29 Feb 20 – Leap Day

There is something slightly unusual about the 29th Feb, over and above the fact that it only occurs every 4 years. There are certain rituals and traditions amongst which railway blogs are written by guest editors. So today I hand over to Bob, Dave T and Mary, with random inputs from others. If there are typos blame me as I am editing the text on my phone!!

A few images from the modest- sized but industrious gang today (Dave T, Mary, Ben, Andy, Stephen, John L, Ros and Bob). Bob & Ros were on P2 killing weeds and otherwise weeding the garden beds, as well as removing the fallen branches fromn the platform.

Andy and Ben were digging out the old gravel from the RHS of the ramp, Mary was tidying up and Stephen was cleaning the Ticket Office gutters and replacing the downpipe that always catches out the unwary who look for support from it.

We had a visit from Steve Long who has replaced the hand drier in the ladies toilet.

Dave G was attending another meeting, while Dave T spent his time finally fettling the obsolete broken bracket on the ladies loo tube heater – with a stout cable tie as suggested by an electrical wholesaler. After that, with the Festival racing coming up soon, he then dealt with the accumulated sandy deposits causing a slip hazard on the signal box crossing, using a hose connected to the tap in the Bill Britton Hut. Finally, At he “modified” the channel the race course’s surplus water takes, so that their sand doesn’t get continuously washed onto the crossing! Phew, I’m tired just reading all that.

The cloudy image shows the new Ferris wheel erected as an attraction for the racegoers.

Earlier in the week Mary took this shot looking down towards the Racecourse and Station from Cleeve Hill.

Great effort all round; thanks for the inputs which I hope I have reflected adequately.



24 Feb – Sometimes, you wonder why……!

……you bother! Well, we don’t really wonder but it can be a mite frustrating when the hard work of one morning is undone by the weather of the next. That’s certainly how it felt this today when I surveyed the debris which, once again, is strewn across Platform 1. And that’s despite it having a decent billygoating on Saturday.  All these trees might look nice on a hot summer’s day but goodness they don’t half increase the ongoing maintenance tasks. I suspect other stations suffer to some extent but not, to my knowledge, to this degree.

Anyway, there’s not much for it but to buckle down and give it another sweeping. As they say at Cheltenham Racecourse Station: ‘if a job’s worth doing, its worth doing 3 (or 4 or 5) times’.  On other matters, I took delivery of some more gravel with which to finish our ramp edging task and did a little more clearance of the old stuff myself.  It’s not, I have to say, the easiest task to do, since the gravel is rather ‘cemented’ by soil and vegetation so that, at times, a pick would be more useful than a spade.  I ration myself to no more than 5 barrow loads before I have to do something slightly less physically exacting – like admiring the view or eating lunch.  At least I know that, whatever the weather, I won’t have to redo this task next week! Frankly, I’d hope for 10 years by which time it might be someone else’s turn.


Above: a dug our section, with a good close up of the slag stone wall; I rather like the fact that you can see where the gases bubbled out of the molten iron through the slag crust in the furnace! Great credit to the materials used and, more recently, to Dave T’s walling skills.  Below: still to be done.  Nice and clear why the gravel is full of soil and plant debris from off the embankment!20200224_11195832134887076090612.jpg20200224_1120022620757835326744301.jpgAbove: progress so far; looking more promising  Below: the recycling pile.20200222_1055215283975250065354770.jpg

We were quite well placed with volunteers this afternoon – despite the poorish conditions.  Roger was on sweeper duties, John O continued his vigil as the cleaner of Platform 1, Dave T was grovelling in the loos, Graham helped me with dig out the old gravel whilst Chris and Ian backfilled with new gravel.  Dave G meanwhile was engaged in a task in the platform shop – accompanied by senior shop officials (I hesitate to call them stewards!)

I will be leaving colleagues to dig out the tiny amount of remaining old gravel and to fill in behind with fresh next weekend. It will be a really nice welcome home present if the whole task is finished by the time I get back!!



22 Feb 20 – All Hands to Tidy Up!

There’s no chance that we could have another weekend storm between now and 7 Mar (is there?) so we were briefed to get on with tidying up.  Not least since half a forest seems to have landed on Platform 1 and the other half on the track bed. So, a combination of billygoat, brushes and manual labour was out in force – and it certainly helps if you have a few extra pairs of hands.

Luckily there was a fair crowd in today comprising Steve, Dave T, Dave G, Mary, Ben, Maurice, John’s O & L, Bob and Mike.

In terms if activity: the benches were put back out, some sweeping was done, gardens were renovated, fence posts straightened and strengthened, gravel dug out and the ticket office prepared. Plus the usual extras of putting winter ‘shrouds’ away and a general tidy up. And, of course, there is always a bit more fence to fettle!


The daffodils are almost out – so the Cheltenham Festival must be upon us shortly.  And, whilst we gripe occasionally about our ‘landlord’ (of the car park – not the Station) we get on tolerably well really – with a little give and take.  And the harmony is well illustrated by ‘their’ use of ‘our’ car park for the disabled parking during the Festival, the facilitated access across the track from the coach park plus, of course, the Festival Specials run by the GWR into and out of the Racecourse Station on each of the race days.  Income for the railway and provision of surely the most glamorous and convenient way of travelling into and out of Festival – no parking or traffic hold ups to worry about.

