The summer is finally over, not that there has been that much of a summer this year! The weather has taken on a chillier turn and October has finally arrived. So what to do now the winter is on the way, well this weekend sees the four-day extravaganza that is the West Somerset Railway Autumn Steam Gala.
Husband and I set off early, well what we thought was early anyway, for the 150-odd mile drive to Bishops Lydeard in Somerset where the West Somerset Railway has its first station on the line to Minehead. After a pleasant 3 hour drive we arrived in good time to catch the train to Minehead, lovely preserved carriages pulled by a “double-header” comprising of a Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway 7F and a Great Western Railway engine. Seeing both these trains steaming majestically at the platform was an amazing sight.
The station at Bishops Lydeard is also quite attractive and well preserved, and has some interesting steel advertising signs – anyone who has read previous posts or who knows me, will know how much I love vintage advertising! one of the things I like so much about it is the rich use of flowery language and some of the preposterous claims advertisers used to make to sell their product. No-one would be able to get away with advertising cigarettes as being made to”prevent sore throats”, but that is exactly what Craven A maintained their product did.
Two different advertising signs for Craven A cigarettes, both making remarkable claims that they are beneficial to the health!
Once on the train we set off down the line towards the first of 9 stations on our journey to Minehead. The line passes through some very scenic countryside and some of the smaller stations along the way were very attractive and beautifully restored. What was somewhat strange and in a way quite remarkable was the large numbers of men standing in fields, on small banks or hills and in ditches along the line who sprang into life as soon as a train approached, cameras swung into action, video started rolling; the really serious film makers had their cameras set up on tripods complete with at least one, but more often two large fluffy microphones. Clearly this 4-day event is for the really serious steam buff!
The trip from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead takes an hour and a half, but it doesn’t seem that long as there is so much to see. Rolling moorland hills, leafy green valleys and as you approach Watchet, the SEA! I think the most dramatic and also romantic view was that as Dunster Castle hove into view. It looked quite magical and mystical set on a hill amongst trees overlooking the town.
Minehead being the terminus means that the trains have to be turned round. The platform was full of small trade stands selling railway associated wares. At one end of the station is a turntable for turning engines round. I was really surprised at how easily it turned, it was simply gently pushed by two elderly gentlemen exerting very little pressure, which was all the more amazing when you consider it was fully loaded with a steam engine weighing several tons!
turning round at Minehead
On our journey back husband and I stopped at Washford where there is a small museum dedicated to the now defunct Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway. Actually to call it s museum is really a bit grand. It is basically a small room containing various artefacts such as lanterns, name plates and a small amount of miscellaneous emphemera. The room itself is not large enough to take more than 3 people at any time! Outside in the station yard are a series of dilapidated goods waggons, a couple of which house more rather tired looking SDJR ‘stuff’ including track plates and more iron station name plates. There are 2 signal boxes, one from Midford and the other from Burnham-on-Sea complete with signal levers etc, interesting , but no real information about how it worked or who worked in them. Personally I feel that part of these heritage railways is the fact that so many stations had long term Station Masters and therefore there is a massive vein of untapped social history which would make the whole experience more ‘human’ and interesting to the layperson who is not (like me) well versed in the workings of the railways of the early/mid 2oth century. In a rail shed there was a special carriage currently under restoration but no-one was interested in either allowing the visitor to go in and look at it or indeed talking about what was going on. Actually, the whole attitude of staff/volunteers at Washford was sadly one of indifference and in the case of the chap in the shop, bordering on rude. Obviously visitors are tolerated, not necessarily welcome. Disappointing.
Still, the best bit was the arrival of the train to take us back to Bishops Lydeard, pulled by the massive British Railways 9F locomotive ‘Black Prince’ owned by the renowned wildlife artist David Shepherd. This engine is massive and also very noisy, especially when letting off steam!
Black Prince at Bishops Lydeard station
The first day of the Autumn Steam Gala was busy and I think a success for the West Somerset Railway. The trains were full, the terminus stations were busy and best of all the weather was dry and for the most part, sunny. I enjoyed my trip to Minehead, it was very relaxing. If I am to be a bit picky, then I would say that some bits were disappointing, mainly the museum parts at Washford and also Bishops Lydeard with exhibits being well displayed but for the most part, poorly explained and the most heinous of crimes being evident – spelling mistakes on information panels. All in all, the day was lovely and I did enjoy myself.
Some more fantastic advertising from the early 20th century, I can’t get enough of these!
It’s quite incredible to think that you could take your horse on the train – Great Western Hunting Season (also that a rail company would promote the Hunting Season, clearly it was big business in those days). The Veno’s sign is a perennial favourite; I grew up on Veno’s cough mixture as a child, it was always administered at the first splutter of a cough and I can still taste that thick liquorice liquid even now, although I am not sure if it ever actually did cure a cough. Tobacco advertising is to my mind the most amusing and often imaginative, and often full of double-entendre when read by the modern viewer.
The best things about heritage rail open days are of course the engines, and the very best thing about the Steam Gala was the steam trains – so many of them and all running in full steam -FANTASTIC!
9351 GWR designed ‘Mogul’ standing at the platform in Minehead