This short story starts at the end of last Summer. Summer is used loosely in this case as last year barely had any of what you would expect from the hottest season of the year. Anyway, at the said time I looked through the forthcoming railway events with a view of booking a holiday to one of our favourite holiday areas, West Somerset.
Conveniently the West Somerset Railway had just published the dates for their Spring Gala so I started to look at holiday cottages around the Minehead area. My wife and I have a deal with holidays in that we both choose one each per year within certain budgets. This would be mine. I would entice her with Somerset and get to spend a couple of days on the West Somerset Railway.
For those that haven't yet made it to the West Somerset Railway I have to recommend it as one of the best heritage railways I have ever been to. Everything you see is painstakingly restored to better than original condition and anyone who has any love of the Great Western would feel at home straight away. The sheer length of the line (Britains longest preserved line at just shy of 23 miles) also means that a high number of active engines are required to maintain regular timetables.
The pressures of any Gala on a preserved railway these days include the limited number of paths that are available. For instance, on a short branch line with only one passing loop, you can only normally run two trains at a time. By contrast, the West Somerset have plenty of length and no less than three passing loops, thus increasing the amount of traffic allowed. Now add in the fact that they wanted almost all engines facing in the right direction this required even more engines to allow turning time. With a turntable at Minehead and a triangle of track at Norton Fitzwarren this challenge was possible, but costly for time.
Well, all I can say was a lot of engines is exactly what was provided. Despite one or two issues, nine engines (including Steam Railmotor) were in steam during our visit. Between the four main trains, Dunster shuttles and the freight I'm surprised anybody knew were to look. This once quiet branchline burst into life!
Alas though, after a few days the time came to start thinking about getting back to our home in West Yorkshire. Weather forcasts ensured that we had to leave a day early or risk not getting back at all. We left the warm climate of Somerset (a tropical 8 degrees) and gradually felt the cold as we moved North. By Birmingham it was already down to just two degrees. By Halifax we encountered blizzards. Our fantastic holiday had came to the end with a great thud. Whilst it was made clear that the decision to come home early was the right one (an hour to get the car up the drive, then overnight a five foot snow drift blocked the path), a part of me wishes that we had got stuck in the Somerset area.
A big thank you must go to everyone we met on our small adventure for making it such a great one. Lets hope its not another three years before we get back.
For the full collection from the West Somerset Railway's Spring Gala please see the following links:
As for the rest of our holiday, keep you eyes peeled for Dunster Castle and Porlock Weir that will hopefully be up soon.