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Alnwick to Bamburgh Express

Alnwick to Bamburgh Express
The Alnwick to Bamburgh Express

One of Rowland Emett's illustrations shows three carriages 'themed' with stereotypes of Scotland, Wales and Stratford-upon-Avon (see below). The management of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway opted to substitute a Northumbrian-themed wagon for Emett's Warwickshire coach.

The load is a 'replica' of Northumbrian prehistoric rock art along with crates of Craster kippers. Each crate is authentically stencilled 'Robson & Sons, Craster'.

Riding on the rock art are two famous Northumbrian smallpipe players: Billy Pigg (1902–1968) and Kathryn Tickell (born 1967; depicted as on the cover of her debut album from 1984; see below). Hitching a ride back towards his home on the Farne Islands is Puffin Billy.*


The flat bed wagon was scratchbuilt on an LGB chassis using 'lollypop sticks' and stripwood. The rock art was modelled using a custom blend of clay (buff with 10% [by weight] builder's sand and 2% manganese carbonate) and fired to 1260C ['stoneware'] ). The crates were made from inkjet-printed sides and kippers, glued to a cardboard cube.

The human figures were adapted from Preiser 'Adam and Eve' mouldings. Clothes were tailored from masking tape then given a coat of PVA glue before painting. The bagpipes were made from Milliput and small panel pins. Billy Pigg's spectacles are from fusewire, with clear UHU glue holding them in place and also acting as lenses. 'Puffin Billy'[*] was modelled from Milliput around a wire armature extending down as legs.

Hidden under the rock art is a small MP3 player while concealed inside the crates is a small loudspeaker. So the sound of Northumbrian pipes can be heard as the wagon makes its way.

* As so dubbed by Nigel – thanks. Not to be confused with Puffing Billy or Puffing Billy Railway (see also great video here with links to videos of another three journeys on the same line).

Emett cartoon

The Rowland Emett cartoon which inspired the Alnwick to Bamburgh Express

Kathryn Tickell

The cover of Kathryn Tickell's 1984 debut LP

Billy Pigg

The doyen of Northumbrian piping, Billy Pigg

rock art

The prehistoric rock art at Roughtling Linn

The wealth of prehistoric rock art in Northumberland was first studied by Stan Beckensall; his first publications came to the attention of the management in the early 1990s. By 1997 the management edited an issue of At the Edge focused on aspects of rock art, which included an article written by Stan.

The management first became aware of Northumbrian small pipes thanks to LPs borrowed from the music section of Bradford City Library in the mid-1970s; the inspired selection of folk and ethnographical recordings also included the High Level Ranters. A holiday in Northumberland during August 1989 led to the discovery of Morpeth's excellent bagpipe museum. I'm not quite sure when I first heard Kathryn Tickell's debut albun, On Kielder Side (released in 1984), but I seem to think it was before the 1989 trip.

Several times in the late 1990s and early 2000s Andy Kershaw invited Kathryn to play live on his Radio 1 programme. He once described the sounds of the Northumberland pipes as 'like the sound of Space Invaders'. Kathryn was audibly miffed at the unflattering comparison. But it's true. The 'open end' of the chanter isn't open at all – it's pressed against the performer's thigh – so (unlike any other acoustic instrument) the soundwave is 'clipped', closely emulating the crude chopped square waveform used for the earliest computer games, such as Space Invaders.

Kershaw then showed his ignorance by saying he'd previously thought the bellows (worn on the waist and operated by the performer's right elbow) were Kathryn's bum bag… But Kershaw is still missed. Over the years he shared his mostly well-informed awareness of a vast range of genres of music from almost every continent on the planet and greatly widened musical horizons for many folks. Although his original producer, John Walters, shares more credit than is usually expressed.

Walters was better-known as John Peel's producer. One of his many pithy epigrams was 'Don't give the people want they want. Give them what they don't know they want.' Sadly never the battlecry of his fellow Radio 1 producers. Walters' assorted claims to fame include instigating Viv Stanshall's Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Life (more specifically, neither garden gnomes nor Plasticine) was never the same after hearing 'Aunt Florie Remembers' when broadcast on 27 October 1975. If only these web pages had the wit of Sir Henry to enliven them. Or even a 'Mrs E.' to be summoned at times of gastrointestinal crisis…

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Images and text copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2021