Once again, it was time in our calendar for the annual Direct Rail Services open day event. Each year this event is alternated between their main depots at Carlisle Kingmoor and Crewe Gresty Bridge.
This year it was the turn of the Cumbrian depot and like two years previous, true to the North West, it rained!
Knowing this was guaranteed to happen but in no way deterred, we set off early in order to get a good place in the queue, which not only cuts down on waiting time in the rain but also enables us just enough time to scramble around the depot to get a few “before the crowds descend” images.
The admission price is based on a suggested donation as all proceedings go to local charities.
Years ago, open days were a familiar feature as railways would regularly open their workshop and depot doors to the public over a weekend to showcase and promote British railway engineering.
There are not as many depots as there once were and all but a handful of locomotive works in Britain still exist and those that do are much reduced in their operations.
Britain has fallen out of the locomotive building industry – a real shame. Ironically, the preservation movement in this country hasn’t and now has several new builds – steam and diesel on its books! The Peppercorn A1 Pacific steam locomotive being the first to be completed.
So, it is great that one mainline freight operator continues to promote the open day tradition.
Despite the rain, the crowds came out in force lured by the chance to get up close to the working practices around a busy depot. Helpful staff who had volunteered their time for the event, showed folk around the cabs of various locos on display as well as the odd tour all the way through the engine room – very cramped we must say and definitely not the place for a nice stripy jacket!
Rail enthusiast, loco owner and pop personality Pete Waterman, who always comes to these events, was on hand to re-name one of the companies ex-BR 1960’s built English Electric diesel Class 37 locomotive with the name Sir Robert McAlpine/Concrete Bob, which it had carried in its British Rail days. As it was pouring with rain, this had to be the fastest naming ceremony on record!
We then headed to Carlisle station to witness the arrival of Princess Coronation Class, Stanier Pacific “Duchess of Sutherland” – the sun even tried to come out at one point!
However, this wasn’t the end of the day for us as we now headed back to Northumberland where we had an appointment for a vertical Rioja tasting.
Here, friends had kindly invited us to taste the: Conde Valdemar Gran Reserva Rioja from their vintages of: 1984, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992 & 1993 – well, it would have been absolutely rude of us to have not to!
Bodegas Valdemar is a well established producer in the Rioja region of Spain. The wines are mostly made of Tempranillo with some either having a dash or more of Garnacha, Mazuelo and/or Graciano.
Unfortunately, the 1984 was corked but despite this, it still maintained good structure. Pick of the pops seemed to be the 1986 and the 1990. The latter was felt to still have a young fruity nose and palate and should continue to develop for a little while longer yet.
The wines from the 1980’s, brick red and brown in colour, definitely had a savouriness to them including, of all things, blood and earth, as well as leather and smokey elements, whilst the 1986 maintained strawberry fruit as well. The 1990’s expressed more of their fruit, with hints of smoke and leather. The 1993 expressed smokey vanilla, orange peel and cooked fruit.
We then sat down and enjoyed the rest of the wine with a wonderfully home-cooked and locally sourced dinner (roast lamb or griddled Halloumi with roast vegetables all cooked to a flavoursome perfection).
What a brilliant end to a fantastic day!