Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Book Review: Railway Top Spots by Julian Holland

Once upon a time the hobby of train spotting wasn't reviled as it is now. It was an activity that most young boys took part in. Showing an interest in trains and recording the numbers of those that you had seen was perfectly acceptable and indeed, spawned an industry supplying materials and information and resulted in one of our best known transport publishers - Ian Allan.

Real trainspotting wasn't just a case of hanging around the end of a platform with a bottle of Tizer and pack of jam sandwiches. The keen enthusiast would travel around the country and even engage in a bit of sneaking onto engine sheds in the hope of quickly picking up a page full of "cops" before exiting propelled by the shed masters boot.

Julian Holland's book celebrates those halcyon days with a tour around the regions. In each one , some of the top spotting stations are covered with a few pictures and brief description. There are also sheds to look at. The location, or more usually the route from the nearest station, is given along with photos taken there. The authors hand written spotting list makes an appearance too. This last item might seem like a bit of a gimmick but if you want a representative selection of engines to be found in a single day, it could be useful.

Most of the images and descriptions relate to the popular steam/diesel changeover era although a few later pictures such as the scrapping of BR Blue Westerns pop up. Photos are a mix of black & white and colour. Reproduction is good and most of the time, the pictures are large enough to yield useful information.

I like the mix of motive power. It's not all express engines despite these being the most popular for the spotters in real life. A couple of Deely tanks make it in, prompting me to wonder where I put that kit for one bought many years ago.

Yeovil Town station also appears and looks like a real possibility for model making with a compact site with both station buildings and engine shed fitting in to a single image. Doubtless someone will tell me that it was a sprawling site that would take up a football field in 4mm scale, but I can dream.

The book even has a proper index although you need to get your head around how comprehensive it is. Looking up a Z Class 0-8-0 tank (another on the list of locos I'd love to make a model of) I spy an entry but arriving at the page, it turns out there is no photo. Pages with pictures are shown in bold, those with a mention in the text are normal. Most books would just leave the later out so it's a good thing once you get the hang of it.

At 191 pages, this would be a thoroughly enjoyable read for anyone of a certain age who remembers bunking sheds in their schoolboy shorts. The pages will stoke up many memories. For those of us born far too late for hat sort of thing, it's still good fun with lots of nice and surprisingly useful photos. The loco allocations are a lot less boring to read than in "proper" books too but just as informative.

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