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Diary of a UK Trip, Part 2

Three weeks in the UK

By Julian Edgar

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In the first four days of Diary of a UK Trip, Part 1 we’d already seen two Land Speed Record cars, the inside of Concorde, got inside the biggest hovercraft ever made and seen some awesome bridges.

So let’s continue…

Day #5

We are in York tonight and tomorrow. Tomorrow, the National Railway Museum - today, the Stockton and Darlington Museum, a cold war nuclear bunker, and the Tees travelling bridge.

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The Tees travelling bridge, that carries a gondola-like car across the river suspended by cables from a high truss, was a wonderful sight in the early morning. It's about 100 years old. Unfortunately, being Sunday, it wasn't working but we were able to look at it quite closely. I think these people build good bridges!

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From there we drove to York and I visited the cold war nuclear bunker. It’s located in a residential suburb – weird. (Georgina and Alexander stayed in the car; they are feeling better but not yet fully recovered from the vomiting bug.)

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The bunker was designed for ROC volunteers to record and plot the location of nuclear bombs falling on the UK. The bunker was impressive, with air locks, diesel back-up power, filters for the inhaled air - and all buried beneath the earth.

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However, the monitoring equipment was quite primitive - even for its age. (No seismographs here!) For example, they used what was basically a pin-hole camera working on four axes to plot the azimuth and meridian altitude of the bomb location - a black spot appearing on the photo paper showing where the bomb had exploded. Pity the person who had to go onto the roof to periodically collect the photo paper...

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The plotting room looked very much like a WWII air raid plotting room - despite being built some 20 years after WWII finished. The person plotting information on a map was located within a ‘well’ in the room, using information from operators (positioned above) who wrote material on rotating whiteboards. 

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It was unlike anything I have ever seen - in physicality and philosophy. I'd love to see a US missile silo now...

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The museum at Darlington was just a small place, and not all that well thought-out - but it had Locomotion No 1, effectively the world's first commercial steam locomotive for passenger lines. Alexander's face was all lit up as he looked at it...he thought it was very special indeed.

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We were running an hour early for the museum opening time and we ended up at the Darlington railway station. We parked and went in - it's quite magnificent, with iron arches forming three halls, two of which have two tracks in each. We saw two long electric passenger trains come and go; they departed literally to the second by the digital clocks.

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York looks interesting - a huge and well-preserved town defensive wall, and some architecture that looks quite good. We should have some time after the rail museum to have a look around before heading off.

Day # 6

We're now at Manchester for New Year's Eve.

Today we went to the National Railway Museum in York - this took much of the day.

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The National Railway Museum is a brilliant with some incredibly significant artefacts. Alexander loved the Mallard steam speed record holder, and Georgina and I loved the Mallard but also the incredible 'storage' collection that you're allowed to browse through. Incidentally, I was surprised at how small the Mallard is - the smaller English loading gauge I guess.

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The storage collection includes crockery and other eating bits and pieces from all the major British railways (very elegant); the tasselled seats from the original Pullman cars…

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…and even Stephenson's original drafting desk - quite incredible.

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The Flying Scotsman loco is undergoing restoration in their extensively equipped workshop.

I reckon the museum needs more signs and explanations - but it was still excellent.

An early night for us, then tomorrow off to pick up my Austin 1800 sill panel I bought on eBay from Australia; then to the Cosford RAAF museum - with apparently 70 aircraft. We expect to stay tomorrow night in Coventry or nearby.

Day #7

We are now in Coventry.

We're in the hotel early (mid-afternoon) because one of the attractions we intended to visit - the RAF museum at Cosford - proved to be closed New Years Day (despite their not stating this on their website...)

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First thing this morning we went to Telford and picked up from a private house the Austin 1800 sill panel that I'd won on eBay, bidding from Australia. We got to the house at 9.30 am - I think the people were still recovering from the New Years Eve night before... they took a fair while to appear! The sill panel is brand new - simply unobtainable in Australia.

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We then drove to Coventry and walked around the city centre... I was not very impressed. The Lonely Planet guide book points out that most of the city centre was destroyed in the WWII German bombing, and that the city centre was then rebuilt with fairly pedestrian architecture. With the loss of much car manufacturing, the city has probably also declined in the last few decades. I thought the main shopping area of the CBD was like a 1970s Australian suburban shopping centre. 

In fact a lot of these medium-size British cities are, to my eyes, really nothing special in cleanliness, presentation, wealth, shopping quality, architecture... York I thought was an exception - being cleaner, more alive, and having more interesting buildings. But, dare I say it, with the exception of the oldest buildings (and the fantastic city wall), I would still put it below (say) Ballarat in Australia in impressiveness.

The little villages and small towns I think are very different - the 'high' streets are interesting and the people bustling.

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Back to Coventry: the preserved cathedral in the city centre, partly destroyed by German bombing, was of only mild interest to me - it's just a ruined building. There were no signs explaining the building's significance, although to be fair, the visitors' centre was closed.

The big transport museum in Coventry is open tomorrow, so we will be attending that - it looks as though it will be brilliant.

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With some time to spare, we went to the aviation museum at Coventry airport - a small, volunteer run place.

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They had a lovely Canberra bomber, and the stunningly beautiful Vulcan bomber - the latter we were able to get up into the cockpit. It's not every day that you get to sit in a Cold War nuclear bomber...

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This museum also had the carbon fibre brakes of an A380 on display - very interesting.

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And, indicative of the misdirection of British post-war aviation, they also had two of the (very large) wheels and tyres from the Brabazon....

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A couple of things stand out from the 'admin' side of our trip - getting around is very easy when you have car navigation and (effectively) 140 km/h motorways, and accommodation is dirt cheap (AUD$65 tonight for a room with two beds, double glazed windows, heating, big screen TV - and most of the rooms have had baths). In fact, everything is cheaper than we thought it would be - I reckon I've now bought about 20 books!

Next issue - the Coventry transport museum (with historic bicycles and the current world Land Speed Record holder) and then Bletchley Park, where arguably Britishcode breakers won World War II.

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