Category Archives: Life-enhancing experiences

The prettiest bridge in Berlin

Oberbaumbrücke, Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, Berlin

The Oberbaum Bridge [Oberbaumbrücke], which links two Berlin suburbs, Friedrichshain and Kreuzberg, across the River Spree, is engagingly weird. 

Lonely Planet describes it as “Berlin’s prettiest bridge”, while the Berlin Historical Walks website suggests “its strutting proud form reflects the confidence and swagger” of imperial Germany.

In fact, its chequered history touches every aspect of the growth and resilience of this fascinating city.

The crossing was established at the boundary of early eighteenth-century Berlin as part of a customs wall to collect tolls.  The name literally translates as “Upper beam bridge”, indicating the tree-trunk barrier that was lowered overnight to discourage smugglers.  There was a lower (ie, downstream) beam at Unterbaumstraße.

The original wooden bridge was replaced by the present brick, double-deck structure in 1894-96, to overcome a bottleneck for road vehicles and pedestrians and to accommodate elevated tracks for the city’s first subway trains.  Services on the U-bahn from Stralauer Tor on the eastern side of the bridge to Potsdamer Platz began in 1902.

To mask the bare structure the architect Otto Stahn (1859–1930) dressed it in the distinctive Brick Gothic style, with two entirely decorative towers flanking the central span, indicating that this had been a historic gate into the city.

In the final weeks of the Second World War the Wehrmacht blew up the central section in a vain attempt to impede the advancing Red Army, and Allied air raids damaged the Stralauer Tor station so severely that it was never rebuilt.

The Oberbaumbrücke came to symbolise the division of Berlin, first into four sectors administered by the Allies, and then into the two separate enclaves of East and West Berlin.

In the early post-war years West Berliners could exercise the right to travel across to the East, but East Berliners were strictly forbidden to set foot on the bridge, and the U-bahn service was cut back to Schlesisches Tor in West Berlin. 

The boundary between East and West was the western bank of the Spree, so the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961 turned the river waters into no-man’s land. 

On October 5th 1961 25-year-old Udo Düllick got himself sacked by his East German Railways [Deutsche Reichsbahn] supervisor, took a taxi to the Oberbaumbrücke and tried to swim across the river to reunite with his older brother in West Germany.  The East German guards fired warning shots and then took direct aim.  West Berliners watching daren’t enter the water to rescue him for fear of being shot themselves. 

The East Germans failed to hit Düllick but he drowned and his body was recovered from the west bank the following day.  2,500 people attended his funeral.  He was the first, but by no means the last, to die in the waters of the Spree at this place.

A permanent arrangement to open the bridge for pedestrians was agreed in 1972, and three years later a formal emergency plan to rescue people – often children who climbed through gaps in the parapet – from the river waters.

The Oberbaumbrücke came to symbolise the sadness and separation of the city’s inhabitants.  The subway viaduct was partly dismantled and the ornamental towers were demolished in 1974.

The reunification of Germany in 1990 has been celebrated by the restoration of the crossing. 

The gap in the viaduct was filled by a tactful, elegant steel structure by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava (b1951), and the distinctive towers were rebuilt.  The bridge reopened to pedestrians and motor traffic in 1994 on the fifth anniversary of the fall of the Wall, and the U-bahn service was restored to Warschauer Straße station the following year.

Now the Oberbaumbrüke is a celebrated tourist spot in its own right, enjoyed and loved by Berliners and foreigners alike.

The pedestrian walk beneath the U-bahn tracks is remarkable: it was designed as a prestige project by Otto Stahn in medieval style, with castellated towers, gothic arches, polychrome brick, heraldry – very St Pancras. 

Romantic garden with a theme park attached

Alton Towers Garden: Pagoda Fountain (1978)

The fifteenth and sixteenth Earls of Shrewsbury’s wonderland at Alton Towers is a sideshow to the Merlin Entertainments’ theme park and resort.  To the present operators’ credit, they’ve pumped some of their profits into restoring and maintaining the historic fabric, but visiting isn’t easy if you seek to be edified rather than exhilarated.

