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Sunday, 5 July 2009

Loneliness of the Line Side Photographer

About half-hour before the train is due I set out alone across lanes and fields to my selected vantage point. Today my path was laid out before me by well-worn tractor tracks through a wheat field. Following these across the baked soil the sight of Battledown Flyover (The Gateway to the West) peeked through gaps in the tree lined edge to the field. Across the boundary to the next wheat field and the full majesty of this famous bridge could be seen.

Now to find my vantage point. Should I set up the tripod in the middle of this field, near the old LSWR railway foot crossing or somewhere close to the bridge? With 15 minutes to go another enthusiast is seen some way off with tripod in arm treading the path to the foot crossing. I followed in his wake, but upon reaching the crossing he was long gone, probably found a hidden spot on the other side of the track ready to pounce on his prey.

In the distance near the bridge I spied a gap in the full-grown line side hedge. Aiming straight for it I hoped the tall vegetation of mid summer would not obscure the view. Now to hack through 1.5m tall grass to reach the wire fence. Safely positioned on my perch the tripod was set up on a slight knoll next to the wire. Some practice shots with the digicam secured the scene, nicely framed by bridge, tree and line side equipment cabinet.

Now the waiting game. A chance to take in the peace of the countryside. Hover flies and butterflies mingled with the tall cream coloured grasses around me. The silence broken only by song birds. However, a rustle in the grass gave away the arrival of another approaching enthusiast, who was armed with two tripods and cameras, putting my flimsy tripod and insignificant compact camera to shame. But, I had bagged the best spot and he was resigned to a position further back out of site of the rails.

The tell tale sign of smoke plume rising from an approaching steam train mixed with cumulus cloud formations on the horizon signaled the moment to get on the shutter. Within seconds, it seemed, the train burst forth from under the bridge like thousands of its peers 50 years and more ago. The thunder of the wheels and rhythm of the exhaust filled the scene. Snap - and the picture is taken. The train gone as quickly as it arrived. Only an expanding trail of grey white smoke and a sooty odour lingered across the scene.

An exchange of experiences of the shoot and chat on a common railway interest with my fellow enthusiast ended the episode. Everyone I have ever met on these photographic expeditions have a happy demeanor and are willing communicators, free in their imparting of knowledge about the subject. A friendly farewell and we go our separate ways to return home and process our treasured snaps.

Loneliness of the line side photographer? Not a bit of it.

Find out when a steam train is due near you this year.

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