Vintage Trains offered Crewe to Carlisle with Bittern, out via Shap and back via Ais Gill: a prospect too good to miss. Enter Network Rail, a few days before, with new gauging restrictions which threatened the whole trip. Blood, sweat, tears and midnight oil were burned to try and resolve matters. In the end we only lost the Carnforth to Carlisle stretch: despite last minute rumours, the rest survived intact.
Bittern departed smartly from Crewe, reaching 67 by Winsford and 75 by the Weaver Bridge, continuing thus to the outskirts of Warrington where a slow spell began. We passed Farington Junction at 62 then after an amble through Preston we were doing 63 through Barton and Broughton and were up to 73 by Bilsborrow. Another slow period started before Bay Horse but was over just before Lancaster, which we passed at 65. We reached our maximum at Morecambe North Junction before slowing for Carnforth where Bittern came off.
With Gordon Hodgson at the regulator we left Carlisle ten minutes late. Starting gently, we reached 50 at Armathwaite and carried on over the viaduct and through the tunnels, reaching line speed (60 mph) before Lazonby and maintaining it till past Little Salkeld. More slacks were followed by a fast spell after Long Marton before our 'splash and dash' at Appleby.
Another smart departure saw us reach 55 before Great Ormside, then back up to 51 over Smardale Viaduct after the Helm slowings. Through Kirkby Stephen at 40 and entering Birkett Tunnel at 39, we had dropped to 35 by Sandpot, but as we passed Pendragon Castle a magnificent acceleration began. We reached 42 at Shoregill and 45 at Hazelgill, continuing thus all the way to Ais Gill, with an absolute minimum of 42 before the summit. All this with load 11 plus a Class 47, idling only to produce the train heating - a magnificent effort.
We rollicked downhill at line speed through Garsdale, Selside and Stainforth before our water stop at Hellifield. Most of the fireworks were over by then, but after going through Clitheroe at 50 and Whalley at 37, we slogged up the hill through Langho (27) then back up to 29 before a dewy rail slowed us to 18 at the summit.
Back on the WCML, we had a burst to 72 at Boars Head, then we were back in the 70s from Winwick Junction right through Warrington to beyond Moore, and again after Hartford, for an early arrival back at Crewe. An excellent performance by Bittern and her crews, and an exhilarating day out.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures