Rail Rambler Archive


This page was created as part of the celebration of our 40th Anniversary in 2015. Yes, Lancashire Rail Rambler volunteers have been organising walks from trains since 1975. In that time we have taken more than 200 000 people out on trips into the countryside or to places of interest using public transport, a remarkable achievement. We have seen lots of changes in the transport world over those years – many for the better and quite a few for the worse. We have been fortunate in having had the sustained support of both Lancashire County Council and, nore recently, the Community Rail Partnership, and the local rail franchisee, Northern Rail, and we hope that this will continue in the years ahead. Most important of all, we have had the sustained commitment of our leaders, current committee members and founding committee members, a few of whom, are still involved. Thanks to the dedication of John Barnes with the support of the late Howard Hammersley, we have an almost complete written documentary record of our activities over those forty years. Alas, we haven’t got a very good photo record as photographs were taken by individuals for their own interest rather than with a future archive in mind. There must be people out there with photographs of Rail Rambler Excursions so if you are reading this and have any photos please contact us,

40th Anniversary Get Together – September 27th, 2015

DSC00197The day’s activities began with the arrival of supporters at Clitheroe Station

DSC00198From the Station the party set out in the early morning mist to rendevous with others at Low Moor Club

40th Ann Gathering Sept 27th 2015Time for a group photo before setting out on two walks in the Ribble Valley

DSC00205Two stalwarts pose near Bashall Hall on a perfect autumnal day

4oth AnnTime for another group photo at Saddle Bridge

DSC00212Peter Walker leads the charge through Waddington

DSC00200Returning to Low Moor Club for lunch and a good natter before a slideshow by Richard Gilbert

Final Rail Rambler Excursion to Stirling – Saturday, May 12th 1990

Aidan Turner Bishop has kindly sent us photographs he took on our final excursion. The photographs nicely capture the essence of our trips – the only thing missing are photographs of the walking parties so, if there is anybody out there with such photos, then please contact us. By the end of our programme of approximately 275 excursion trains stretching back to the first one on March 30th, 1975 we had taken around 75 000 passengers to all corners of the UK. These trains had been great social occasions bringing communties across the north west together for a day out walking in the countryside or pottering round historic towns without using their cars, if they had one, and at a profit for Brtish Rail and our organisation after we started chartering the trains in 1985. There was much hope that once British Rail received new rolling stock the excursions would begin again. Sadly, political decisions changed the way the railway was organised and to the present time the value and benefits of such excursions has yet to be rediscovered.

Scan_20150828 (26)The final handbill suitably outlined with a black border

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Scan_20150828 (6)Ticket to ride

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Final train in Preston Station awaiting the arrival of the Blackpool portion

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Veteran leader Harold Jones makes his way along the platform

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Rail Rambler headboard attached before departure.

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A rare interior view of an excursion

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Arrival in a bay platform at Stirling

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Harold Jones with ubiquitous brolly in hand

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Meanwhile, the catering ladies have emptied their equipment and materials from the guardsvan. The two ladies with the shopping bags remind us that many passengers were just daytrippers though several daytrippers became regular walkers.

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The caterers were all members of the Yorkshire Dales Railway Society at Embsay and the money raised from sales went into that Society’s funds. One of the ladies travelled from Swaledale to join each excursion at Blackburn where the catering supplies were usually loaded.

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In station’s car park adjoining the train were four coaches from Alexander Bluebirds – an iconic Scottish bus operator – ready to take passengers out on their walks in the Trossachs and to return to pick up the afternoon coach tour. The amount of planning which went into the excursions was quite phonomenal and in an age without e-mails and internet. Integrated transport at its best!

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Craig Ward organises passengers to board the correct coach with Alan Smith coming to assist

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Our train stabled for the day

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Special handbill produced by Richard Gilbert for the final trip

Rail Rambler – Gloucester & Stroud, October 14th 1989

This excursion was a one-off and to an unusual destination. Who could imagine taking a full train of passengers to somewhere as relatively obscure as Stroud but it was a great success and the walking was excellent. For those who didn’t want to walk there was, as ever, a coach ride and town tour. As for the distance travelled, the early start from C0lne at 05.30 and a 23.30 return are indicators – all of five hours each way but well worth the £10 fare! It’s also worth mentioning that the walks’ leaders would have had to travel down to the area some weeks before on ordinary service trains  to recce the walks. This often involved staying overnight. Bill Proctor has kindly sent some photos of the excursion.



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Rail Rambler train at Rose GroveA typical early Saturday morning at Rose Grove Station in the later 1980’s with a crowd of Rail Rambler passengers awaiting the arrival of their train which has just passing through and will run round to the westbound platform. Rose Grove at the time of the photo was being refurbished for the first time – it has recently had its second refurbishment.

StroudA photo of the C Party walking from Stonehouse to Stroud via Painswick and the Cotswold Way. Bob Sanderson(in photo) was leader and being followed behind by Craig Ward

Stroud2Rail Rambler parties in Painswick?

Rail Rambler – Stanhope in Weardale – September 24th 1988   More Photos

Bill Procter has sent in colour photos of the arrival of the Rail Rambler Excursion at the remote Weardale station of Stanhope and one of a party on a walk on the moors above the town.

Alighting at Stanhope 2Alighting at Stanhope bCan you spot two familiar figures and stalwart leaders of former days – Harold Jones and Norman Compston and Keith Thomson among the crowds?

Group on Stanhope walk

A walking party on the moor tops above Stanhope where there is a network of early railways and tramways associated with mining and quarrying

Rail Rambler – Settle & Carlisle Line, April 1989

Whilst trips up over the Settle-Carlisle Line are now more closely associated with the weekly DalesRail service, back in the 1970’s and 1980’s DalesRail trains ran less often and Rail Rambler excursions also made forays into DalesRail territory with the first taking place on July 30th, 1977. The following photos capture scenes from a Rail Rambler of April 29th,1989. On that date there were eight walks four of which were over 13 miles in length and even the F Walk was a 6 miles ‘very easy amble’ via Lacy’s Caves and Long Meg. Would six miles be regarded as an ‘amble’ in today’s world when the average person would find six miles a challenge? The leaders on that date included some Rail Rambler regulars – Peter Walker, Keith Thomson, Norman Compston, Harold Jones, and John Heaton – sadly the last three are no longer with us. The late Alan Howard led the town tour of Carlisle.

The C Walk, which features in the photographs,was led by Bob Sanderson – a 14 miles’  strenuous ascent of Wild Boar Fell and back to Kirkby Stephen. Thanks go to Bill Proctor who has kindly sent the photos for inclusion in our archive.

Wild Boar Fell April 1989

Climbing from Garsdale with Roberte Proctor in the foreground and Geoff Sherrocks to the right in the group following her

Wild Boar Fell Apr 89

In this photo some brave souls seem to be finding the hardest route across the summit ridge

Group on Frank's bridge, Kirkby Stephen, Apr 1989Back in Kirkby Stephen the party assembles on Jack’s Bridge and, among others, Carol and Richard Gilbert lean over the parapet

Coast to Coast Chippy May 1989What better at the end of a walk but a chippy – not any old chippy but The Coast to Coast Chippy at Kirkby Stephen made famous by a TV appearance there of Alfred Wainwright himself. In this photo two less famous people – Bob Sanderson & Craig Ward pose on the doorstep – and much younger too!

Rail Rambler – Hereford and Abergavenny (continuing to Cardiff), Saturday, June 15th 1985

As it states on the handbill below, this trip was our 174th Rail Rambler and, as described, was a ‘bumper excursion’ judging by the number of destinations which could be reached, the variety of walks and town tours on offer and the number of buses arranged. It also illustrates the amount of work put in by leaders, especially Howard Hammersley and Alan Howard, who must have spent hours planning the day, organising buses, writing town information leaflets and the handbill plus visiting the area to recce.

As can be seen from the information on the handbill, the walking covered some wonderful landscapes – Offa’s Dyke, the Black Mountains plus the Wye Valley and for those who weren’t walkers they had the opportunity to have a bus tour and town tours of both Monmouth and Abergavenny.

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We made many trips down the ‘Marches Line’, as it is now called, between Shrewsbury, Ludlow, Hereford and  Llandindrod Wells or down to Welshpool and the Cambrian Coast. The journey itself was as enjoyable as the days’ walks as it passed through some beautiful landscapes.

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John Harrison has kindly sent some photos of the train on arrival at Abergavenny.



The scene at Abergavenny clearly shows the rundown state of much of the railway network at this time with disused sidings and weedstrewn platforms. The sidings have now gone and the station looks much tidier to-day. The train was formed of eight coaches – 2 x 3 cars and 1 x2 cars.



As the passengers leave to join their walks or waiting buses we catch a back view of Howard Hammersley with regulation briefcase containing relevant Rail Rambler documentation plus a big envelope containing the day’s town tour information to hand out.

On the day itself 412 passengers were on the train – an amazing total but quite normal thirty years ago, such was the popularity of our excursions and an indicator to to-day’s Train Operating Companies of an untapped market out there just waiting to be reinvigorated. Around half the total were walkers. Passengers joined the train as follows: Nelson 40, Burnley Central 30, Accrington 40, Blackburn 55, Bamber Bridge 50, Preston 85, Leyland 38, Wigan 45 & Warrington 36 (figures approx).

In his report to the BR Area Manager at Preston after the excursion Howard stated: ‘The train was comfortably full, clean and in good mechanical condition. The outward journey was eventful because we had eight red flags at signalboxes between Chester and Abergavenny due to crossing failures……we were only five minutes late at Abergavenny and on time at Cardiff. On the return it was almost as bad and included a set of level crossing gates blocked at Weston Rhyn near Gobowen where the crew and signalman had to manhandle the gates……..we got the fast line all the way to Preston and arrived 13 minutes early!. The DMU sets caused a sensation amongst the rail enthusiasts at Cardiff (Ed – because they had come from so far north). On the way back we brought a large Red Star packet from Abergavenny to Preston en route to Inverness. It normally came via Chester and Crewe but had arrived too late on Saturday. It was part of a regular contract of salmon sent to Scotland and resold as Scotch Salmon. The railman would not put the packet in the guardsvan as he said it was too valuable, so we had it with us. By bringing it to Preston it actually caught up with its usual train. We also carried some passengers locally between Cardiff & Hereford and Hereford & Craven Arms – special ‘stop notice’ – as some people had missed their trains. There were many passengers who had booked to Cardiff and had expected a town tour and were disappointed. The weather was cloudy with sunny periods – excellent for walking.’

The following photographs were taken on the day by Craig Ward who joined the easy 8 mile F Walk led by Harold Jones. This walk went via Symonds Yat and the Wye Valley making use of a ferry and suspension bridge to reach Monmouth and a bus back to Abergavenny Station.

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The gentleman in the foreground, Jack Fish, was a regular who lived on The Fylde. He used to bring a video camera to record the day’s events. He must have had a very good record of our activities- I wonder what happened to the videos? Note the strategically placed ice cream van on the opposite bank!

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John Harrison managed to travel on the Brecon Mountain Railway on this day



And whilst the Rail Rambler Excursions were ever popular events in the background – politics, levels of rail investment, the creeping tide of market forces – were beginning to impact. British Rail were running out of suitable rolling stock and this was leading to a decision to withdraw from organising speculative excursion traffic – the writing was on the wall! 1985 was a turning point for Rail Rambler Excursions and, after an almighty backlash when BR said that the programme would be ending that year, they decided to allow our committee to charter trains with BR financially underwriting any losses. This led to the Rail Rambler Committee becoming BR’s largest charter customer and making a profit into the bargain! It also meant much more hard work to keep the fortnightly excursions ‘on track’. Alas, in 1989, the end came as there wasn’t sufficient DMU rolling stock to spare and thus ended a era of wonderful trips and a great example of community rail and community endeavour.

Rail Rambler – Kidderminster & Bewdley, October 9th 1982

This excursion was a one-off and never to be repeated trip to the Severn Valley Railway and possibly the first ever visit to that Railway by a BR special. From Kidderminster our train traversed the disused route between Kidderminster and Bewdley. At this date it is believed that the section from Kidderminster to Foley Park was still owned by British Rail whilst beyond Foley Park it was owned by the SVR who were in negociation to buy the section to Kidderminster. We took on an SVR Pilotman at Kidderminster for the run into Bewdley from Foley Park. Nowadays the whole route into Kidderminster is part of the highly successful heritage railway which has built an impressive terminus adjacent to the mainline station at Kidderminster.

As can be seen in the handbill below our train departed Nelson at the usual early hour and was made up of two Class 120 DMU’s. Howard Hammersley reported to British Rail after the trip that..’the train was very comfortable and most cariages very warm’ ..very welcome on a chilly autumnal morning.

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As ever on a Rail Rambler Excursion there was always the possibility of something unexpected happening and to-day was no exception. On leaving Leyland the train’s speedometer stopped working and, despite the best efforts of fitters who came out to repair it, it refused to budge. Plan B was initiated and it was arranged for the train to reverse round the Springs Branch/Ince Moss/Bamfurlong Triangle south of Wigan so that the back driver’s cab became the front of our train and so we proceeded albeit twenty mintes late. On arrival at Bewdley the delay had reached fifty minutes and we had missed our connecting steam train from which most of the guided walks were supposed to start as can be seen in the handbill below:

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A quick discussion amongst leaders agreed to reverse the starting points of those walks affected and end them with a return on the steam train service. Here are some photos (courtesy of John Harrison & Craig Ward) of arrival at Bewdley and of events during the day.EPSON scanner imageArrival at Bewdley – our train on the left

SONY DSCEPSON scanner imageSONY DSCWhen we arrived at Bewdley it was realised that we would have the same problem with the defunct speedometer as the back of the train would be at the front end again so the train was split and the errant unit taken round to the back end. Here you can see a unit from our train in the background being reversed to come round. Alas, despite the best efforts of the fitters they couldn’t sort out the problem and we came home without a speedometer with permission of BR Control and the General Manager at Crewe. Can you imagine permission being given in to-day’s world?

The cast iron toilet block in the photo appeared in a recent BBC4 programme about railway preservationists. It originally stood on a station platform on the Waverley Route in the Scottish Borders. The programme showed members of the SVR dismantling it and re-erecting it here at Bewdley.

EPSON scanner imageMembers of one of our walking parties get a close-up view of a passing steam train as they wait to cross the railway.EPSON scanner imageArley Station

EPSON scanner imageWalkers awaiting their return train to Bewdley – a young Janice Ward in the foreground

On this day our train carried  256 passengers. There should have been more but there was a mix up in ticket sales at some stations. Of this number 135 were walkers. Howard commented, ‘Everybody said that they had enjoyed the day but would have liked longer (there). I was exhausted having expended so much nervous energy on reorganising the day’.

Rail Rambler – Edale & Chinley, November 2001

Two views from more recent times – in November 2001 with a walk from Edale to Chinley via Kinder and Chinley Churn

EPSON scanner image Crossing the edge of Kinder

EPSON scanner imageOn Chinley Churn with some familiar and younger faces. The late Tom Redhead (second from right) was leading the walk.

Rail Rambler – Whitby     September 29th 1984

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John Harrison, long-time supporter of Rail Rambler excursions and still a regular DalesRailer, has kindly sent some photos taken of our excursion to Whitby in 1984. Whitby was always a popular destination but was a long and circuitous journey via York and Middlesborough. Because of this we always had a locomotive and proper carriages on this trip and the loco was often changed en-route. The journey down the Esk Valley also entailed the complicated change of direction at Battersby Junction with the loco running round the train. John’s photos capture the journey with historic views of Whitby Station just before its layout was drastically rationalised.

Howard Hammersley kept meticulous notes on each trip and usually wrote a report to the relevant BR manager at Preston. On this occasion his notes record that the train had nine carriages and was pulled by four different locos during the day. Total number of passegers: 333. In an extract from his notes he states, ‘ Our progress to Whitby was not uneventful… It started with a running battle between (rail) enthusiasts without tickets and rail staff at Preston and this continued all day- seven being marched by the police from the dozens who left the train voluntarily at the next station….The external condition of the (coaching) stock had to be travelled in to appreciate – it was appalling, so much so that it was contemplated running the whole train through the Thornaby carriage washing plant. As this was not possible it took six staff, acting upon management instruction at Middlesborough 3.5 hours to clean the windows enough to be seen through whilst stabled at Whitby. Added to this fact was that we had no heat….In spite of the difficulties, the fact that the windows were cleaned and the heat restored and it was a warm and sunny day, it proved a popular excursion and many people, a majority who had never been to Whitby, said they only wished that they had more time.’

SONY DSCOur train arrives in York complete with Rail Rambler headboard. Here our Class 40 loco( 40181) was replaced for the next leg of the journey.SONY DSCOur train(right) has arrived at Battersby and passengers take the opportunity to stretch legs and watch the arrival of the Whitby-Middlesborough local train. After the arrival of this train the loco on our train swapped ends to take the train down the scenic Esk Valley to Whitby.

SONY DSCReady to depart from Battersby Junction. (Loco 47279)

SONY DSCOur train has just arrived in Whitby and the last of the passengers are just exiting to spend their day in the resort. Most of the walking parties would have alighted at stations in the Esk Valley.

SONY DSCA wider view of Whitby with all its platforms and trackwork in place. Our train is awaiting departure whilst the Middlesborough local has arrived. Shortly after this photo was taken all trackwork, except for a single platform, was removed. However, in the past few months the track has been relaid in a second platform, plus a middle track and all at great cost, to enable a regular service of steam tains to run into Whitby from the North York Moors Railway.

SONY DSCA view of Whitby looking westwards showing its classic NER signalbox and fine array of signalling. This was the last day of operation for the signalbox and all the signalling was removed within days. A truly historic photo.

SONY DSCOur homeward bound train passes another local at Glaisdale one of the passing loops on the single track Esk Valley Line.

SONY DSCA fine collection of Edmondson tickets showing the kind of destinations reached by Rail Rambler Excursions.

Black Combe Summit 199?

In this photo are some familiar faces – can you recognise them? Bon Sanderson was leading the walk

Kath Kelly (7)

Rail Rambler to Stanhope in Weardale, Sept. 24th 1988

During the halcyon years of Rail Rambler Excursions we used to visit some offbeat places thanks to enthusiastic and interested British Rail Managers and a bit of prodding from our Committee. We had initially visited Stanhope in Weardale in June 1984 – in fact our train was the first passenger train up this remote Weardale branch in years. The line had remained open for limestone trains from the works at Eastgate to the steel plants on Teeside. When our excursion arrived in 1984 we had to fight through young saplings growing on the disused platform. The locals were amazed to see a fully loaded passenger train arrive. By 1988 they had begun to see the tourist potential in their local railway and had cleared most of the platform of trees and awaiting our arrival was an ice cream van! To-day the line up Weardale from Bishop Auckland to Eastgate is owned by an American company called British American Rail Services. Initially, there were high hopes of running a regular passenger service between Stanhope and Bishop Auckland but this was shortlived and currently there is a limited weekend service between Stanhope and Wolsingham. Freight trains have run from an opencast coal mine at Wolsingham to Yorkshire power stations in recent times. For further details visit their website at:     http://www.weardale-railway.org.uk/

Back to our excursion! First the handbill produced by Britiah Rail with information provided by Howard Hammersley and distributed to stations, libraries etc.