The fifteenth Earl (1753-1827) developed the romantic garden in an unwatered valley on his Alton estate from around 1814, repeatedly extending the original estate manager’s lodge to entertain his family and guests.  The house grew until his nephew and heir, the sixteenth Earl (1791-1852), occupied one of the largest country houses in England.

The engineering involved in creating the garden, including terracing and the digging of lakes supplied from a spring two miles away, was largely the work of Thomas Allason (1790-1852). 

Most of the buildings which are scattered about the gardens seem to be the work of Robert Abraham (1774-1850).  He is credited with the range of conservatories, their domes surmounted by earl’s coronets, and the cast-iron Gothic Temple, or Prospect Tower, which provides one of the most panoramic views of the whole composition. 

Abraham also produced the initial design for the Pagoda Fountain in 1827, with a stone base containing a gasometer, six storeys and no less than forty gas-lit Chinese lanterns. The completed structure, started after 1831 and fabricated by the Coalbrookdale Iron Company, is smaller (44ft), unlit, and entirely of cast-iron;  its seventy-foot plume of water remains the major spectacle of the garden.

Guide-books regularly attribute Robert Abraham’s design to a “To-Ho Pagoda in Canton”.  I ransacked Google and Wikipedia for an illustration without success, but I did find this:  Ta-Ho Pagoda Canton Temples Antique Chinese Architecture Engraving Pri – Ephemera Finds.

Among the other garden features to notice at Alton Towers are the Corkscrew Fountain and what is now known as the Swiss Cottage (1835), apparently originally designed by the Uttoxeter architect Thomas Fradgley (1802-1883) for the Earl’s blind Welsh harpist, Edward Jervis, who when not employed in the entrance hall of the house, provided musical accompaniment for promenades round the gardens.

The fifteenth Earl’s contribution to the beauty of Alton Towers is commemorated by his nephew’s iron monument, in the form of the Choragic Monument of Lysicrates in Athens, which stands at the entrance to the garden, containing a portrait bust and surmounted by the motto, “He made the desert smile.”

If all you want to do at Alton Towers is admire the historic house and gardens without being frightened silly, you can ignore the rides: the house is straight ahead and unmissable; the gardens are to the left.

The entire complex is open from mid-March to November and there are quieter times outside school holidays:  Theme Park Tickets, Passes & Discounts | Alton Towers Resort.

There is extensive amateur footage of both the house and the grounds at Alton Towers Ruins 2006 & 2014 (

Jane Austen’s House

Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire

I’ve always wanted to visit the house in Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire, where the novelist Jane Austen (1775-1817) spent the last eight years of her life and finished the six novels that immortalised her name, Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815), together with Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (both published posthumously in 1818).

Of course, the house doesn’t look like I imagined it.  The building had been a pub, the New Inn, which closed in 1787, apparently following the second of two murders on the premises, after which it was adapted as the bailiff’s residence by Jane Austen’s brother, Edward Austen Knight (1767-1852), who had inherited the Chawton estate.

In 1809 Edward moved his widowed mother and two unmarried sisters, Cassandra (1773-1845) and Jane, into the house.

Here Jane Austen quietly wrote her fiction, in between domestic duties, letter-writing, socialising and being Aunt Jane to an extensive troop of nephews and nieces.

The insight, irony and elegance of her fiction-writing places her in the first rank of English writers, and her surviving letters have the same wit and charm.

My favourite is the comment in a letter to Cassandra written in 1800:  “I believe I drank too much wine last night at Hurstbourne;  I know not how else to account for the shaking of my hand today.”  I know the feeling.  (The complete letter can be found at I drank too much wine last night – Letters of Note.)

The house opened as a museum in 1949 and is a place of pilgrimage to admirers from all over the world.  One of the most precious items is the tiny twelve-sided writing table on which she worked.

It’s understandable that pre-booking is encouraged to prevent overcrowding of the tiny rooms, and the Museum website plays down the alternative of walking in: Plan Your Visit to Jane Austen’s House Jane Austen Museum | Hampshire Days Out Jane Austen’s House (

There is a phone-number, but the outgoing message offers no facility to speak to anyone at the Museum.  All the necessary information, we are told, is online. 

However, I discovered that if you hang on at the end of the message eventually someone might answer.

In fact, walk-ins are possible, but not encouraged:…

The Watercress Line

Mid-Hants Railway, Ropley Station, Hampshire

You might not think that such an insubstantial commodity as watercress would generate sufficient trade to keep a railway line busy for decades from 1865 until the middle of the twentieth century.

In fact, watercress thrives best in fast-flowing chalk streams, and it remains fresh after picking for only two or three days.

The Mid-Hants Railway opened in 1865 to provide a link between two important London & South Western Railway routes at Winchester and Alton. It also enabled Alresford on the Hampshire Downs to become the centre of the watercress trade in Britain.

The line had other purposes.  It was a useful alternative route for passenger services from London to Southampton and Portsmouth and as such, with its proximity to the militarised area of Salisbury Plain, it was strategically significant in both World Wars.

The Southern Railway, successor to the L&SWR, electrified the line from London Waterloo as far as Alton in 1937, severing through passenger services by obliging passengers to change trains to travel further west.  When the entire London-to-Southampton main line was electrified thirty years later, leaving the Alton service as a lengthy branch line, the Mid-Hants Railway practically lost its remaining importance.

After British Rail closed the service from Alton to Winchester in 1973, an enthusiast group bought the section between Alton and Alresford and developed it as a heritage railway, branded by its popular name, the Watercress Line, between 1975 and 1985.

It’s a popular tourist feature in a pretty area of Hampshire, catering for a broad clientele, from children crawling over a full-size climbing-frame mock-up of a steam locomotive to devotees of fine dining, paying a three-figure sum to glide through the countryside tickling their palates. 

There’s much to interest rail enthusiasts along the ten-mile route, and casual visitors can find amusement and refreshments at each of the four beautifully restored stations. 

Alresford is the best place to park a car;  Ropley has excellent viewing facilities for passing trains and rolling stock stabled in and around the workshops;  Medstead & Four Marks has an exhibition ‘Delivering the Goods’ about freight operations in the age of steam.

Best of all, if you’re a Londoner, a seventy-minute journey, running a half-hour service most of the week, will take you from Waterloo to Alton, where you simply cross the platform from a swish South Western Railway electric multiple unit to a rake of 1950s Mark I carriages in Southern malachite green, complete with buffet car, that transports you back seventy or more years in an instant.

For everything you need to know about the Watercress Line, go to Watercress Line Enjoy A Trip At The Watercress Line.

Hogarth’s house

Hogarth’s House, Chiswick, London

William Hogarth (1697-1764) was exceptional.  In our day we have no-one quite like him.

He began his career as a commercial engraver, and began to produce images for sale that exposed social and moral evils in contemporary life, from ‘Emblematical Print on the South Sea Scheme’, published in 1724, to the great narrative series, A Harlot’s Progress (1732), A Rake’s Progress (1735), Marriage A-la-Mode (1743), Industry and Idleness (1747) and the pair Beer Street and Gin Lane (1751).

He was a humane and sensitive portrait-painter, among whose works are a picture of the philanthropist Captain Thomas Coram (1740), a lively study of a ‘The Shrimp Girl’ (1740-45), ‘David Garrick as Richard III’ (1745) and a self-portrait with his dog, Trump, ‘The Painter and his Pug’ (1745).

