Monday, 11 January 2016

Review of the Year - 2015

Another wonderful year for which I'm very grateful. The notes below are not comprehensive, they just outline more memorable events.


There is an alphabetic list of most of the countries I've visited in the post Jan Ford's Travels: Around the World in pictures, with links to each country's pictures.

Singapore to Sandakan aboard the MS Caledonian Sky

I left home on the 24th January 2015, travelling from Birmingham Airport to Singapore (with a transit in Dubai) using Emirates. After a comfortable night at the Shangri-La Hotel, I joined the 100-odd fellow passengers on the Noble Caledonia party for a tour of the city by coach and river boat, including the famous Botanic Gardens before finishing at the airport for our overnight Air Niguini flight to Papua New Guinea. We first had a 'day-room' at the Crowne Plaza hotel before a bus tour of Port Moresby which included a brief visit to the impressive National Parliament Building. We were then made very welcome at the Country Park before being taken to our ship 'Caledonian Sky'.

'Caledonia Sky' visits Thursday Island, Australia.

During the first day on our well-appointed ship, we sailed across the Coral sea to reach Thursday Island (called 'TI' by residents) which is part of Australia, lying north of Queensland. A coach took us on a tour of the western part of the island then, after lunch, I walked around the eastern part of the island. I found it all fascinating. The whole of the next day we sailed across the Arafura Sea back to the New Guinea land mass but further west to the Asmat region which is part of Indonesia. We went ashore at Syuru by 'Zodiacs', met by around 40 canoes with fierce-looking, chanting native people who were fortunately friendly. We first watched traditional ceremonies for the launching of four new dugout canoes before walking through the local village of rather primitive buildings to reach the slightly more modern town of Agats, where our Zodiacs picked us up and took us back to the ship. The next day, following an early morning 'Zodiac' trip to see the mangroves and nipah palms, we sailed for Triton Bay, arriving the following day. In the morning, the 'Zodiacs' took us around some of the limestone pillars forming small islands, in the afternoon we landed at a sandy beach before sailing overnight for Andamatta. 'Zodiacs' took us to see the prehistoric rock paintings then the ship moved to Kokas where we landed at the more modern village by 'Zodiacs'. We were entertained by a series of dances outside the school and there was time to wander among the friendly Indonesian people before returning to the ship. Overnight, we sailed to the Boo Archipelago. At Torobi Island, a nature cruise by 'Zodiac' in the crystal-clear waters revealed a little of the magical world of the coral reef below the surface. In the afternoon, we landed on the tiny island of Pulao Boo with its white beaches of crushed coral. Swimming was curtailed as the sea became rougher, but there was time to walk right around the island before returning to the ship.

Our next destination was Ternate in the Molucca Islands but, before we arrived, there was a 'Crossing the Line' ceremony with King Neptune and his entourage where passengers who had not previously crossed the equator by ship were invited to 'Kiss the Fish'. Ternate was the largest community we'd seen since joining the ship. Coaches took us to a fascinating visit at the Sultan's Palace, a Lava Field left by a previous volcanic eruption of Mount Gamalama, the ruins of Portuguese-built Fort Tolucco, the former home of naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace and finally the Market. We sailed overnight to Sulawesi, another Indonesian Island (originally called 'Celebes' by the Portuguese). We docked at Bitung, an important port with a population exceeding 200,000. Once ashore, modern coaches took us to the nearby Fish Dock, the Local Market then the village of Sawangan where pupils at a Christian school sang for us. Nearby, we were given refreshment whilst performers sang and danced. The coaches took us back to the ship for lunch after which an hour's drive took us to the Tangkoko Nature Reserve to see the rare Spectral Tarsier monkey.

