The heritage train is expected. As the minutes pass, a crowd assembles at the end of the opposite platform. One man with sandwiches. One man with large camera swung round his neck. One man with dubious jacket. Two Museum Friends volunteers. They check their watches. One last normal train pulls into the platform, and all of Rickmansworth's everyday travellers pile aboard. Those who wait behind aren't here to travel, they're here to admire. Won't be long now. Last chance to swap platforms, for the perfect photograph, before Sarah Siddons arrives. Mum spots her first, and points out the arrival to her excitable four-year-old son. Slowly round the corner, the Metropolitan Railway's last remaining electric locomotive appears. A rare jaunt out from the depot, for the Rickmansworth Festival, now arriving at platform one. Shutters flash, videos whirr, or whatever the digital equivalent is these days. One chance for the action shot, then a couple of minutes for the loco close up. A stack of electricals are buzzing inside that outer casing, where Heritage Team staff in hi-vis vests are doing the driving. In the four brown carriages behind, the paying customers smile and beam. No wonder. They've just travelled round the legendary Northcurve from Croxley, the tube network's least-scheduled section and home to the shortest tunnel on the London Underground. I grew up less than a mile away and yet I've never been through it, only walked across the top through the woods, staring down onto the ghost tracks below. Maybe one day. Whatever the perks of 1920s travel, the passengers have no view whatsoever of the unique engine pulling them. Instead they've been staring at nothing more than the drizzle-specked Hertfordshire countryside, and there are several miles of Buckinghamshire still to go. Bang on time the wheels move slowly forward and Sarah moves off. A few more seconds for a few last pictures - although the carriages aren't that photogenic and the BR freight train pushing up the rear is anything but. Sheets of paper emerge from cagoule pockets, the timetable is consulted, and yes the return journey will be passing back through in an hour's time. They follow like groupies, hitching a ride on the normal trains to be in position at Harrow-on-the-Hill for another long slow lingering look. The old girl may not get out much, but she laps up the attention. [photo]
The heritage vehicle is in place. The bus stop outside the station usually only sees Green Line coaches, and there's an old one of those waiting in the layby down the hill. But the vehicle in place is red, and somewhat familiar, although not in these Home Counties streets. I never saw one out here as a kid, no workhorse so exotic, but today there's a Routemaster in Rickmansworth purring patiently. And no ordinary Routemaster. This is the very first, the prototype, this is RM1. Nobody makes a fuss. Nobody points out the Golders Green to Crystal Palace fare chart at the bottom of the staircase, nor the non-standard radiator grille on the front. Instead we take our seats in the Upper Saloon (seats 32, currently seating 6) and set out on our round-town journey. These are the streets where I learnt to drive, the same lane manoeuvres I almost mastered in my driving test. A lot's changed in Ricky since then, not least the replacement of Penn Place by stacked flats and the steady decline of the once thriving High Street. Nobody even looks up as we pass by - public transport's no longer the carriage of choice for the majority. But these few minutes aboard the comfy seats are doubly nostalgic for a local boy - the reassuringly familiar passing through the relentlessly amended. To a temporary stop down Church Street, a few hundred yards before the river. RM1... to ... Batchworth. [photo]
Heritage craft line the canal. They turn up in great numbers on the third weekend in May, strung out between Batchworth and Stockers Locks, in celebration of the Rickmansworth Festival. Tied up three abreast in places, a temporary community has come together along the towpath. Some are here to celebrate with brightly painted beautifully renovated craft. Others are seeking support, or hard cash, to lift their narrowboats out of decades of disrepair. A few have come purely to sell, be that painted jugs, random jumble or Speciality Welsh Cheese. The smell of woodsmoke and belching generators fills the air. Hang around and you can watch the working boats competing for attention in the canal basin, just as soon as the interdenominational service has finished its outdoor worship to a congregation of six. The second half of the Festival lurks on the other side of a thicket of trees on the banks of the Aquadrome. Here the craft stalls, here the hog roast, here too a funfair of dubious distinction. For many a local child, their fifteen minutes singing or dancing on the makeshift stage will be a highlight of the year. The good people of Ricky wander from tent to tent, well-wrapped against passing showers, determined to enjoy their day out no matter what. I trust they all made it home before the downpours began.