On an allied topic, since everyone is obliged to consider it these days, as to whether steam train travel is ‘green’ or not – I wondered whether anyone had calculated the carbon emissions of this form or transport?  Do we need to plant some more trees to achieve neutrality?  The answer is a qualified ‘yes’ and, for anyone interested, there is some background reading from the NYMR colleagues here: Heritage Railways and Carbon Emissions

And talking of steam engines I was persuaded to go and ‘watch’ the Union of South Africa pass on the main line at 1100. Make a video said Dave!

If you can make out much of the train by eye you’re a better man than I! I could just about hear its distinctive ‘whistle’. Last time I go spotting I tell you!  Bonfire are more my line and here’s some post-Ciara, post-Dennis material for disposal:20200222_1055258147830576640631094.jpg

We could make our way across to sweep the debris from Platform 2 I suppose next week! Oh no – I’m on holiday!




20 Feb 20 – Praise from Heritage Railway is Praise Indeed!

Our leader, Dave T, is obviously a well-read railway buff, but even he did a great job in spotting the following tribute:

ramp crc

Credit to the magazine and Oliver Edwards for this image and text. Obviously a quality product: Heritage Railway

All I can add is to note that the photographer picked a nice day to take the picture and that it looks even better now the fence has been painted and the gravel restored!



17 Feb 20 – Vintage Workers

I was struggling for a suitable definition of my volunteer worker colleagues at Cheltenham. I wondered if veteran was the best (a person who has long experience in a particular field) or vintage (denoting something from the past of high quality, the best of its kind). Both useful but I think vintage works best and, in line with best HR practice these days, we don’t mention ‘age’, ‘old’, ‘elderly’ or any other suggestion that something may be past its prime!

Some amongst the Monday vintage were: Dave G, Mike, Pete, Andy M, Chris and newcomer to the Racecourse workforce (but not the railway) Graham.  Fortunately Dennis seems to have left us!

We did, no doubt to everyone’s (volunteers and blog readers alike) relief, manage to get to the bottom of the ramp with our fence improvements! We haven’t completely finished as there are some concealed areas to paint and some more gravel to add but we were more or less done by close of play Saturday though it wasn’t fit to take a photo!


This is the view from the bottom of the ramp. You can see how scruffy the other side now looks by comparison!

My personal thanks to all who have strived manfully on this one and, hopefully, we haven’t been distracted too much from our many other tasks. Thanks too to the blog commenters who have provided much appreciated encouragement along the way. Although the fence needs painting every 4 years or so I am hopeful that the gravel boards will give us at least a decade of use.

In the continuing stormy weather there have been the inevitable collapsed branches and scattered debris to the extent that we though it probably be worthwhile getting the billygoat out for a run up and down the tarmac areas – despite the fact that there are no imminent passengers. Otherwise the rubbish will be all over our nice new gravel!20200217_1437138849921182452049612.jpgI did, of course, suggest that the other side of the ramp would be ‘easy’ by comparison. A foolish boast! It is easier in the sense that there is no fence to worry about but not in the sense that the old gravel is 50+% soil and so needs to be dug out with a spade if not a pick.  Nothing worthwhile is ever easy – at least not on this railway it isn’t.  Anyway a manful crew of Chris, Graham, Pete and Andy laboured away so well they’ve used up all my new gravel!20200217_1354417071932970296630230.jpg This is Graham before the work got to him!20200217_1354524147275510677236251.jpg


20200217_1404582481759461816703429.jpgThe soil spills off the garden and joins the gravel in making an unpleasant aggregate.  Still the new stuff gives a nice neat border when completed.


“Wiv a little bit of luck, wiv a little bit of luck, wiv a little bit of bloomin’ luck” (as Stanley Holloway might have sung) we should be finished with this by this time next week.  Always assuming I can buy some more gravel.

And having soaked up most of the available manpower on this task we had Mike to thank for a decent tidy up and tea brew whilst Dave G prepare the ticket office for the new season.

We’ve quite a bit more fencing to paint here and there, and other basic maintenance tasks to carry out but I wonder what major project should we take on next?



15 Feb 20 – Extra Help?

My first thought this morning was that it wasn’t worth it – going to the Station that is. However, I persisted and we did manage a decent burst of activity in adverse conditions.

Dave G and Dave T largely stayed in the staff room and ticket office, wisely confining themselves to indoor stuff.  Outside we were game for a bit more ‘of the physical’ so Steve, Andy M and I filled in a few areas of our pathwork. We removed the ‘sentry hut’ – which was now a bit low – and re-gravelled beneath. By this time the wind was gusting very strongly so we decided discretion was the best option and left it lying down for the moment.  Here’s a damp Steve at work:

20200215_1133585093453575631238773.jpg20200215_1133533938508444718396007.jpgOn the other side of the ramp we scraped out the old mud, weeds and self-sown plants so that we can replace with clean matching gravel in due course.20200215_1134056833686372510883168.jpg

And here’s our leader getting stuck in to the cobwebs!