He maintained a home and studio in Leicester Square, then called Leicester Fields, and by 1749 he could afford to buy a country retreat on the edge of Old Chiswick where he lived with his wife, Jane, the daughter of the painter Sir James Thornhill.  He was buried in the churchyard of St Nicholas’, Chiswick, his monument inscribed by his friend, the actor David Garrick (1717-1779):

Farewell great Painter of Mankind

Who reach’d the noblest point of Art

Whose pictur’d Morals charm the Mind

And through the Eye correct the Heart.

Though the Hogarths were childless, they maintained a lively household of relatives, while William made himself a retreat, his “painting room”, over the coach-house at the end of the garden.  The property remained in the family until the death of his wife’s cousin, Mary Lewis, in 1808.

The house passed through a succession of owners until 1901, when Lieutenant-Colonel Robert William Shipway of Grove House, Chiswick bought it to prevent its demolition and opened it to visitors in 1904, showing examples of Hogarth’s works and replica furniture based on his illustrations.  He gave it to Middlesex County Council in 1909 and it remains in local-authority hands, latterly managed by the London Borough of Hounslow.  Entry is free and donations are welcomed:  Home – Hogarth’s House | London Borough of Hounslow (  It was damaged by a parachute mine in 1940 but restored and reopened in 1951.  During a later restoration in 2008-09 a fire caused repairable damage while the house was empty of its contents, and the site reopened to the public in 2011.

It’s a delightful retreat, a welcoming, intimate contrast to the hard, chilly splendours of Chiswick House up the road.  The rooms are elegant, yet modest enough for quiet conversation.

It has the same atmosphere of intimacy and grace as the Ladies of Llangollen’s Plas Newydd in north Wales.

The windows look out on the garden, which is bounded by a high brick wall which diminishes even the noise of modern traffic queueing to negotiate the dystopic road junction that carries the name Hogarth Roundabout.

In the mid-eighteenth century it must have been a haven for a busy, creative, sociable artist.

Castlefield Viaduct

Castlefield Viaduct, Manchester (2023)

Castlefield, the site of Manchester’s first known settlement, the Roman Mamucium, is a cat’s cradle of canals and railways.

The Cheshire Lines Committee, a consortium of three separate railway companies, ran four tracks into the city centre, leading to its Manchester Central passenger station and the vast Great Northern Warehouse, both of which were reborn in recent times, respectively as a conference centre and a leisure complex.

The southern CLC viaduct was adapted to carry Metrolink trams in 1992, but the parallel viaduct has had no practical transport function since the track was lifted in the early 1970s. 

In 2021 the National Trust announced a scheme to use the viaduct to create a sky park – an elevated green space in an urban environment ~ by making use of the abandoned transport infrastructure.

The original linear sky park was the Coulée verte [green belt] René-Dumont (alternatively called the Promenade plantée [planted walkway] René-Dumont) in Paris, opened in 1993.  René Dumont (1904-2001) was a professor of agricultural sciences who began his career advocating the use of chemical fertilizers and eventually became an ecologist and an inspiration to the French Green Party.

The most famous sky park is the New York City High Line, a stretch of the New York Central Railroad’s abandoned West Side Line that was rescued from demolition and redevelopment by the Friends of the High Line.  It was opened in sections between 2009 and 2014.

These and other examples have demonstrated that it’s often cheaper and more profitable to make redundant rail infrastructure an amenity than to scrap it.  It’s well known that developers and property owners are attracted to inland waterways for sound commercial reasons, and it’s apparent that the effort to rejuvenate rail structures can similarly invigorate the surrounding area.

The Castlefield Viaduct is very much a temporary pilot project which is well worth visiting, a thousand-foot stretch accessible from the Deansgate/Castlefield tram stop:  A fly-though of Castlefield Viaduct – YouTube.  Funding for future development seems uncertain at present, and it would be a pity if the project had to be abandoned:  Castlefield Viaduct | Manchester | National Trust.

Other British cities have derelict railway structures that could be potential sky parks. 

Leeds has two such projects, the Monk Bridge Viaduct, built in 1846, closed in 1967 and now adapted as an urban garden, and the 1½-mile Holbeck Viaduct, built in 1882 and abandoned since 1987, for which ambitious plans exist.

Birmingham has the Duddeston Viaduct which, because of a disagreement between competing railway companies, was built and left incomplete in the late 1840s and has never carried a train.  

It would be satisfying to see it eventually find a useful purpose.

Soane’s country house restored

Pitzhanger Manor, Ealing, London: Upper Drawing Room

Just as Sir John Soane’s Moggerhanger Park has been restored after twentieth-century alterations, so his own country seat, Pitzhanger Manor, has been returned to a state that its architect and first occupant would recognise.

By 1800 Soane had established his career:  he was appointed architect and surveyor to the Bank of England in 1788 and clerk of works for St James’s Palace and the Palace of Westminster in 1791, and purchased and rebuilt the town house at 12 Lincoln’s Inn Fields that now forms part of the Sir John Soane Museum in 1792.

Though Lincoln’s Inn Fields was ideal for conducting his busy architectural practice he sought a convenient country retreat where he could entertain clients as well as friends.  He purchased a house called Payton Place, which he renamed Pitzhanger Manor, in Ealing on the London-to-Oxford turnpike that provided easy access to and from the capital.

The village of Ealing was becoming fashionable:  Soane’s neighbours at the start of the new century included HRH Prince Edward (1767-1820), newly-created Duke of Kent and Strathearn, and Spencer Perceval (1762-1812), remembered as the only British prime minister to have been assassinated.

Soane had first encountered the Payton Place building in the late 1760s:  he worked on the south wing when he was apprenticed to the architect George Dance the Younger (1741-1825).

He bought the property for £4,500 and demolished all but Dance’s south wing, replacing it with his own design, completed in 1804.  Soane and his family lived there only until 1810:  he became estranged from his two ne’er-do-well sons and his wife Eliza preferred to live in town.  At Lincoln’s Inn Fields he purchased and rebuilt the adjacent houses, 13 and 14 which, with No 12, now form the Museum.

The three-bay centrepiece of Pitzhanger Manor echoes Robert Adam’s south front at Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire, and is derived from the triumphal Arch of Constantine in Rome.  Whereas earlier eighteenth-century architects had used ashlar or stucco to set the tone of their exteriors, Soane here contrasted brick and Portland stone, and stretched the narrow façade with a lofty attic.  The buildings bristles with statues and medallions of Coade stone, the twice-fired hard-wearing artificial ceramic that was prevalent from the early 1770s to the late 1840s in London and elsewhere in the British Isles and overseas.

Pitzhanger Manor is rather like Tardis:  it seems bigger inside than its exterior suggests.  This is because Soane retained the Dance wing to the south and his service buildings to the north were replaced in 1901-02 when the house became Ealing’s public library.

Like Moggerhanger Park, unsympathetic institutional use allowed a practical restoration. 

From 1985 until 2019, in gradual stages, the London Borough of Ealing and the Pitzhanger Manor & Gallery Trust have transformed the place into a sympathetic restoration of the historic house, with the library wing adapted as an excellent modern art gallery.  On the site of the former walled kitchen garden stands Soane’s Kitchen, an attractive modern café-restaurant:  Pitzhanger » Eat & Drink.

For details of opening times and events at Pitzhanger House, visit Pitzhanger » Current Events.

Great Big Trains of Wales

Llangollen Railway: Carrog Station, Denbighshire (2022)

The first time I visited Llangollen (by car), you could still catch a train there and head east to Chester or Shrewsbury.

Those days have long gone:  the Beeching Axe fell in these parts at the beginning of 1965.  Freight trains from Ruabon continued to serve Llangollen Goods Yard until 1968, after which the track was quickly lifted all the way to Barmouth on the west coast of Wales.

A group of enthusiasts leased Llangollen Station and three miles of trackbed westwards, and when the station reopened to the public in 1975 sixty feet of track had been reinstated.

