29 August 2017
|Minehead Morning B. Lydeard Afternoon Watchet Return Features Read Me|
Today, the day after the August Bank Holiday, the weather had turned cloudier. This was surprising, because usually, the opposite seems to happen! Anyway, it was an ideal time to revisit the West Somerset Railway and try to fill in the gaps which had eluded me in 2009. The railway is about 20 miles long, from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard, and traverses some attractive countryside, bordered by Exmoor to the West and the Quantocks to the East.
Bishops Lydeard - at the other end of the normally operational stretch of line - was my initial aim, for I wanted to see museum there, a visit of which eluded me - for timetabling reasons - in 2009. On the return journey I stopped off in the old port of Watchet, to see the famous harbour, the boat museum, and if possible to find traces of the Somerset Mineral Railway. After an eventful day, I took the last train along the coast back to Minehead.
So here is what these pages have in store for you. Even if you were not able to ride the WSR, here's your chance to find out what an interesting time I had!
Enjoy your browse!
Having arrived in good time I managed to get my day ticket - in traditional size and format, before the train left at 10:00. I had time to take some pictures before departure. The iron steed (BR number 53808), unfortunately, was painted in a rather stark shiny black, having lost the attractive Prussian blue S&D livery it sported in 2009. A number of other things caught my eye, including a Foster Yeoman private owner wagon, which harked back to the age when road transport was not seen as a competitor to the all-present and all-powerful railway.
The train departed Minehead on schedule with an average speed of about 15.4 mph, and that's including stops of about 2 to 5 minutes at each station. Washford and Watchet, Doniford and Williton, these were the stations of which I took pictures on the way up. The WSR uses the traditional designation of "up" to mean towards London, in this case towards Bishops Lydeard.
There was a lot to do at Bishops Lydeard, so it was worth catching the next train but one for the return journey. Apart from the station activity, there was the "Gauges Museum". Here I learnt quite a bit about the history of the Great Western Railway, including Brunel's famous broad gauge as well as other things from standard gauge days. Enough to keep me busy for a while!
So these are some of my experiences at Bishops Lydeard.
There was lots of activity. The DMU, bound for Minehead, was waiting for the arrival of our train from Minehead. West Somerset Railway is essentially single track, with passing loops at Blue Anchor, Williton and Crowcombe Heathfield to maximise the number of trains between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard at any one time; this is obviously useful at peak times, especially Bank Holidays and Special Events. Now our locomotive, the 7F, having arrived from Minehead, had to be coaled and watered, and then had to run around its train, to haul it back to Minehead. Although there is a turntable at Minehead and a reversing triangle at Bishops Lydeard, neither were used to today, the engines running tender-first if necessary.
The late Victorian first class sleeping car is a triumph of the restorers' art. It was built in 1897, the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and it was rescued from spending many years as part of a bungalow. The coach gives us a good idea of what first class long distance rail travel was like for the well-to-do in late-Victorian Britain. This coach is sometimes taken up and down the WSR to show the coach's late-Victorian elegance and the hard work done in its restoration by the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust.
The Great Western Railway ran its first train in 1838. It used the broad gauge of 7ft, later to become 7 ft ¼ inches. This gauge made for very smooth running trains. However, other main line railways adopted the standard gauge of 4 ft 8½ inches. Eventually, the Great Western had to bow to the inevitable, its last broad gauge train leaving Paddington in 1892. On the West Somerset Railway, the gauge was changed to the standard gauge already in 1882. (The following three pictures are examples of the many pictures I saw in the "Gauges Museum". Please see footnote. Thank you!)
The Southern Railway also had lines in the West Country. It was an amalgamation of a number of companies and was formed in 1924 at the Grouping. The locomotives mentioned here often headed the expresses departing from London's Waterloo Station for the West Country.
There was still time to cross to the other platform where the train would be departing for Minehead in a few minutes. The 7F was all steamed up and ready to go. I would take the train as far as Watchet, where I would do some exploring.
