29 August 2017

Minehead Morning B. Lydeard Afternoon Watchet Return Features Read Me

A Day on the West Somerset Railway

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.

Between Dunster and Blue Anchor, the WSR hugs the coast for a quite a while, giving this view of Minehead. No doubt, in days gone by, this view must have delighted eager holiday makers coming by train to Minehead, and possibly Butlin's, for their summer break

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!

Departure from Minehead

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.

Here's the small freight engine again, exactly where it was parked on Sunday.

However, here's our iron steed, the "7F" with BR number 53808.
Our 7F is rearing to go with the 10:00 to Bishops Lydeard.

Here are some of the mechanical "bits" needed to convert the high pressure of the steam raised in the boiler into useful work driving the engine's coupled wheels.

Here's the "Late British Railways" crest looking ungainly on the stark shiny black paint.
This crest replaced the "cycling lion".
In the latter, the lion was "cycling" on the wheel, now he is holding it.

Private owner wagons were once a common sight on the railways, before lorries took a lot of the freight traffic, and the deployment of containers took much of what was left.

Morning Journey to Bishops Lydeard

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.

As the train hugs the coast between Dunster and Blue Anchor, one can see Minehead receding in the distance. This must have been a "farewell" view for many holidaymakers returning home.

And here the receding view of Minehead is given a traditional feel by the "quadrant" signal.

The Somerset and Dorset Trust have their museum at Washford. Alas, their museum was closed today. The S&D trust supplies the 7F locomotive, so is important to the WSR.

Here is Watchet Harbour, seen from the train.

Being taken for a ride and going around the bend between Watchet and Doniford Beach Halt.

Doniford Beach Halt - today without the beach weather.

Waiting at Williton to cross with Minehead service hauled by 7820 "Dinmore Manor"
alas also painted in black instead of a more attractive and memorable GW green.

At Williton, a serious looking member of the station staff
is about to see the train off with a blow or two on his whistle.

There are many curves on this part of the WSR.
Journey's End is at Bishops Lydeard to which station we are approaching.

Interlude in 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.

  *  Station Activity 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 DMU for Minehead is waiting at Bishops Lydeard for possession of the single track.

The 7F will be decoupled and will run round the train.

Here's how to drive it.

Some more water must be taken on, so a visit to the water tower is needed.

Here's another view of the 7F. The driving wheels are smaller than those of a passenger locomotive. Speed is not the issue. Power for long heavy freight trains is.

The 7F reverses around its train ...

... on to which it then backs - or should I say heads.

The 7F will run tender first all the way to Minehead.

  *  Restoration Triumph - the GWR Sleeping Car

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.

Before travellers boarded this coach ...

... they were left in no doubt that it was the Great Western Railway (GWR) they were travelling with. The GWR crest proudly shows the arms of the City of London and the City of Bristol, the two cities which the GWR was originally built to connect.

Once inside, travellers could experience the elegant surroundings in which, overnight, they would be lulled into a good sleep by the clickety-click of the wheels over the Victorian track. Continuously welded track was only introduced post-WWII.

Here two more views of the exterior of the carriage, ...

... painted in GWR umber and cream.

  *  A bit of Great Western Railway History

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!)

A new broad gauge line is opened. Victorian high tech.

This "Iron Duke" class locomotive was built in 1848, but is seen here after rebuilding in 1876.
It lasted to the end of the broad gauge in 1892.

Great Western standard gauge locomotives tended to have a good reputation for reliability and performance. The "Star" class locomotives were built between 1906 and 1923
for heavy long distance passenger trains, for which task they were very successful.
No 4031, "Queen Mary", was built in 1910 at GWR's famous Swindon Works.

  *  A bit of Southern Railway History

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.

This was a popular advertisement for the Southern Railway. Quite a few examples can be seen on various heritage lines in the south east. I saw this copy in the "Gauges Museum".
Should you be interested, I think this is a 4-6-0 N15 class locomotive first introduced in 1925.
It looks as if is about to depart from London's Waterloo Station.
The child is going on her holidays. It looks a tad dangerous here for those of such tender age.
(No passengers allowed beyond this point etc. ...) I'm sure her parents aren't too far away!

This came from the streamlined casing of a Bulleid West Country Class locomotive introduced in 1945. These decorative name plates added some colourful individuality to these locomotives.

  *  Starting Back to Watchet and Minehead

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.

These locomotives are indeed steamy affairs!

Afternoon Journey to Watchet

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.