Overnight, we cruised to Bunaken Island, Sulawesi. The Marine Reserve here is one of the most important in the world and our 'Zodiac' cruise provided spectacular views of the coral reef. Around 1.00 p.m. we set off for Toli Toli, Sulawesi, our last port of call in Indonesia, which we reached around noon the following day. Tricycle rickshaws took us into town, where we looked at the Market. A mixture of public and Police coaches then took us to a former Sultan's house, now a museum, where tents and seating had been arranged for us to watch a 'cultural performance'. We were then taken in convoy to the Mayor's Restaurant for refreshments and entertainment by a 'Bamboo Band' and a modern 'Sing Along'. Impressed and exhausted, we returned to our ship.

We cruised through the night, then the whole of the following day and night before arriving at our final port, Sandakan on the island of Borneo. Sandakan, with a population around 400,000 is in Sabah, part of Malaysia. On leaving the ship, coaches first took us to Sandakan Memorial Park which commemorates the allied prisoners of the Japanese who died here during World War II. Next we visited the reconstructed house of American author Agnes Keith, who survived internment by the Japanese. Finally, we visited Sepilok, home of the world-famous Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre and, more recently, the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre before enjoying the comforts of the Four Points by Sheraton hotel overnight. Most of the passengers travelled to Kuala Lumpur on the same flight, transiting to a London flight. I travelled with them as far as Kuala Lumpur and then by Emirates back to Birmingham.

It was a memorable trip. There are 22 posts describing the whole voyage. You can find them all here, with links to pictures for each country visited. Pictures of the ship are here.

Trip to Burma

On the 17th April, I flew from Manchester to Yangon, via Doha, by Qatar Airways. Dr. Hla Tun met me on arrival in Yangon and in the evening, in a party including Emily, a young medical student from U.S.A. we drove south to Mon State and spent a few days visiting Drop In Centres forming part of the Orphans and Vulnerable Children Project. Our return to Yangon proved more exciting than expected as our car was hit by another vehicle and badly damaged. Fortunately, nobody was hurt but we were delayed awaiting a replacement vehicle to complete the journey. After a night at Dr. Hla Tun's house, on Friday, 24th April Emily and I flew with the Doctor to Nyaung Oo and then on to Bagan Medical Clinic by car. I spent Friday, Saturday and Sunday studying the work of the Clinic then on Monday Dr. Hla Tun and I, together with two newly-qualified doctors and the parents of one, visited the schools at Chauk Kan and Htee Pu. Later that day, the Doctor and I flew back to Yangon.

The next day, I flew with a guide to the north of Burma, to Putao in Kachin State which overlooks the snow-covered mountains of the Himalayas. I spent an enjoyable few days seeing a little of this very different area, staying at 'Putao Trekking House' which was a very well-appointed and hospitable hotel. The tour included a 10-mile trek to Nang Kham village where a Guest House was opened especially for my overnight stay.

Putao: view of snow-topped mountains at sunset (sorry about the electric cables).

I flew to Mandalay, explored the city (and its railways), and made a pleasant visit to Mingun with my friend Htein Lin and his family. Before flying back to Yangon, I met my friends Ko Hlaing and Ma Khaing with their vivacious young daughter.

Back in Yangon, I explored a little on foot and made a couple of railway journeys around the city. I accompanied the Doctor on Orphanage visits organised by 'Pencils for Kids Inc.'. The Doctor had also arranged visits to the diesel locomotive depot at Mahlwagon and the locomotive works at Insein. Another amazing trip to this fascinating country!

My first trip report is here, with a link to the next post, and so on. All reports on this trip are here. Each post has links to related photographs. All my pictures on the trip are here (railway pictures have been added to the collection Railways in Burma).


During the year I made a few trips (mainly by rail) to various destinations, some of which have blog posts.

Irlam Station

On 28th March, I attended the official re-opening of the restored station building at Irlam. My journey by rail is described here and the re-opening here.

Irlam Station Launch: The restored building viewed from the Down platform.

By Rail to Guildford

I travelled to Guildford on 8th August for the OLCO 'Lionsmeet'. My journey by rail is described here.

London Road (Guildford).

