Class 37s in the Peak District - a Feature by Mark Burrows
I've been photographing trains now for around 25 years, during which time there have been many subjects that have grabbed my interest; preserved steam on the Settle and Carlisle, 50s on the Devon sea wall and Exeter Waterloo line, Peaks on the Midland main line, 47s on the north east-south west route, 37s on the Cornish China Clays, North Wales Coast, Rhymney Valley, and West Highland, but I think probably my favourite for interest, enjoyment and sheer spectacle has to be the pairs of 37s on the Tunstead - Hindlow and Tunstead - Oakleigh stone trains during the early/mid 90's.
Not only were the trains being pulled by a good variety of 37s, in a wide variety of photogenic liveries such as InterCity, large logo, Dutch and Railfreight; the wagons in use at the time were the ex-steam age ICI hoppers that hadn't been altered since their days being pulled by 8Fs and 9Fs years before. Apart from the wagons the whole area had the feeling of being the railway that time forgot. Although Peak Forest station itself had closed many years ago, the buildings still existed (in use as a train crew signing on point), the large Midland box was unspoilt, the trackwork was basically as in steam days, semaphore signals and telegraph poles abounded, and to top it off the line passes through some superb scenery.
I have to say that my earliest visits to the area were a little disappointing to say the least, as the area didn't lend itself to the inexperienced photographer who thought all good pictures had to be taken from a bridge! Also with no information about when the trains ran or where they went to, the area could be very frustrating. The unusual shunting movements, drawback and banking activities could easily catch the inexperienced out. I clearly remember sitting waiting for hours on the bridge at Peak Forest one morning with no signs of movement, for the first train to show itself to run up the loop from Great Rocks, stop, the engine come off, and for the train to then disappear in the opposite direction to where I hadn't got a clue! Later in the day having moved round to Great Rocks another train appeared to be heading my way from Dove Holes Quarry, but the same thing happened only in the opposite direction! Another early memory is of a 47 heading North through Peak Forest on a tank train, I was disappointed at the time as the weather had collapsed, but didn't realise just how rare a sight it was, and as such the train (which must have been from Buxton depot) the likes of which I have never seen again further added to my confusion.
It was a few years before I ventured back. But inspired by some pictures I'd seen taken by a friend, and armed with a little more nouse as to what went where and when, I did venture back. Having learnt that to get the best shots in the area you had to walk, be patient and get out of bed early, I started to unravel the mysteries of the Peak Forest stone trains.
On my first visits to the area I hadn't even realised that there was a tunnel at Great Rocks, let alone that it would provide sights like this of 37405 and 518 storming their way north on full power with an early running 7F49 8.30 Tunstead to Oakleigh. All is not quite what it seems in this picture of the old Derby - Manchester mainline, the track the train is traveling on is actually now the Tunstead Quarry departure line, and the former up line is now the single track Ashwood Dale line to Buxton, both lines being bi-directionally signalled. To get to this spot involved a lengthy walk along the fields from the bridge at Great Rocks, with nowhere in between to grab a picture it was never a pleasurable or relaxing experience as the trains had a habit of departing whenever they were ready and could be anything up to an hour early.
Trains to Hindlow which is located on the former Buxton to Ashbourne line would depart Tunstead as seen in the picture at Great Rocks Tunnel, but would then run round just to the north of Great Rocks signal box and would then depart down the former up line round to Ashwood Dale. The Ashwood Dale line, which forms part of Peak Rail's long held ambition to reach Buxton, is fairly poor for photographic locations, one of the best being at Topley Pike where 37426 and 37415 are seen heading light engine toward Peak Forest on the 23rd June 1996. In the days when Buxton depot was still open the Ashwood Dale line used to see more light engine movements shuttling between Buxton and Peak Forest than it did trains, it actually being very difficult to get a train here at the right time of day. Again all is not quite what it seems: the former up line is the single bidirectional running line, the down line forms a headshunt and siding for the now closed Topley Pike quarry.
