THE POTTER'S WHEELS - robmellors

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It's a well know fact that potters are a bit mad - all that clay and heat addles their brains. I should know; my sister is a ceramic artist (http://patriciakellyceramics.co.uk if you want to check her out) and she's a fruitcake - with added fruit.

So what do you need if you are a potter? Plenty of clay, a supply of water and wood to fire your kiln. Most potters would sensibly buy their raw materials from people whose job it is to dig clay and chop wood. But for Barry Brickell that would be too easy. In 1973 he purchased 24 hectares of hilly scrub covered land at Driving Creek, Coromandel. There was a plentiful supply of clay and wood on this land but bringing it down the steep hillside in a wheelbarrow proved to be hard work. So what did Barry do? Well, being a bit of an engineer as well as a potter and also being interested in old train engines he did the only thing he could do - he built himself a railway!

At first the railway went a mere 400 meters to the clay pit but it was all dug by hand and Barry laid all the track himself. This was great as far as the pottery went but Barry had got the railway bug and year after year he laid more track up the hillside and designed and constructed diesel powered trains and carriages to eventually hoist fare paying passengers up New Zealand's only narrow gauge railway.

Of course, we just had to have a ride on this feat of engineering and embarked upon an incredible journey. Sitting in open sided carriages we slowly climbed the tortuous route. Barry's land is quite narrow and it's up a steep hillside. So the 15" rails have to switchback continuously. There are earthworks lined with pottery sculptures, there are narrow little tunnels, there's an incredible double-deck viaduct that is a wonder to behold.

The track now snakes through regenerating forest which has been replanted with indigenous trees and shrubs. It terminates after about 3 Klms at the 'Eyefull Tower', a wooden platform which gives incredible views over the Hauraki Gulf and the town of Coromandel.

You return by the same route and at one switchback section the train driver asked Jane to get out and change the points. I don't think ASLEF would have approved! For something that at first seems so kitsch it was a brilliant morning out and one of the highlights of the Coromadel. Mad he may be, but Barry Brickell is also a man of vision.

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