & self.  More promisingly still our colleague Mick Best came along – under his own steam – for a chat and a walk around the station.   Technically Mick has been away so long that he doesn’t quite qualify as a volunteer any more but we are hoping he will do so again, and return to our fold as one of the most valued members of the Cheltenham Area Group.

There was some tidying to do ahead of the early Santa Special tomorrow.  Not many pine needles but plenty oak leaves in this case, with our newly reduced laurel bushes (previously trees!):20191123_1219517068023883493082926.jpg


Elsewhere, a team of 3 were struggling to attach the Santa signs to the fencing.  Luckily, Mick Best was on hand to provide some much needed technical advice (on how to thread cable ties!!):20191123_1200076100877995146871753.jpg

Anyway, as ever, a cheerful demeanour does much to make the time pass! Other preparations have also been made ready:


Andy B was putting the finishing touches to the Christmas Lights, Andy M cleaning up the Platforms, Maurice trimmed the hedges and I attempted to reduce the ‘flooded’ areas around some of the benches.

And so the busy season beckons again!




18 Nov – Resting on One’s Laurels

It made a very pleasant change to be working on a station bathed in sunshine or, at least, as sunny as it gets in the cutting at Cheltenham Racecourse Station in mid-November.

That said, one of our perennial problems was well illustrated this afternoon as, despite the fine dry day we were experiencing, Platform 1 was essentially cold and damp from the recent rain.  This, in turn, allows the moss etc to grow producing a wet and sometimes slippy platform in the critical areas where our visitors stand and admire the GWSR fleet of engines.  As such, the authorities made a decision to reduce the overhanging vegetation somewhat by cutting back the laurel bushes and allowing more sunlight and air into our danker locations.  In this task I had the fun job of sawing down the trees whilst the hard work was undertaken by Pete and John O – shown below – dragging the results up the way and across on to our burn pile on Platform 2.



You might have thought that this was a bit radical, and begin to doubt our green credentials, but rest assured the laurel is a very forgiving plant it seems and here’s one we did 3 seasons ago which has grown back very nicely:20191118_1406464445584758041585156.jpg

Colleagues Chris and Roger were busy removing the last of the pine piles from the track bed which should leave us clear of this task until 2020 (I hope!).  Mary meanwhile was tidying the garden for winter:20191118_1405343337447100591697436.jpg

….and then having a well-earned rest in the sunshine:20191118_1519096003412397931737457.jpg

Which reminds me to thank the ever faithful Mike who provides the tea and coffee during our breaks.


A random shot of the sun on Cleeve Common!

Dave T was busy straightening up after the weekend’s Race Meeting whilst Dave G was, I think, busy painting various small items which can dry indoors.

So a great turn out on a day when it was a pleasure to be a volunteer.




16 Nov – Heavy Going (Literally!)

A report in from Dave T, who was certainly ‘at the races’ yesterday:

“Just self, Dave G and Steve in today for the Cheltenham Area Group, plus 2 Station Masters, a booking clerk and 4 crossing monitors, all of the latter to deal with the race train morning and afternoon plus the fish & chipper at lunchtime.

“Steve put up and decorated the Christmas tree in the booking hall and then sorted out the four plug leads for the festive lights around the canopy of the building. It was necessary to unbolt the plug sockets from a metal back plate and drill new holes to fit it all in the plastic box. When I left in the early evening, the light strings were all nicely illuminated to raise awareness of our Santa trains.steve sorting xmas lightssteve xmas tree

“Meanwhile Dave G passed the time by painting one of our ‘Beware of Trains’ signs over in the paint pod. DaveG painting sign

“I checked tarmac surfaces were just about dry enough to – wait for it – hoover up pine needles for the bonfire and then leaves for composting. The racing punters arrived to a clean platform and ramp and left for the course without being aware of the effort put in to clean up after last week’s deluge.race trainrace goers

“For a ‘major’ race meeting the day seemed rather subdued, with a smaller crowd than normally attending the showcase meeting. Perhaps some were put off by the Racecourse warnings of boggy ground in the parking areas and the plea to share cars!”

Thanks Dave.  Going ‘heavy to distinctly boggy’ I should think.  Still, it looks slightly drier next week – or am I deluding myself?



11 Nov – Remembrance!

Remembrance is, of course, the time to reflect on those of the nation’s Armed Forces who made the ultimate sacrifice. As most passengers who have passed through Paddington Station in London will be well aware the Great Western Railway itself has a magnificent memorial to those 2524 of its employees who died in the Great War and 788 in the Second World War.

GWR Memorial

Presumably, some of those worked in and around the Stations now part of the GWSR; I wonder who, how many and what their ‘back stories’ were? Perhaps there is scope for someone to do some research in the various archives and find out?

In a similar vein I also note that, on the original Remembrance Days (then known as Armistice Day)s, all train services pulled to halt at 11am on the 11 November; a tradition I believe some nations still respect. Not sure what this would do to the timetabling of the UK’s commercial train services and we hardly need any more reasons for delay or disruption!

Fortunately, or otherwise, this is not an issue we in the GWSR face since we are a week into the short close season. That said, the imminence of the November Race meeting at Cheltenham is on everyone’s mind this week as we try to combine our maintenance and refurbishment plans with keeping the Station spick and span for the ‘Specials’ later in the week; no easy task this autumn. Therefore, we have put on temporary hold any tasks which might interfere with the rather singular requirements of the racegoer. Whereas our average passenger comes along to appreciate the experience of steam train travel, the race punters are rather more focused on arriving at their destination and getting on with the business of the day: watching the horse racing, placing the odd wager, eating and drinking etc. That’s not to say that some (hopefully all!) don’t enjoy the experience, its’ just that you are just less likely to enjoy a conversation with them about the boiler pressure in P&O or whatever! A good money earner for the railway though, so we’re not complaining.

Anyway, after that extensive preamble, what were the Monday workers doing this ‘fine’ day? Wait for it, wait for it – yes, sweeping up pine needles, pine cones, pine tree branches etc. This is, of course, partly a cosmetic activity since no-one wants the Station looking unkempt for our visitors. However, there are also practicalities and safety considerations. Steam engines scatter the occasional piece of burning coal and allowing too much debris to build up on the track bed risks the occurrence of small fires – exacerbated alongside the regular stopping places by the amount of oil residue also present. This again wouldn’t be likely to cause conflagrations of Australian bush fire proportions but even small blazes can damage the plastic elements visible in our current track:


(The orange coloured bits visible at the bottom of the of the picture.)

Moreover, if the amount of debris visible on the track at the moment were to increase proportionately over the next few weeks, the chaps at Toddington would be fitting snow ploughs to get through it! And I exaggerate only slightly.

Luckily, a team of stalwart Monday men (and woman) turned out in force and made a super effort to clear the tracks of the worst. So all credit to Ian, Chris, Roger, Pete, Maurice, Dave T, Mike and Mary for a lengthy stint amongst the pine straw.


The result of which hard labour was an increasing pile well out of sight of race going punters:

Is there a market for this somewhere? Possibly it might make good pet bedding or perhaps it could be air blown into cavity walls as insulation? Tied in bundles to make GWSR straw dolls? Consumed as a vegan alternative to cheese straws?  I think something should be done!

Meanwhile our tenth volunteer of the day, Dave G, was in and about the Ticket Office – painting screens.  All in all a good afternoon’s work and we should be in fair shape come race days.