The Comet 2016 – A Year in Stories: March

The Flying Scotsman travelling through Hitchin today. Picture: David Atkins

The Flying Scotsman travelling through Hitchin today. Picture: David Atkins - Credit: Archant

In March reporter Martin Elvery met a man who criss-crossed the globe in pursuit of his passion.

Richard Pople

Richard Pople - Credit: Archant

It all started off as a childhood fascination with the chaffinch for Stevenage’s Richard Pople, and an attempt to identify the distinctive call of one which lived in trees near his home – and led to a lifetime of journeys to The Gambia and Sri Lanka and many other places in search of rare species of birds. Richard even wrote a book about his bird-watching experiences. As he said: “It’s the challenge, I suppose.”

The month also saw a challenge of a different sort. Some people when they reach a milestone throw a party or go on a special trip – but sporty Maria Esson has something different in mind when she hit the big 5-0. For Maria, who is manager at Hitchin gym Archer’s Health and Fitness, decided to mark the big day by signing up to a half century of fitness challenges – including running the London Marathon and cycling across some of the most mountainous regions of mid-Wales. Superwoman Maria said: “People think I’m mad.” Maybe Maria, but we also think you’re inspiring – as she went on to complete all 50 – raising money for various charities in the process. Certainly something to raise a toast to.

As was The Half Moon pub in Hitchin winning the best pub in North Herts for a record fifth time. This superb boozer is run by the wonderful Howard Phillips and his wife Wendy. As Howard said: “We’re a proper pub with no gimmicks.” We say cheers to that!

Another item of news which deserved to be celebrated was the return of the evocative legendary locomotive Flying Scotsman, arguably the most celebrated steam engine in the world.

Maria Esson

Maria Esson - Credit: Archant

In its heyday it broke world records – it was the first engine to reach 100mph when it breached the ton-up target in November 1924 – and steamed down the line at the head of many a commuter train on the London and North Eastern Railways Network, including through our area, during what many still regard as the golden age of rail travel.

But not quite so well-known is the fact its multi-million pound refurbishment – allowing it to take to the railways lines of Britain again – took place with a little help from a Stevenage technology firm.

To ensure it didn’t exceed the speed limit when it took to the tracks, it carried a safety device built by Wedgwood Way based firm – Nemco. The firm’s managing director and owner Dave Pearce said they were delighted to be involved in the old lady’s comeback. He added: “It’s great to see Stevenage firms are in demand across the UK, not just locally.” And so say all of us.

The Flying Scotsman heading through Arlesey. Picture: Christopher Baker

The Flying Scotsman heading through Arlesey. Picture: Christopher Baker - Credit: Archant

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