One of my favourite locations to witness the hopper trains at was in the afternoon on the embankent just to the north of Great Rocks Tunnel. The sight and spectacle of a pair of Tractors thrashing up the bank from Tunstead is something that I will never forget. You would hear them deep down in Tunstead quary like thunder, there'd be a slight lull, and the noise would then gradually get louder and louder, becoming audibly clear that it was actually a pair of Tractors and not an impending storm! Finally the noise would reach a crescendo as the train burst under the bridge next to Great Rocks box and staggered its way up towards Dove Holes tunnel. Very often the trains would be banked, providing the opportunity to get a shot of the rear locomotive (which was often the better picture, as seen here of 37359 banking the 15.29 Tunstead to Oakleigh). The loco would drop off at Peak Forest station and then either stable on the yard or return to Tunstead for its next duty. The former up yard can be seen to the left of the locomotive, disconnected but with some of the track still in situ. Another feature visible in the background of this picture, that has disapeared in recent years, is the bridge and associated pipe, which for a long time was a landmark of the area.
37108 is seen on the morning of the 28th June 1994 perfoming one of the duties that had confused me during my early visits, that of draw back locomotive. The trains from Dove Holes quarry were generally not as interesting as those from Tunstead, as they already had modern wagons and in general were hauled by the relatively new class 60s. That said, the trains were normally worked south out of Dove Holes sidings into the up loop by the Peak Forest draw back locomotive (which was invariably a class 37) and provided excellent photographic opportunities both in the morning and afternoon. The train engine would then come off the yard and drop on the train to depart northbound, occasionally with a good shove in the rear from the Tractor, as in this case where 108 is about to bank the 9.57 Peak Forest to Bletchley. Even in the days before Buxton depot closed, Peak Forest Yard could be counted on to have a reasonable number of locomotives stabled, which in the afternoon would provide light entertainment between trains being easily viewed/photographed from the footpath on the west side of the line.
One of the nice things about the Oakleigh hoppers was that it was a seven day a week operation and thereby provided the oppertunity of something interesting to take on a Sunday afternoon. The downside being that little else ran, and the trains were not exactly predictable as to when they would turn up, as demonstrated by this shot of 37678 and 37211 passing Peak Forest Yard on 7H53 18.56 Northwich to Tunstead. This train was shown in the Freightmaster timetable of the time as arriving at Tunstead at around 19.00, allowing this class 7 all of 4 minutes from Northwich? I always said 37s were good! In actual fact it could arrive considerably earlier than that, leaving you with no choice but to get to your chosen spot well before the train was expected. But then again occasionally it would be on time and simply not show up until the sun had gone down, such were the vagaries of the service. But what better place to spend a few hours lying on the bank side on a sunny evening, before retiring to the Monsal Head pub for supper and a drink.
To the north of Dove Holes the line passes through Chapel on Le Frith and then over the viaducts to Chinley Junction where it joins the Hope Valley route. The railway here used to be four tracks but has long since been reduced to double, although the width of the formation gives the game away. In the early to mid 90's the definite star of the show at Peak Forest was 37408 which had recently been repainted into large logo livery. The imaculate machine is seen paired with an equally imaculate 509, showing just what a poor livery unbranded Railfreight was, whilst working the 11.40 Oakleigh to Tunstead on a glorious 10th April 1994.
To the west of Chinley station the line passed through Buxwoth cutting before reaching the site of the former Gow Hole sidings which is now completely engulfed in trees having long since closed. The cutting at Buxworth, or Bugsworth depending on who you ask, offers many excellent locations from which to view the stone trains returning from Oakleigh and Northwich in the afternoon. This picture taken from the occupation bridge to the east of the cutting on the 5th June 1994, again features the boring 37509 working the 11.40 Oakleigh to Tunstead, fortunately, as in the previous picture it was topped by a far more photogenic tractor, this time in the shape of InterCity-liveried 37405. This location whilst being on a bridge was not the easiest to visit, as the field leading up to the bridge often contained a very friendly, and very large horse, that had no objection to you entering the field, but seemed reluctant to let you leave!
Finally we see Dutch 37185 and 37518 passing New Mills Junction on 26th January 1997, with 7H51 11.55 Northwich to Tunstead. This Sunday morning had seen 7H51 diverted from its normal route and as such it is seen coming off the Romiley line. The more normal route for the hoppers to and from Northwich was the line through Disley Tunnel which can be seen continuing straight on past the old Midland box towards Disley Viaduct that can just be seen in the distance.