I spent the afternoon taking some photographs from the train as it wended its way through stations with the interesting names of Crowcombe Heathfield and Stogumber. After that it was Williton and Doniford, ere I reached Watchet. You can either sit in the train and do nothing, saying that travel is just a matter of going from A to B, or you can look about you and try and record some of the things that are rolling past your very eyes. Unless I'm strap-hanging on a jam-packed commuter train, I try and take in the world as it changes around me.
Watchet was originally a busy industrial port, used in Victorian time for transhipping the iron ore found in the Brendon Hills across the Bristol Channel to the iron furnaces in South Wales. Traces can still be found of the West Somerset Mineral Railway, which was used to bring to Watchet the iron ore mined in the nearby Brendon Hills. Nowadays, Watchet Harbour is still quite busy, but it now acts as marina, catering for small pleasure craft. Watchet's Boat Museum testifies to a once quite important maritime history.
So these are some of my experiences at Watchet.
Watchet is really based around its harbour which is now called a marina. Here I managed to get some nice pictures as I wandered around the town. As mentioned, pleasure and leisure craft are now the main focus of activities.
There may be no passing loop at Watchet, but is still possible to see trains steaming north and south in quite quick succession. There were three locomotives and the DMU on duty today. You have seen my pictures of the 7F and the Manor and the DMU. However, the Hall proved so elusive that I only caught short glimpses of it, without being able to take any pictures of it. However, I got some more shots of the two black locomotives: our 7F going south and subsequently the Manor heading north. These shots were partly for me to get some more camera practice, but I hope you'll like them.
Strolling around the centre of Watchet, I was able to appreciate the timelessness of its buildings. I also had a look at some remnants of the erstwhile West Somerset Mineral Railway which used to play an important part in the local industry.
"Flatner Boats" are the main theme of this museum, which is housed in an old goods shed, once part of Watchet station. "Flatner Boats" are double ended, flat bottomed and without a keel. Tides go out a long way in the Bristol Channel, as we could see on Monday, as we walked into Minehead. Fishermen could go out from Watchet when the tide was in and the mud flats were submerged; their "Flatner Boats" enabled the fishermen to return at low tide, by following the channels left in the exposed mud.
Now it's time to get back to the station, have a look at some of the old enamel advertisements gracing the station, take a few more pictures of the locomotives and make sure I get the last train of the day back to Minehead. My sojourn in Watchet has been interesting and educational!
The last part of my journey was via Washford, for the Somerset and Dorset Railway Museum, Blue anchor, one of three stations on the WSR where trains could cross (i.e. pass each other) and Dunster, all change for village and castle. There were good "side on" views of Dunster Castle and good views along the coast to Minehead.
This was an enjoyable and educative day on the West Somerset Railway. However, it would have been even more attractive for visitors if the two black engines had been painted in their respective original colours of Prussian Blue and Brunswick Green. I'm sure it would have been much more appealing to visitors, especially to the children for whom it would have conjured up the colourful world of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends.
And why, at such a busy holiday time, were the museums at Washford and Blue Anchor closed? Anyway, a few moans there must be, but it was an enjoyable and educative day. I must never, never, be too old to be able to cast a critical eye over matters if needs be, or to be able to appreciate and learn new things! Today I certainly had had new experiences!
The pictures at the Gauges Museum at Bishops Lydeard are an important part of the visitor experience, and not to include them on this web page would deny my readers of that experience, while at the same time denying an additional contribution to the public relations initiatives of the WSR. To establish the original copyright associated with these pictures is also likely to be fraught with challenges. I have therefore watermarked my photographs of three GWR pictures to show clearly their immediate provenance. In addition, to eliminate the perspective distortion, I have had to give the photographs I took of these pictures the "GIMP®" treatment before showing them here; this may have reduced the technical quality of the resultant pictures you see here.
The Southern Railway advertisement appears on many heritage railways, especially in the south-east. Therefore I doubt if copyright can still be claimed on this advertisement.
I believe that in the U.K., copyright usually lapses after about 70 years, and I think that this also applies to these pictures. If anyone has a legitimate interest in this subject and is able to say (via my Read Me Page) why the pictures should not be shown here, despite the watermarking, I can of course remove them. However, removing them would obviously be a great pity because, as stated above, these pictures support both the visitor experience and the PR initiatives of the WSR!