“Let It Snow!” – with 1955 Northern England video

by David Murray on 21 January 2013

in Cumbria, Northern England, Railways

This weekend I received a text message from my granddaughter. She was doing a survey about weather for her geography homework. The question was, “Which is your favourite of the following six songs about the weather?” My choice was “Let it snow!”

Some people may not appreciate that sentiment but I love snow. Although born at sea level in what is now the southern end of Cumbria I spent most of my childhood and all my teenage years in East Lancashire. From the front windows of our house we looked out over the River Calder to a hillside over which was the village of Worsthorne. (There have been “little boxes on the hillside” for many years now, but not then). The Pennine hills rose beyond and in Winter it was a majestic fairyland. I love the Northern England hills in the snow and as I wrote here three years ago find walking in it a joy.

The River Hodder, 1991? - scanned from a colour print
The River Hodder, 1991? – scanned from an old colour print

I don’t recall the terrible winter of 1955, although having been twelve years old at the time that’s a little puzzling. I do, though, well remember one Sunday evening in 1963 being stranded along with my fiancée in Clitheroe and having to stay with friends there. It was in one of these two extremely snowy winters that Worsthorne village, already mentioned, caught it. The local paper carried a photograph of a house covered in a snowdrift up to the roof.

In 1963, when doing a part-time course at the Royal College of Advanced Technology (now Salford University), I used to travel the 25 miles into college by bus. One day, after the snow ploughs had done their work, the bus edged its way up the long hill from Burnley town centre and over the moors to the Rossendale Valley. Sitting on the top deck of the double-decker we had to look upwards to see the sky; outside the windows was just a solid mass of snow; we were driving through a white-walled corridor. This was a real North of England winter, and that was snow!

This morning I saw a Tweet from mountaineer Alan Hinkes (Thanks, Alan) in which he attached a link to a clip from the British Transport Films archive. It’s on YouTube so I’m able to put it here. It refers to an incident in the winter of 1955 when a train was stuck for four days on Stainmore Pass. This is just a few miles up into the North Pennines from Appleby in Westmorland where I’m writing this. In those days there was still a railway line from west to east over Stainmore. You can still see traces of the track bed at various points on the stretch between Kirkby Stephen and Barnard Castle as you drive over the A66. It’s wild country when the weather turns, and that is where this happened:

There’s another film below, this one from 1963, but the black and white Snowdrift at Bleath Gill (1955) is my favourite of the two. I enjoyed it best with the sound turned off, although the narrative does add some interesting explanation of how they thawed out the steam engine to get it going again.

While writing this piece I’ve just learned that the A66 over Stainmore Pass is closed by snowdrifts. Yes, snow can be a serious inconvenience to people, but in spite of everything I love snow.

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