So where was the extra help? Self, Dave T, Dave G, Andy M, Steve and a new volunteer Dennis.  He came from the west apparently and hasn’t done much useful work – in fact he seemed to make matters worse as far as I could see.  Still, perhaps not as bad as his sister Ciara!  We shall see what Monday brings.



12 Feb 20 – On Defence!

Just when I thought it was getting easier near the end of this job, the fence rather fell apart!  The last stretch has been rather uneven and seems to drop below the normal ground level.  Hence the palings have been sitting in the soil/gravel and rotted away at the very bottom. I was forced to take the fence apart and may eventually need to trim the rotten 4 inches off (which could look a bit odd!) or get someone to make some new palings.  We would need to find some old pallet wood if we are to reproduce them historically accurately of course!

                                        Close up it looks a bit tatty doesn’t it?

Or I could pretend I haven’t noticed, put on a quick coat of the black stuff and screw them back on again! Of course, one isn’t generally allowed to have sharp-pointed tops to one’s fence these days……….

Work in progress as they say.

Pip, pip


10 Feb 20 – Rained Off/Blown Off!

There may or may not have been a Monday gang today – I didn’t stay long enough to find out!  Looking at the forecast I went in early and managed to work from 0930-1200, before being rained and blown off the ramp.  Surprisingly, apart from a few broken branches there was remarkably little serious debris.  So the only picture I managed was…………a selfie!20200210_1212556341650723638398307.jpg

Sorry, best I could do.  I had hoped that being partly coated in crecote would makes my overall waterproof – sadly not!  More later in the week, hopefully.


8 Feb 20 – Don’t Panic!

The return of our leaders from their various excursions is, of course, very welcome – not only because they are extra pairs hands, but also because being a mature, experienced volunteer workforce doesn’t mean that we don’t need some management direction. Of course we reserve the right to ignore this direction if we wish but, on the whole, it’s a pretty harmonious set up!

Readers might well have observed the fact they we seem to have done little but painting and fence work plus a little gardening.  Being well aware that Sat 7 Mar is an operating day that means 29 Feb will be the day to put out the benches etc, so that leaves only Saturdays 15 and 22 Feb (plus some Mondays).  Don’t panic!

Which leads us nicely into today’s efforts where a stalwart crowd included Dave G, Steve, Bob & Ros, Maurice, Andy M, John L, Mike and a flying visit from Mick. DAve T (& Mary) have returned from their hols but are taking a few days to reacclimatise!

Here’s a selection of the activities this morning:

Note the ‘salt spreader’on the right, further insurance against a severe winter!
                                         Some serious discussions going on!

Just joking! Main effort was on the fence line where another 18m of board was installed, 20m+ of gravel laid and 25m of fence painted. All of which means that we are only about 20m from completion. Fingers crossed by all those who are tired of reading about it and tired of doing it!

Furthermore, I should note that Dave G’s refurbishment of the benches is very much more than a lick of paint. Although we don’t do every bench every year, the process involves at least an extensive rub down, filling any holes, repriming and repainting.

                                       And no half measures or short cuts!

There’s no doubt that there is a sense of anticipation as ‘train time’ approaches – it’s a sort of a ‘can’t live with ’em but can’t live without ’em’ situation. Reflective of life in general I suppose!



5 Feb 20 – Brexit Bonus?

Since 31 Jan 2020 I notice that there has been a considerable improvement in the weather: sunnier, warmer and much less rain. I wonder if Spring is on it’s way or whether there is another beast lurking in the European east? Can’t be due to Brexit surely? Either way I have no doubt that the weather is much appreciated by all who spend time working outside – including me! That said it has, for the first time been fit enough to work in my own garden – doubling the demands on working hours and competing with railway ‘obligations’. Leading to the frequent comment of the retired: “How was it that I managed to fit in a full-time job?”

So, onwards with the task in hand plus a few reflections on the authenticity or otherwise of restored railways!

Sunshine on the signage! Plus the hi-tech, non-vintage technical additions.

And on the ramp:

We can just about see the end point and, double bonus, the path gets narrower further down.

Which shot, at first glance, looked pretty heritage authentic to me. However obviously not the plastic grit box or the bin liner but the rest….

Does it matter? Well I suppose that’s a question of taste, of regulation and of practicality. A good deal of the Racecourse Station isn’t genuine or authentic GWR and for most of our visitors I suspect it doesn’t matter a bit.  Some things simply wouldn’t be sensible – such as the 1904 sewage disposal or their electrical fittings.  In other areas perhaps it would have been desirable to have more genuine buildings but we are, as they say, where we are – and railway finances don’t always permit – at least not at this end of the railway!

And so that makes about 65 metres of our ramp path completed and 35 to go. Genuine, authentic: wooden fence, boards and gravel – all installed manually and painted by hand. (The only concession, on reflection, was that I did use the electric screwdriver!)

Let’s hope it stays sunny and spring-like, there’s always more to do..