Visiting former 'Southern' stations in London

On Friday 21st August, I was in London for a meeting and found time to look at a number of former 'Southern' stations, described here and in the post Waterloo Station, London (Part 2)

London Cannon Street Station.

Liverpool via Preston

On Saturday 17th October, I travelled by train to Crewe (taking a few pictures outside the station) then on to Preston. This journey is described in the post Wolverhampton to Preston by rail). Then I caught the train to Ormskirk, changed to a 'Merseyrail' service and continued to Liverpool where I visited the Museum of Liverpool, made the (inevitable) Mersey Ferry journey to Birkenhead Woodside, took the train to Conway Park and then returned to Liverpool, this time by electric train through the tunnel. There's a post on this part of the day here.

Ormskirk station building from the road side.

Merseyside in December

On 29th December, I decided at the last minute to make a trip to Liverpool. Changing at Crewe, I took more photographs of the station buildings and overall roof before continuing to Liverpool on the 'London Midland' service. I made the customary pilgrimage to the locomotive 'Lion' in the at the Museum of Liverpool. I then took the ferry across the river but the sun was so unexpectedly shining that I disembarked at Seacombe and walked to New Brighton, by which time I was happy to return to Birkenhead Hamilton Square by train. I then walked to Woodside Ferry Terminal and studied the full-size replica of the 1879 submarine 'Resurgam' before returning to Pierhead by ferry, giving an opportunity to look at the Cammell-Laird Shipyard. From Pierhead, I walked to James Street, took the 'Merseyrail' train to Lime Street and boarded the 'London Midland service homewards. The good weather helped to make this a splendid trip, described here.

The Wirral: The Promenade from Seacombe to New Brighton at Egremont, looking seawards.


During 2015, I continued to support the Old Locomotive Committee and remained an active volunteer at The Battlefield Line and Peak Rail.

The Old Locomotive Committee

On Saturday, 30th May, the OLCO Annual General Meeting was held in the Museum of Liverpool Museum. There's a report here.

In 2015, 'Lionsmeet' was hosted by Guildford Model Engineering Society at Stoke Park, Guildford. My report is here.

You can find all my posts about OLCO here.

Lionsmeet 2015: Looking across the steaming bays towards the Carriage Shed.

The Battlefield Line

On Easter Saturday 4th April, I was booked out on '3803' with Dave as fireman. The day proved more eventful that expected: a spring hanger on the tender broke. We limped home and, whilst Adrian effected a temporary repair, we made one round trip with the Diesel Multiple Unit. The last trip was back to steam operation. There's a report here.

3803 back on its train for the final round-trip of the day.

I was driver on the diesel railcar on a number of dates during the year. There's a post here describing my 'turns' in June and July.

Midweek 2-car Heritage Railcar, 21st July 2015.

The Battlefield Line held a Steam Gala on the weekend of 23rd, 24th and 25th October with four locomotives in steam. I drove 'Austerity' saddle-tank 'Cumbria'. We operated a double-headed demonstration freight train with 'Sir Gomer' followed by the 12 o'clock and 3 o'clock passenger trains, as described here.

Battlefield Line Steam Gala, October 2015: 3794 'Cumbria'.

In December, I had two driving turns on the 'Santa' trains. On Saturday 19th December, I drove 'Cumbria', as described here. I was back on Wednesday 23rd December, this time on the 'Collett Goods', as described here.

Battlefield Line 'Santa' Train hauled by '3205'.

Peak Rail

In January and February Peak Rail operated a Winter Timetable where 'Lord Phil' worked the service between Rowsley and Matlock Riverside, running round at each end. My first turn of the year was cancelled because of locomotive failure but, on Sunday 22nd February, I operated the winter service with Dave R. (fireman) and Jacob S. (cleaner). The weather was rather mixed but we all enjoyed the day. A week later, the 'Main Season' timetable commenced, involving 'Top and Tail' working to Matlock Town with a diesel electric at the other end our. Phil M. was fireman and, once again, Jacob S. we cleaner. This time, the weather was foul, which encouraged me to title the report on the day Rain, Sleet and Snow.

