If you own a magnificent steam engine, you can call it what you like. To commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain, the owner of No 34045 Braunton, Jeremy Hosking, has chosen to rebadge the loco as No 34052 Lord Dowding.
It appeared on the second public excursion of Saphos Trains, the Welsh Border Explorer, a four hour circular tour from Crewe. We set off briskly in the sunshine, reaching 44 mph by the end of the old Crewe Works, and continuing in the 50s across the green Cheshire countryside. We first hit 60 at Calveley and touched 64 just after Beeston Castle before slowing on the outskirts of Chester because we were early. We made our stately way through the middle road of Chester station then moved smartly away again, reaching 40 over the Dee viaduct and first touching 60 at Balderton. We maintained this pace as we crossed the Welsh border, for we had a challenging climb ahead. From Rossett the next four miles up Gresford bank to the outskirts of Wrexham are 1 in 82, no mean task with a 9 coach train and a dead diesel. We hit the bottom of the bank at 59 and, four coaches back from the engine, we could hear the effort being put in on this demanding gradient. Speed fell away only gradually and we were still doing 29 at the top. On through Ruabon in the 40s and 50s, we hit 61 as we dipped down to the Cefn viaduct and thenceforward in the 50s and 60s with a maximum of 64 at Haughton. We kept up the pace until the outskirts of Shrewsbury, reached eight minutes early, where we stopped for a leg-stretch.
Against the collar out of Shrewsbury, we were up to 54 by Upton Magna and 63 in the dip before Walcot. No more fireworks before the water stop at Telford Central, but then after a very slow start we were up to 62 again as we ran down to Shifnal. Brisk running, mostly in the 50s, took us to the outskirts of Wolverhampton, where we navigated the railway's own Spaghetti Junction to reach the northbound line to Stafford and Crewe.
We got away smartly down the main line, reaching 70 by Four Ashes and touching 73 at Gailey, our fastest speed of the day. We slowed before Stafford as we were early again, then stopped in the station for a Pendolino and a Voyager to pass. We were then soon into the 50s and took the new chord past Norton Bridge. I had hoped for a last hurrah down the hill from Madeley but it was not to be because we never even reached 60 after Stafford and were three minutes late back at Crewe.
So what of the Saphos Trains experience? The coaches have been beautifully restored: I have never before been in such a luxurious Mark 1. The callow youths on the platform need an intensive stewarding course, but the gracious Mrs Hosking worked the Premier coaches at least, making sure we knew how to adjust the heating to our liking. The catering was the usual DB standard but there was no brochure specific to the train and route, and a desultory A4 sheet with the timings. So there is strong potential in the hardware, but the software needs more work. But it was great to go up Gresford again after a great many years, and I enjoyed my little midday circular outing.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures