If there’s one tip that applies to visiting any steam gala on a preserved line, it is to get there as early as you can. The Watercress Line’s Autumn Steam Spectacular 2013 was no exception to this rule and most of the best pictures I have taken on the day were shot before 9AM. Head for the station with the loco yard – in this case Ropley – as they will be preparing all the locomotives ahead of the day’s services. The reasons for getting early are simple – it ensures you get to see all the locomotives (at once), you get there before the majority of the crowds arrive and you can also get some fantastic lighting conditions that can make all the difference to your pictures.Arriving early is also quite thrilling for a steam enthusiast, in fact I think even non-enthusiasts will be impressed. Ropley is located on top of a hill amidst the Hampshire countryside. From a distance you can usually see clouds of steam and smoke for quite some distance on gala days, bellowing out of this rural location. The sheer power and might of these steam engines dominates the landscape, which is enough to bring a shiver down your spine.
There were no less than four pacific express locomotives in steam – three in one platform, plus the four cylinder brute that is 850 Lord Nelson, the three cylinder schools class and two mixed traffic types, none of which are particularly small, all providing quite the spectacle you hope to see. Such scenes were once common, but recreating them though requires a lot of resources and so they are rare these days, making the scene all the more special.
The visiting stars of the gala were British Railways standard class 7MT 7000 Britannia (see gallery above), rebuilt West Country pacific 34046 Braunton (see gallery below) and new-build A1 class 60163 Tornado.
Arriving at Ropley early provided the perfect start of the day, which was very enjoyable despite the poor weather conditions.