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Note the very early starts at Colne and Blackpool and the very late arrival back. This was quite normal and in those days people were happy to get up early for what would be a great day out. As so often was the case, the train began as two halves and coupled up somewhere en route – on this occasion at Bolton. The East Lancs portion of our train commenced from Rose Grove as, by 1988, the line to Colne had become a single track. At the bottom of the handbill reference is made to ‘The Booking Secretary’ who was Peter Walker. After 1985 the Rail Ramblers were run as charter trains and tickets sold by the Rail Rambler Committee members either directly, by post or through shop outlets in local towns. As the excursions ran fortnightly this was a massive logistical exercise – distributing and collecting remaining tickets, paying in the cash etc. Tickets were often sold out well in advance.

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As always there was a full programme of guided walks from the train and a special connecting bus had been hired to take passengers on a scenic tour over to Durham where a guided city walk was laid on too. Some of the leaders’ names will be familiar to to-day’s Rail Ramblers others less so. Alan Howard was our Chairman and one time President of the Ramblers’ Association and one of the instigators of the Ribble Way. In retirement he moved to Shrewsbury and founded WalesRail based on the Rail Rambler model and which is still thriving. Note the price of the excursion – £4.50 – a bargain even back then

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A collectors’ item if ever there was one. There can’t be many tickets bearing the legend: ‘Blackpool/Colne & Stanhope’

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A Rail Rambler train arriving at Blackburn Station heading eastward on this occasion and complete with headboard. The gentleman behind the lady with the bag was Fred Railer a regular Rail Rambler and inveterate rail traveller with an appropriate name! The cyclist is John Cowburn a regular A Party leader. This photo captures the atmosphere of the old Blackburn Station in the 1980’s.


EPSON scanner imageArrival at Stanhope in Weardale. Note that the back carriage is off the edge of the platform and passengers are making their way through the undergrowth at the end of the remaining platform – not the same  worries about Health & Safety or litigation back then and everybody survived the experience! Look closely at this photograph and you will spot Graham Nuttall and his faithful dog Ruswarp. Graham & Ruswarp were regular Rail Ramblers before their untimely deaths.

Rail Ramblers – an excellent example of promoting community cohesion, healthy exercise and the use of public transport to reach the countryside – all supposedly current government policies but in an age when the cost of everything is known and the value of things isn’t ……………..!

AEPSON scanner imageA close up of the Rail Rambler heaboard. Perhaps, one day when a more socially enlightened rail regime is in place again, it will reappear on a Rail Rambler excursion but don’t hold your breath!

We hope that you have enjoyed this glimpse of past times. More importantly, if you have any photographs of past Rail Rambler excursions or trips then please contact us.

2 Responses to Rail Rambler Archive

  1. Peter Hammersley says:

    An excellent piece, really enjoyed it!

  2. Phil Brindley says:

    Oh my ! What memories ! Just come across this site googling for a date for my brother for when we went to Cardiff via the Central Wales line in the mid-1980s. It was an action packed adventure with the trains engines overheating on the long distance and steep climbs, I remember (may have photos !) of them filling the radiators up on the train with watering cans ! Cardiff shed couldn’t fix the train in time for our return so we had an impromptu diesel locomotive on front complete with detachable head lamp specially fitted for working over the Central Wales line. My dad, mum, brother and I enjoyed many Rail Ramblers from Bamber Bridge or Leyland and have photos of many of them, inc. at least two shown above. I’ll try and get some photos from our family to you. Thanks for the amazing times we had on these tours, you did a great job and as you say, pre-internet, it must have taken some effort and organisation ! Thanks again, Phil Brindley.

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