Watching trains go by anywhere along the Stainmore line could turn out to be a rather leisurely occupation, and by the later 1950's there might be an hour or two - or three! - between passing trains. These long periods with no action in sight gave every 'gricer' clutching a camera by the line side endless opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of the district ...
But there were two services in particular that were definitely something worth waiting a long time to see, and there were many fine photographs of them taken throughout the 1950's. In the working timetable both these trains were listed as 'Class A' - 'Express Passenger Train' and the sound of four beats on the signal box 'block bells' announcing their imminent arrival was always a thrill.
The 'Blackpool Specials' began running in 1932 and apart from the war they ran right through each summer until 1961. In those days of seaside landladies letting by the week they operated on summer Saturdays only, leaving Newcastle at 9:15 and stopping at Durham, Bishop Auckland and Barnard Castle arriving at Blackpool North at 14:35. The return working left Blackpool at 9:35 arriving at Newcastle at 14:15. In the 1950's this service was extended to South Shields to work from coast to coast.
Fully loaded in mid-summer these 'Specials' were generally double headed from Bishop Auckland right through to Tebay although I do remember at least one trial of a cable system which (they hoped!) allowed the second locomotive employed as a banker to uncouple on the move.
In 1929 the Durham Miner's Welfare Committee purchased Conishead Priory near Ulverston to use as a convalescent home for miners suffering from injuries and pneumoconiosis. From 1932 a special unadvertised train service began to run fortnightly between Ulverston and Durham. After 1936 this train ran alternate Fridays, leaving Ulverston at 08:40 and arriving at Durham at 11:58. The return working left Durham at 14:50, arriving at Ulverston at 18:14
Always known to railwaymen as the 'Miner's Special' this unusual train ran right up until the closure of the line, the last working being in December 1961. It conveyed miners away from the chilly North East and to the milder climate of Morecambe Bay for a fortnight's convalescence. It always seemed a poignant irony that in search of treatment and recuperation injured and sick miners were to follow exactly that same route west as did the mountains of coal that they had dug from the ground.
A 'Miner's Special' crosses Smardalegill Viaduct hauled by an Ivatt 4MT
An eastbound Blackpool Special hauled by two BR 'Standard' 3MT's blasts up the last mile to Stainmore Summit.