My next turn was on Saturday 21st March, again with Dave R. Unfortunately, both injectors were playing-up, but we agreed to perform the two 1-hour driving experience courses. Then we discovered the 'brown tank wagon', from which we replenish the saddletank, was empty. Gordon B. (driver of 'Penyghent' at the other end of our train) and I agreed that that simplest solution was to swop the engines round so that we were at the north end and able to water from the 'grey tank wagon'. Well, it was a bit of a struggle with two troublesome injectors but we ran the service, as described in the post here. This was the last public appearance by 'Penyghent' until scheduled repairs are completed.

'Lord Phil' at Matlock, ready to haul the service train back to Rowsley on 21st March 2015.

On Sunday, 12th April 2015, Rowsley was the destination for a Pathfinder Tours railtour operated by two 'Class 20' called 'The Dimple, Darley and Dale'. I was driver on 'Lord Phil' operating the Peak Rail passenger service to a modified timetable, to leave a path for the railtour to arrive an depart, as described here.

The Pathfinder Railtour passing Darley Dale en route to Rowsley.

The Peak Rail Preserved Bus Gathering was held on Sunday 21st June with 64 preserved buses attending! I was, again, driver on 'Lord Phil'. The post here has more information.

Peak Park Preserved Bus Gathering 2015: 'Lord Phil' sets off for Matlock.

The Peak Rail 1940s Weekend was on 1st and 2nd August. I was driver with Dave P. fireman on Sunday 2nd August with a 7-coach train. The 'Class 31' was at the south end and 'Lord Phil' at the north end, which gave a bit of variety. My report is here.

Peak Rail 1940s Weekend, 2015.

I had two driving turns on the 'Santa' trains in December. The report for Sunday 6th December is here and that for Sunday 20th December is here.

Peak Rail - Christmas 2015: A choir from Matlock Musical Theatre performed on the platform at Rowsley.

Myanma Railways

During my 'Trip to Burma' (see above) I spent some time studying this little-understood system. In Mandalay, I took more pictures around the main station and found out more about the Ywa Taung Locomotive Workshop (there's a post here). Back in Yangon, I explored on foot and made a couple of railway journeys around the city (see posts Yangon (Part 1) and Yangon (Part 2)).

Doctor Hla Tun had kindly arranged visits to the Mahlwagon Marshalling Yard and Diesel Locomotive Shed (post here) and the locomotive works at Insein (post here).

All my posts on railways in Burma can be found here.

Mahlwagon Diesel Shed and Turntable.


The agreed harvesting was completed early in 2015 and 'Ground Preparation' was carried out prior to re-planting. This was the situation when I visited by car with Ann and Dean on 6th June. On 26th November, I made another visit a few days after re-planting had been completed (this time travelling by train to Wrexham) to discuss the maintenance programme with the forester, Rob MacCurrach. There are pictures here.

Ty Gwyn, November 2015: Maintenance work around the Pool.


The Brewood Garden Party was held at Brewood Hall for the third time on Saturday 11th. Once again, we were lucky with the weather. There's a report here.

Brewood Garden Party 2015.

Following interest expressed by a number of people attending the Garden Party, pre-booked tours of the principal rooms of Brewood Hall were arranged for the 3rd and 4th October, as described in the post Tour of Brewood Hall, 2015.

Brewood Hall tour, 4-Oct-2015.

The informal Railway Group met once on Thursday 21st May. There's a short report here.

Railway Group session at Brewood.


For a number of years, I've supported the charitable initiatives operated under the above name in Burma. When I visit Burma, I try to see as much as possible of the work in hand. The charity provides Educational Support to a range of schools and orphanages (including the Orphans & Vulnerable Children Project in Mon State) and Medical Treatment to all ages (centred on the wonderful Bagan Medical Clinic). You can find my posts on Educational Support here and those on Medical Treatment here.

Group photograph at Ko Dut Drop In Centre: Monday 20th April 2015.