On the way to Crowcombe Heathfield I get these shots of the train ...

... steaming through the lush summer countryside.

Crowcombe Heathfield has a nice verdant appearance.

And beyond Crowcombe I get ...

... some more pictures of the train ...

... as it steams its way around many a bend.

And so to Stogumber.

On the platform there is a traditional enamel advertisement for "The Western Daily Press".
This paper was first published in 1858. It still survives today, despite the impact of the Internet.

Before reaching Williton I get some more pictures to illustrate the concept of ...

... being taken for a ride and going round the bend.

At Williton there is another passing loop.

This time we cross with the south-bound train bound for Bishops Lydeard, ...

... and hauled by "Dinmore Manor" (7820) looking a tad sad in its black coat.
Why not a nice GWR Brunswick green to please the visitors?

Despite the presence of an industrial tank engine here,
Williton is in fact the centre for WSR's fleet of Diesel locomotives.
Here is a Western Diesel Hydraulic, nicely turned out in dark red.

Interlude in Watchet

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 Harbour

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 is a sea of masts, ...

... before reaching the open sea.

There's also a fair amount of mud at low tide ...

... as can be seen from the main promenade.

  *  Comings & Goings at Watchet Station

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.

The 7F heads the southbound service into Watchet, ...

... gradually coming to a halt, ...

... to load and unload passengers.

I caught this shot of the 7F as it accelerated away from Watchet on its way to Bishops Lydeard.

A short while later, Dinmore Manor arrives. Here it is about to head north out of Watchet on its way to Minehead. The engine appears to be painted in traditional GWR green, but this illusion is engendered by the reflection of the lineside vegetation in the mirror-like black paint.

Here is another view of Dinmore Manor on its way out of Watchet and heading north.

  *  Down-Town Watchet

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.

The town centre ...

... has retained its traditional buildings.

This was the passenger terminus of The West Somerset Mineral Railway (WSMR), whose original aim was to bring the iron ore, which was mined in the nearby Brendon Hills, down to Watchet for transhipment across the Bristol Channel to South Wales.
The West Somerset Railway, on which I am travelling today, started life as a broad gauge (7ft ¼in) line; the WSMR, on the other hand, was standard gauge (4ft 8½in) throughout its life.
An interesting feature of the WSMR was its rope-worked incline.

The WSMR station building is now a private residence, but bears this plaque to remind visitors of the building's interesting past contribution to local industry.

  *  The Boat Museum

"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.

The main theme of this museum is the "Flatner" fishing boats, once widely used in this area.

Flatner boats are a tad cramped ...

... but served their purpose well.

The museum also has this model of the preserved paddle steamer "Waverley", the world's last sea-going paddle steamer. The "Waverley" was completed in 1947, sold in 1975 for 1,
and now operates as a tourist attraction.
The description reads as follows.
"This model of the paddle steamer Waverley was made
by Jim Jones of Watchet using recycled scrap materials in 1992."

  *  It's Back to the Station

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!

Enamel advertising signs used to be a very common feature on rural stations.
"Pratts" was a well-known brand of motor-spirit.
"Motor-spirit"? Well, "petrol" to you and me.

Dinmore Manor - tender first - brings in its train from Minehead ...

... and then proceeds onwards to Bishops Lydeard.

I've got to catch this train. It's the last one of the day to Minehead.

Return to Minehead

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.

Washford is the home of the Somerset and Dorset Railway Museum, ...

... which owns the 7F engine presently pulling my train to Minehead.

At Blue Anchor Station ...

... trains can pass each other.

Shortly, Minehead's Higher Town comes into view.

There then follow views of ...

... Dunster Castle.

I'm photographing against what's left of the sun,
so the light conditions are not perfect for taking pictures. Can't be choosy!
However, at least you can make out the "noble pile" of Dunster Castle
in its hilly surroundings.

Some day trippers alight at Dunster Station.

Minehead is almost here.

Here is Minehead's famous long platform. It was lengthened for to accommodate the train loads of holidaymakers going to Butlin's.

The 4F engine is still here.

Behind it is a GWR Prairie Tank, waiting to be restored to working condition.
Quite costly, these restorations.
So ends my enjoyable day on the WSR.


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.

This picture of the 7F (the same locomotive number 53808 as above) was taken in 2009, and shows what a difference the fine Prussian blue livery can make!

This is a picture of another GWR locomotive, taken in 2009. Despite the slightly subdued lighting conditions, I think that you can appreciate the attractiveness of the green livery.

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!