Unwinding on a steam train on the West Somerset Railway, seemed to be an ideal day out in Somerset. The railway running between Bishops Lydeard (near Taunton) and Minehead allows travel through the Quantock and Brendon Hills and then along the Somerset coastline.
Trains run from February to November with everyday operation between May and September. Enjoying the ten different stations, all lovingly restored and maintained on a typical branch line of the pre-Beeching era indeed sounded exciting but called for more time, ideally with an overnight stay in Minehead. All the trains have buffet facilities serving locally sourced food and drink.
During the season, there are special events arranged such as Day out with Thomas, Steam galas. During December, the Santa specials are always popular in the build up to Christmas.
The Mercedes E350 was drenched in the morning dew with the windshields fogged up in that October morning. Started off from Farleigh Wick to Bath and then to Bristol towards Taunton. Built-in GPS of the E350 was more accurate than the removable one which was kept just in case. M5 was not devoid of dense traffic but the flow was smooth with an exception as Bristol was approaching. Road works. Weston Super Mare area was also a bit congested but otherwise was able to maintain a steady 70mph. Took about an hour and half from Bath to Taunton.
It was 10.20AM while searching for a proper parking spot together with 4-5 other cars. Took the first one though it was on the side of the approach road towards the designated car parking of Bishops Lydeard station. Rushed to the ticket counter taking care not to overtake those who had arrived earlier. There were two ticket counters open. Entered the platform and walked along the already packed train. All window seats were apparently taken. Guard blew the whistle. Without pausing to learn about what the whistle meant, boarded the nearest compartment and gently settled on one of the aisle seats. No indications were seen that the train would soon be less crowded by the next station.
White puffs of steam filled the sky everytime the train gained speed. Sometimes, the steam puff were mistaken for clouds as the sky was clear for some part of the journey. The entire journey, thanks to the powerful steam engine, was supposed to be no more than 1 hour and 20 minutes. Trains ususally keep their word, especially when there are other trains coming from the other side.
Blue Harbour and Watchet were some of the most beautiful stations en route Minehead. Wanted to alight and take a walk around them but decided against it due to shortage of time. Must be back in London by 10 that day. Hop-on, hop-off tickets were available which permits getting off and on the train at almost all stations. Steam locomotive controls were often not configured for extended periods of running in reverse and in many locomotives the top speed was lower in reverse motion. They needed a way to turn the locomotives around for return trips. A turntable was seen at Minehead.
Minehead is the last station on the line. While it was sunny as the train pulled in to the station, it started to rain soon afterwards. Bought some steaming Chips from a nearby shop just to the right of the exit and waited till the rain abated. Just as the rain stopped, the bright sun came out and the sky presented to all a beautiful rainbow which lasted for several minutes.
Rail journey was always fascinating. Remembered the one to Coonoor and beyond to Ooty taken many years back. While travelling back, the question pondered about was which one is the best. The answer still eludes…