From The (Ratty) Footplate

I'm now firmly established on the railway and have moved into my new home at Dalegarth, the far end of the line.

I have now have got a few thousand miles under my belt driving 'Northern Rock' as we head into the shoulder of the season. One unexpected bonus from the job apart from having such a great job in a wonderful environment is the wildlife.

Now I'm not always a keen watcher of animals etc., I have to be in the mood so to speak, but have enjoyed wildlife days out in the past whilst on sleeper trips. As a guard, sitting halfway down the train, I had never really noticed a lot of the local wildlife, but moving upfront has given me a chance to see things before anyone else. Frequently, nobody else sees it because by the time the train passes it has moved back into the undergrowth.

You see a wide variety of animals, from birds to foxes and deer. Typical garden birds like blue tits and so on are much more common along the line side than I had expected, and don't seem restricted to where people live alongside the line with their bird feeders. But there are also much more exotic species, such as birds of prey. In particular, buzzards are quite common and have been very active over the summer. They seem to have their own patch and stick to it. Sometimes the buzzard sweeps down and captures its prey right in front of you, and to see it climb away with it meal between its talons is quite a sight. However, buzzards are pestered from time to time by crows that attack either on their own or in pairs, and I have seen some lively encounters between the two.

Also in the early part of the summer, there was a family of kestrels that preyed on the animals living in the long grass by signal 29. They didn't seem fazed by the movement of the train and for several weeks mostly sat on fence posts glowering as we passed. They have now left that location and I have only had an isolated sighting since.

I have only seen three foxes from the footplate, as they tend to stay away from noise and disturbance. My last sighting was at Murthwaite ground frame as it enjoyed some sun before darting off into the undergrowth as we approached.

Deer sightings are more frequent than you might think. Even during daytime they will cross the engine’s path only feet away and at a sprint. Fences designed to stop deer accessing land by Irton Road have proven no deterrent as they have developed a method for going through them without stopping. Generally during the day only single deer are seen, but during late evening running groups that had settled down for the night get disturbed by the approaching train and scatter in each and every direction, with spectacular effects.

Sheep I'm afraid are a different matter. They can only be described as stupid and deserve no sympathy. I have had several near misses with our fluffy friend and they truly deserve to end up as lamb chops. Unlike dogs or cats that have memory retention, sheep are devoid of any common sense and settle back down between the rails after the train has passed. If one leaps in front of the train, then they all take it in turns to do so, leading like the riderless horses at the Grand National. This has led me to discover a new sport, 'sheep tennis'. It's a simple game where the train drives the sheep a short distance only for them to move out of the way, to be collected by the train coming in the other direction, so ending up in the same place ready for their next run. If we get enough support, it could perhaps become an Olympic sport in time for Rio!