diamond geezer

 Monday, September 12, 2011

Metro-land journeys: Amersham Heritage Day

On the second weekend in September, hundreds of properties outside London open their doors to the public for free. Amersham goes all out and closes the high street in the old town, then links up with a series of heritage bus and train services during the day. So off I journeyed, like so...

Journey 1 → Amersham (S Stock)
It's a long way from the City out to Amersham, and it's about to get longer. There are plans to 'improve' the service on the Metropolitan line from December by ending the practice of fast and semi-fast services during the off-peak period. Following pressure from campaigners north of Harrow, all trains will stop at all Metropolitan line stations rather than skipping past seven of them. It's good news for passengers between Wembley Park and Moor Park who'll see more trains more often. It's bad news for passengers on the Watford branch who'll only get four trains an hour rather than six. And it's bad news for passengers beyond Rickmansworth whose journeys will take a few minutes longer. They were testing out the timetable on Sunday, to check it's not a ghastly mistake, so I got to take the "all stations Metropolitan line train to Amersham". It was one of the new S stock trains, the ones with fewer seats, but that was OK because a) I boarded early b) trains to the Home Counties on Sundays aren't exactly busy. I'm quite glad I don't have to do this journey more regularly, though, especially after December. [photo]

Journey 2 → Harrow-on-the-Hill → Amersham (1938 Stock)
The London Transport Museum has an old Northern line train which it wheels out occasionally for the public to ride. Sunday was one such opportunity, with four round journeys up the farthest end of the Metropolitan line to enjoy. Usually tickets sell out far in advance but these didn't so I was able to snap up a seat on the day. Nobody could possibly have described the journey as step-free - there was a at least a foot's drop from the platform to the train, not helped by the fact that these carriages were never meant to run on the Metropolitan. Off we trundled, waved off by a horde of non-ticket holders with cameras. They were present all down the line too, each keeping their fingers crossed that no modern train would pass by and wreck their line of sight. Others weren't expecting to see an old red train on a line where trains are normally white - some gawped, some grinned, some no doubt wished they were on board with us. We overtook a Chesham train near Chalfont and Latimer, because ours was a nonstop journey - a bit galling on the day they were testing every-stop journeys on the rest of the line. The carriage was authentically restored, right down to the dangly black bobbles, adverts with 01 telephone numbers and the pre-Embankment line diagram [photo] [photo]. A loud clonking came from beneath the wooden floor every now and then, plus the smell of pre-war brakes - which was familiar to many on board. Others were far too young to remember anything like this, mostly small boys, all with slightly too encyclopaedic a knowledge of all things Metropolitan. By the time we were on our return journey one mum was taking a sneaky nap, while dad pointed his camcorder out of the window recording the passing trees and platforms for posterity. And after an hour and a quarter we were back at Amersham, having paid £15 for the privilege of going precisely nowhere, but in such style. [photo] [photo]

Journey 3 → Old Amersham (RM1)
It wasn't all trains. As a special treat, a heritage bus service was running from the station (on the hill) to the Old Town (in the valley). Even better, the bus lined up was RM1, the very first Routemaster prototype, still doing sterling service after 55 years. Another vehicle with a proper wooden floor, and highly-polished surfaces, and a distinctive takes-you-back engine. I managed to get a seat on the top deck before the last was taken, and then we headed down the hill and round the ring road past harvested fields and hospitals. A special treat indeed.

Journey 4 → Amersham (on foot)
It's a lovely town, Old Amersham, with a Market Hall and rows of quaint houses in the High Street. That was sealed off yesterday so that scores of vintage cars could be parked up in front of the shops [photo], and a jazz band could play, and morris dancers could wave their handkerchiefs. I arrived too late to buy a filled roll from the Amersham Townswomen's Guild, but grabbed a 99 from the ice cream van and went down to watch the Punch and Judy by the river. Good news, under 10s are just as enthused by Mr Punch as they always were. I also visited the Amersham Museum, which is lovely, stashed away in a Tudor cottage with a herb garden round the back. It's not huge but it's comprehensive, and beautifully put together, and well worth the two quid it usually costs. And then I walked back up the hill, alone through the beechwoods, squelching slightly through early autumn mud.

Journey 5 → Harrow-on-the-Hill (Sarah Siddons)
Not just one, but two heritage trains were plying the outer Met line on Sunday. Sarah Siddons is the name given to one of twenty electric locomotives brought in to haul Metropolitan services back in 1923, and she still works. Still perfectly capable of hauling a full four carriage train, even with a chunky BR loco attached at the opposite end for shunting purposes. The army of enthusiasts and amateur photographers at Amersham rushed to shower love and attention on Sarah, in a couple of cases selfishly barking at families to move out of shot as she pulled in [photo]. Once we passengers were on board, of course, the engine was completely out of sight and we could have been hauled by anything. The carriages were old-school BR stock with upholstery and corridors, about as far removed from shiny laminate S Stock as it's possible to get. I ended up in an eight-seater compartment with an excited South London six-year-old and an excited old lady whose house backs down to the line. You have to be a certain sort of person to enjoy these heritage days out, and I think we all were. The view out of the window all the way down to Harrow-on-the-Hill was exactly the same as I'd already seen three times that day, but nobody was complaining. [photo]

Journey 6 → Baker Street (A Stock)
And finally, yet another different Met line train back to town. The 50-year-old A Stock's days are numbered, with one set currently being sent off for scrap every week. Eventually the air-con-enabled accessible S Stock will triumph, doors closing with a beep, dragging Metro-land into the post-Betjeman century. And maybe one day there'll be an Amersham Heritage Open Day where the highlight is a trip on the old silver trains, just like granddad used to ride. I made the most of my A Stock experience home, while I still can.

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