Subsequent developments were not unlike saving up pocket money to buy more track for a train set:  Shell Oil offered a mile of redundant track, which enabled the Llangollen Railway Trust to lay three-quarters of mile to Pentrefelin and use the rest to construct sidings for the accumulating quantity of rolling stock.

Thereafter, once the Dee Bridge had been refurbished by the local council, the route steadily grew in length – firstly 1¾ miles to Berwyn (March 1986), then Deeside Halt (1990), Glyndyfrdwy (1993) and eventually Carrog, 7½ miles from Llangollen (1996).

Development has been slowed by a succession of misfortunes.  The Llangollen Railway PLC experienced financial difficulties, not helped by the pandemic lockdowns, and went into receivership in March 2021.  Services were taken over and resumed by the Llangollen Railway Trust from July 2021.

In recent years, the track has been reinstated to Corwen, ten miles from Llangollen, and a brand new Corwen Central station opened in June 2023 to replace the unusable original, so that services can resume to a commercially worthwhile destination: Llangollen Railway | Heritage Train Rides in the United Kingdom (

The ride up and down the beautiful Dee Valley is a restful experience, whether on a 1950s diesel railcar or on a loco-hauled train which may include an observation car.  There are refreshment rooms at Llangollen, Berwyn and Carrog.

While I savour the experience that a generation of enthusiasts has worked to recreate over decades between Llangollen and Corwen I can’t help regretting what was lost in the 1960s. 

The Ordnance Survey map shows mile after mile of “dismantled railway” stretching through beautiful Welsh countryside between Ruabon and Morfa Mawddach, the junction for Barmouth. 

Ten miles of trackbed is available to walkers on the Mawddach Trail between Dolgellau and Morfa Mawddach and the Bala Lake Railway runs narrow-gauge trains over a 4½-mile lakeside stretch but, because of the sacrifice of small sections to road improvements and building developments, the rest of the line is rendered useless and inaccessible.

It took only seven years to build this line as a commercial undertaking in the 1860s and even less time to dismantle it for scrap a century later.  Safeguarding its integrity as an amenity would have been a simple administrative matter. 

There was no way of computing social and environmental benefits in the 1960s, and we are the poorer for it.

Try-out for St Paul’s

St Stephen Walbrook Church, City of London

Sir Christopher Wren (1632-1723) was a miraculous human being. 

If central London were obliterated by a sudden disaster nowadays, it’s unlikely that its restoration would be entrusted to a professor of astronomy, but after the Great Fire in 1666 it was the obvious solution.  At that time the best professionals to employ in construction were academics who understood the physics of making buildings stand up.

King Charles II had already consulted Wren, the Savilian Professor of Astronomy at Oxford University, over several projects, including a much-needed restoration of the medieval St Paul’s Cathedral, when two-thirds of the City was burnt down in five days beginning in the early hours of September 2nd 1666.  Wren surveyed the wreckage, mapped out a comprehensive, radical plan to rebuild and laid it before the King on September 11th.  This adventurous scheme was scuppered because it necessitated wholesale revision of property boundaries.

Nevertheless, Wren – then in his mid-thirties – spent the rest of his long life embellishing London with replacements for the many destroyed parish churches and constructing his masterpiece, St Paul’s Cathedral.

One of these parish churches is distinctive as what Sir Nikolaus Pevsner described as “a try-out for St Paul’s”.

The site of the medieval St Stephen’s Walbrook was hemmed in on three sides by other buildings and the street, which takes its name from the now-hidden river that runs south into the Thames.  On part of this footprint Wren laid out his biggest London parish church to a largely symmetrical plan and graced it with a top-lit dome.

Pevsner describes in intricate detail the tension Wren contrived between the visitor’s perception of a longitudinal rectangular interior and the overarching centrality of the dome and its supporting columns [Simon Bradley & Nikolaus Pevsner,The Buildings of England:  London 1:  The City of London (Yale University Press 2002), pp 260-261].

