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Richard Cumming explores some Byways by Bike

I just wanted to reminisce a little about bike rides around Grantham in search of the elusive train spotting 'cop'.

Remember the fifties were well before 'Google', well before having the money to buy books, detailed maps and even railway magazines. All we spotters had was a vague atlas with railway lines on or the occasional view from a car or bus of an out of the way railway line or best of all rumours.

Thus it was with bated breath that I set off on my first local cycle exploration. The target, a line crossing beneath the A1 at Great Gonerby, just a few miles north of Grantham. It was of course the Nottingham – Skegness line heading for Barkston, more of which in a moment. Three hours spotting produced one engine J17 65506 from Colwick on a short eastbound freight. It was a ‘cop’ and managed to whet my appetite.

Barkston was the next venue and it became home to all us Grantham train spotters. Barkston - the hope of a Doncaster trial engine. During school holidays and even sometimes after school we would cycle the four miles, taking time out to scrump in the orchard off Barkston By-Pass. We ended up outside the old station site and settled down in the vain hope of seeing a Scottish Pacific coming down light engine from Newark, turning on the triangle and resting for perhaps half an hour before heading north once again.

I reckon that I cycled to Barkston at least twenty five times.  60001 Sir Ronald Matthews yes, 70035 Rudyard Kipling yes, a number of other regular pacifics plus K3’s and Sandy’s yes, but never that elusive Scottish Pacific.

I still regret going to spot at Trent Junction near Nottingham one weekday, then watching Forest play Arsenal in the evening - and missing the mythical A3 60094 Colorado on trial, especially as all my mates were there!

Barkston was not without its other perks however. Our day usually ended with the blue spot fish train which sometimes threw up an alternative to the King's Cross B1 but prior to that was often the ‘highlight’ of the day, a Northampton 2C ’aussie’ or 8F on the Scunthorpe iron one turn. I don’t know how many were shedded there but it always seemed to be a 'cop'.

Am I correct that the arrival of a trial engine was preceded by a single peg (the only one of the day)? The excitement it brought. The disappointment that often followed.

This story started with bike trips – just two others to share with you.

Bottesford – the unusual array of lines to the west of the village looked likely candidates for a ‘cop’. I now know that this was the GN & LNW Joint Railway and was being scaled down. Just one visit.
- Most of the day spent waiting with not one engine. Finally reverting to spotting at Bottesford station on the Grantham – Nottingham line nearby and being laughed at by the Nottingham spotters returning on the train from Grantham. The ignominy.

The Denton Branch – Denton was again just a few miles from Grantham. I knew the area well from fishing in the local reservoir. I knew also the Harlaxton ironstone quarries nearby with a line skirting the reservoir and regular Stewarts & Lloyds engines passing by.  I did not know that the old Great Northern also had laid a line right out into the sticks. One day when cycling from Denton to Woolsthorpe, at a railway underbridge, I heard the sound of a steam engine making heavy weather of the gradient and found myself watching a Colwick J39 with a full load of iron ore heading God knows where.

I later found that that the ‘where’ was Belvoir Junction and then onwards to the Stanton Works at Ilkeston.  It would have looked incongruous if the Scunthorpe and Stanton iron ore trains passed each other at Bottesford going in opposite directions!

I have subsequently seen photos of diesels on this branch but never Eastern Region steam. If anyone has photos of steam on the branch I would love to see them. Also your memories of Barkston in the steam era.

Obviously as a bike riding spotter there were many other destinations over the years but with prior knowledge of what to expect. The trips around Grantham itself were always in the hope of a surprise.

Richard Cumming


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