And so to Birmingham with son number one to check out potential places to live when he starts work there in September. Anyway, enough about Birmingham. It’s the Lickey Hills I want to talk about and the Lickey Incline in particular.
My anorak has pretty well been laid to rest in recent years and my railway obsession is not quite what it was. But driving back from Birmingham today, I quietly suggested a trip to Britain’s “steepest sustained main-line railway incline” might be in order. To my surprise and delight, the request met with enthusiastic ears.
First, we drove to Bromsgrove Station which isn’t where it used to be, which was at the very foot of the incline. That station no longer exists, replaced by a brand new modern structure 100 yards or so to the south. But you can still see the extraordinary change of gradient to the stunning 1 in 37 that runs up to Barnt Green. Not as well as I wanted to, though. So, we gambled and followed a narrow country lane to Vigo Bridge and – hey presto – there was a small dirt track where we left the car to see the railway. And what a view it is.
It’s one of those very odd places where you can still walk across the mainline without breaking the law, not that we did, officer (in case the law has changed). Anyway, the spot is about halfway up the incline, revealing the sheer scale of the gradient and revealing what an obstacle it must have been in the days of steam.
Whilst the modern express units swished effortlessly down the hill, a rickety old multiple unit chugged its way slowly to the summit, passing us at near walking pace.
In the olden days, steam hauled trains simply could not pull their carriages unassisted up the hill and it was easy to see why. Normally, to the lay-person, a gradient is indiscernible but the Lickey you cannot miss. You’d get knackered cycling up a gradient like that (well, I would). Steam trains used the services of a banker – a locomotive to push the train up the incline, to prevent it from stopping altogether. This still happens with some freight trains, although the modern express trains carry sufficient horsepower to crest the summit with minimal effort.
I suspect that not many people will be interested in this part of my blog and I don’t blame anyone who isn’t. To me, however, this was a bucket list item crossed off. Not a holiday to the Maldives, a night at the Waldorf or watching the whales in New England. Just a sad middle-aged man having a great time watching trains on the steepest embankment in the land.
TOMORROW: Tune in as I watch paint dry and grass go.