It’s a breathtaking space which, despite repeated restorations, retains the integrity of Wren’s intentions in all respects but one.

In 1987 the churchwarden, Peter Palumbo (b 1935), supervised a much-needed refurbishment and reordered the layout, reducing the linearity that Wren intended and emphasising the space beneath the dome.

Lord Palumbo (as he became in 1991) had commissioned the sculptor Henry Moore (1898-1986) to design a white polished stone altar that sits directly beneath the dome.  It gives priest and people the more direct intimacy that suits present-day worship, and contributes to the lively ministry of a London church, which has few if any resident parishioners, literally next door to the Mansion House.

I saw a well-attended weekday lunchtime Choral Eucharist sung by a youthful choir of organ scholars accompanied by the demure playing of a young lady organist.  The place clearly serves the needs of a community of city workers seeking a calming interlude in their working day.  I wish I could have caught the monthly Rush Hour Jazz.

There’s a lot going on at St Stephen Walbrook:  St Stephen Walbrook London – a place of celebration.  It’s the living testament of St Francis of Assisi:  “Preach the gospel, and if necessary use words”.

Manx railways in the 21st century

Isle of Man Railway between Port St Mary and Port Erin: locomotive 15 ‘Caledonia’

Wheels turn slowly in the Isle of Man.  That’s why one-third of its steam railway continues to operate after 130 years, and why you can still ride on the first two cars delivered to what became the Manx Electric Railway in 1893:  Senior movers | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.

Inevitably, there have been losses.  There was a cable tramway in Douglas until 1929, when it was scrapped – superannuated, unloved and unbelievably noisy.  The Isle of Man Railway lines to Peel and Ramsey were closed in 1968 and lifted. 

But each of the surviving nineteen-century transport systems – the steam railway (1874), the Douglas horse tramway (1876), the Manx Electric Railway (1893-99) and the Snaefell Mountain Railway (1895) – has more than enough rolling stock to sustain a vigorous present-day tourist trade.

There have been misfortunes:  the Manx Electric lost part of its fleet in a depot fire in 1930.  Two of the six Snaefell Mountain Railway cars have in recent years run away from the summit:  no 3 smashed to pieces, fortunately without injuries or fatalities, in 2016.  A second runaway, no 2, with crew and passengers on board, was brought to a safe halt the following year.  There was a yard sale of surplus horse trams in 2016, all of which went to good homes for sums between £1,000 and £2,800 each.

This tight little island, 32 miles long and 14 miles wide at most, is the home of a unique collection of nineteenth-century rail transport lines still in full working order.

Tynwald, the Manx government, is considering how to develop these assets in future.  The steam and electric railways are already tuned to the entertainment value of heritage transport, like their colleagues across in Blackpool, but the horse tramway has become bogged down in the vexed redevelopment of Douglas promenade.  There is an excellent transport museum at Jurby in the north of the island, but the vehicles have not yet provided a mobile tourist attraction to supplement heritage rail.

The practicality of supplementing modern street transport with heritage services is proven across the world, evident in the success of San Francisco’s cable-cars and streetcars, the Melbourne City Circle and Hong Kong’s double-deckers (which look traditional but despite their appearance are in fact modernised).

Heritage rail has the double advantage of attracting enthusiasts who appreciate its historic appeal at the same time as ordinary tourists enjoy an uncommon holiday experience.

Visitors to the Isle of Man, as well as Manx residents, are invited to give their views on how the heritage transport should develop, in a survey that closes on August 13th 2023:  Isle of Man Heritage Railways Independent Review and Economic Impact Assessment – Cabinet Office of the Isle of Man Government – Citizen Space.

This is an invitation to think imaginatively about how to make the island’s transport even more interesting and financially secure.

But bearing in mind the current lamentable state of the horse trams, it would be wise not to expect rapid change.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.