Those of us who arrived at mid-day had a chance to orientate ourselves and explore Minehead - Higher Town, shops, buildings and of course, the famous railway. Tourism - including hill and coastal walks - was now an important industry in this part of Somerset, and we were here to savour at least some of it! The good weather on our first day proved to be a suitably good omen for our coming days.
Our self-catering hostel was built in local stone and appeared to have once belonged to a reasonably well off Victorian family with servants in the top story. Old bell pushes, a large kitchen hearth, cast iron fireplaces and massive floorboards, all spoke of a prosperous past. Graham, who ran the hostel with his partner, Wendy, additionally supported the tourist trade and associated public bodies by consulting on matters ecological. The hostel, called "Base Lodge" was in down-town Minehead at "16, The Parks", usefully close to one end of Minehead's "The Avenue" (the main central thoroughfare).
Our comfortable centrally-placed hostel oozed the splendour of a bygone Victorian age.
As an "early-bird", I had the chance to savour some of the West Somerset Railway, which, at 20 miles in length, was Britain's longest preserved steam railway and has over 900 volunteers. Minehead is conveniently the western terminus.
The pictures you see here reflect the view of the amateur ferroequinologist that I am. However, you will also see a few views of the landscape including the coastline, hereabouts, of the Severn Estuary.
Minehead station is the terminus of the West Somerset Railway.
From the platform, you can see Minehead Higher Town and the church - directly accessible from our hostel and one of the starting points for the 630-mile South West Coast Path
from Minehead to Poole in Dorset.
I bought a return ticket to the ancient post of Watchet. I was not that early an early-bird, so I had to use the last trains of the day. However, this got me as far east as the old port of Watchet.
The typical old style ticket boasted dimensions of 2¼ x 1¼ ", or, if you prefer, 57 x 31 mm.
Parked in the station area there was a veteran 2-8-0 of 1925 from the late-lamented "Somerset and Dorset Joint". Those in the know will observe some distinct hallmarks from the Midland Railway's Derby workshops.
This was a typical freight locomotive, with - for technical reasons - driving wheels smaller than those of your average passenger steam locomotive.
Heritage railways could not operate without the enthusiastic support of volunteer labour.
And here you can see how to drive our iron horse.
The station area abounded with interesting - to amateur ferroequinologists like yours truly - specimens from the age of steam. Here, was another example of a freight loco, this time a GWR wartime baby from 1942.
Here is another view of our wartime friend.
Diesels have also become part of the heritage scene - less romantic to some, but certainly useful workhorses, like this
post-war diesel shunter.
Southern West Country Class Bulleid "Braunton" has just brought in the train from Bishops Lydeard. After "Braunton" has run around its train, it'll take us, tender-first, to Watchet, and then back to Bishops Lydeard (the later station is out of reach for us today for time reasons).
There's time to catch the "West Somerset Railway" logo gracing
the sides of the GWR chocolate and cream Mk 1 carriages.
They don't make railway carriages like this anymore.
The standard MK-1 carriages from the sixties had lots of wood veneer and ...
... large windows through which the passing countryside unfolds. Today's trend for train operators is to run trains with many seats next to blank carriage walls. These modern guys seem to think like the operators of the Victorian "Parliamentary Trains" - i.e. travellers only need to be transported from A to B and don't have any reason to be interested in the landscape through which the train is running!
On the way to Watchet, the train passes the museum dedicated to the late-lamented Somerset and Dorset Railway, a railway of considerable interest to amateur ferroequinologists.
Steaming towards Watchet.
We were hauled by a post-war Southern Railway West Country Bulleid pacific, ...
... sporting a fine nameplate.
At Watchet station - as on most of the WSR stations - one can step back in time. A quick change of trains back to Minehead meant only a fleeting view of the old port of Watchet. Watchet as a port goes back 1000 years and once exported a type of cement that was eventually superseded by today's Portland cement.
The ticket office area, as one might expect on a heritage railway, is full of memorabilia and mementoes of a bygone and more leisurely age of train travel.
A picture above the cast iron fireplace shows a branch line train, headed by a small GWR prairie, disgorging a few passengers onto an early mini-bus, which in turn looks like a forerunner of the London Transport GS (Guy) type.
(The "sun" is a result of the local lighting conditions over which I had no control.)
On the way back, the train was hauled by a rebuild of a GWR prairie tank.
GWR station names pass at regular intervals.
Being taken for a ride - steaming back to Minehead along the coast.
Here's Dunster, an historic village complete with Luttrell castle.
We would be walking here from Minehead during our stay.
Minehead Station, with its view of Minehead's Higher Town, greets us on our return.
Here is our iron steed, ...
... a steed whose incarnation caused considerable heart-ache among ferroequinologists.
It's probably not the place here for further detailed elaboration on this topic.
After an absorbing trip on the WSR, it was time for some sustenance. I don't think any first evening group meal had been arranged. I could not see anyone at the hostel and I think several of us had still to arrive from the Capital. I remember eating at a pub on the sea front, a pub which offered reasonable fare, but no West Country cider, which, strangely, seemed to be in short supply in this particular nook of the West Country. Don't know why.
There was still plenty of daylight. It was 1st May after all! It seemed good idea to take a short stroll behind our hostel up to Higher Town, full of history and affording excellent views over Minehead and many points east. On both counts, views and history, it was definitely an evening walk worth doing. The 15th century parish church of Saint Michael houses many interesting artefacts including the rood screen and THREE quite old Royal Coats of Arms.
The evening was setting in and lights were appearing. This gave the view from the church over Minehead an interesting quality.
This is the church, with a commanding view over the surroundings.
The church was open and welcomed visitors, even at this hour.
The impressively carved late medieval rood screen is certainly an eye-catcher, ...
... so it is well worth another picture.
Someone had brought the long term residents some pretty flowers.
Churches often have a royal coat of arms, or two. St Michael's has three, all of them very old when it comes to coats of arms. This one is the
Royal Coat of Arms of Charles II (reigned: 1660-1685).
This is the
Royal Coat of Arms of Queen Anne (reigned: 1702-1714),
painted by William Siderlin and Hugh Payne, Churchwardens, in 1704.
And for good measure, here is the
Royal Coat of Arms of George II (reigned: 1727-1760),
painted by Edward Franklin and George Harrison, Churchwardens, in 1743.
View from the porch of Saint Michael's Church over Minehead.
Stepping outside the church, one has the Minehead view from the churchyard.
No ghosts in sight. What a pity! The local tourist office would have been interested.
Lofty pines frame a nice view back over Minehead at the end of our first day.
Here is a similar view, seen in wide format.
The pinkish clouds suggest fine weather for the coming day - and we were not disappointed!