2016 - Richard's Cultural Tour

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Shunning Scotland, this year’s Sleeper Trip was to explore the delights of England’s Riviera, particularly the many main and branch lines ultimately amalgamated into the GWR. Six club members embarked on this trip, which was structured around a sleeper train, obviously, and a three day stay at a camping coach based at Hayle in Cornwall. Stays at Totnes and Minehead completed what was effectively a full week trip.

Tuesday, Day 1. Derek, Jim, Tony and I met up at Lime St. Virgin First Class lounge to stock up on coffee, biscuits and the new addition, muffins. Pockets bulging, we boarded the 11.47 Virgin service to Euston. During the trip we were served, in no particular order, wine, coffee, bacon panini and chocolate cake. An uneventful journey, we then met up with Frank and Malcolm. After poking our heads outside and seeing the torrential rain we adjourned to the Doric Arch to regroup and plan. Numerous options were considered until it was decided the Tate Modern offered the best chance of staying dry. Emerging from the underground on the South Bank, there was some confusion as to direction but eventually we set off along the river towards the Tate.

The walk enabled us to catch several tourist attractions en route including St. Paul’s, Tower Bridge, Southwark Cathedral, Southwark Market, The Golden Hind and The Globe. Depositing cases we explored the museum, desperately trying to work out what were exhibits and what weren't. The most fascinating installation was a group of men erecting what looked like an enormous tree made up of several parts.

Next stop was Paddington to meet up with Jim and to have dinner. We then retired to GWR’s first class lounge for wine, snacks and coffee before boarding our Night Riviera sleeper to Penzance.

Day 2. We alighted at Hayle, very early, and quietly placed our bags in Harvey's Halt, the playhouse, conveniently located next to our sleeper coach.

We then adjourned to the nearby Asda for second breakfast. Then back on the train back to Bodmin Parkway. The plan (Plan A or B or even C?) was to take the Bodmin and Wenford Railway on the branch line from Bodmin Parkway to Bodmin General, however timings were out somewhat and we had a couple of hours to wait at Bodmin Parkway. This station, originally part of the Cornwall Railway, is some 3 miles outside Bodmin. There wasn't much to do. However the ever resourceful Tony found that a bus was due that would take us to Bodmin General where we could pick up the B & W and we could do for a return trip.

So it was after a brief bus ride that we had an opportunity to partake of a mid-morning cream tea at Bodmin General before boarding the service back to Bodmin Parkway pulled by GWR '8750' Class 0-6-0PT 4612. Then back to Bodmin General, a very dramatic ride with the loco working hard up an almost continual incline.

The afternoon was to be spent at Nick Wood’s, who had offered to open his garden railway to us. After a taxi ride we arrived at Nick's and after beer and sandwiches we set to operating his impressive layout with pneumatic signals, block workings and several locos in steam. Nick had been a founder member of the SMRS and in between workings was more than willing to reminisce about the club’s early days. The most dramatic element of the line was an impressive viaduct constructed by Grace. Many thanks to Nick and Grace for their wonderful hospitality.

A rushed taxi ride back to Bodmin Parkway and we picked up the train back to Hayle where we booked into our Sleeper Coach for the first night of our three night stay.

Day 3, and after a first breakfast at the coach we jumped on the train to St. Erth before joining the branch line to St. Ives for our second breakfast at Wetherspoons.

A gorgeous day strolling around St. Ives for some, and a boat trip for Jim. Before we knew it we were back at Wetherspoons for dinner. The only slight disappointment was that the Tate Modern (Southwest) was closed for extensive rebuilding so we were denied to opportunity of viewing and comparing their collection with Tate Modern London. Overnight we had become critics of modern art. A local bus back to St. Erth (ringing the changes) and our second night at the coach.

Day 4 dawned and I thought we were going to Falmouth but somehow we ended up at Newquay. I had somehow mixed up my Plan A and Plan B or was it Plan C? A leisurely change at Par on the opposite coast, meant we were able to partake of liquid refreshment in the local pub conveniently located on the railway bridge. Then the 20 mile trip across to the Atlantic and a walk down the old harbour branch line at Newquay. Another opportunity for a Cornish Pasty and before we knew it we were heading back to Par for our connection to Hayle. Ever flexible we decided not to alight at Hayle but to continue for the brief seven-mile trip to enjoy the delights of Penzance. Unfortunately there weren't any, unless you have an avid interest in Davy lamps. Then the short ride back to Hayle and award-winning fish and chips taken al fresco on the sleeper coach's outside dining area.

Day 5, and after checking out of the sleeper coach and saying goodbye to Frank we took the train to Totnes where after a short walk we arrived at the South Devon Railway station at Totnes Littlehempston. We took a return trip to Buckfastleigh hauled by GWR outside cylinder 0-6-0PT 1369. The railway is an impressive operation and we were able to travel oin Hawkesworth coaches.

Buckfastleigh has many attractions including a museum, workshops and an extensive garden railway. We were hauled back by GWR 6412 and after picking up our luggage set off on a short walk to our B&B. Our B&B had the added attraction of a pub with a micro brewery right opposite, Jim and I felt the need to test it out and we found ourselves in the beer garden in the midst of a row about Brexit.

Day 6 saw us embark on an ambitious 'Round Robin' trip. Firstly a river cruise from Totnes to Dartmouth, then a short cruise on the Kingswear Castle coal-fired steam paddle steamer (Jim went twice), followed by a ferry across to Kingswear then on the Dartmouth Steam Railway (upgrading to the Devon Belle observation car) to Paignton. As an extra treat Derek had arranged for the Red aArrows to do a fly by as we approached Goodrington Sands at Paignton.

The final leg of the round robin was an open top bus from Paignton back to Totnes. An excellent day, highlighted by the Red aArrows but spoilt by me discovering a pub in Dartmouth than had all the staff dressed in Hawaiian shirts almost as garish as Jim's. I will let you choose.

Day 7, and after booking out of our digs we headed for the station and our train to Taunton. Here we were to board the bus to Bishops Lydeard to ride the West Somerset Railway to Minehead, our final overnight stop. Unfortunately at Taunton we were informed that we had no chance of getting on the bus as it would be full of people going to Butlins in Minehead. A large taxi was ordered and in no time we were at Bishops Lydeard.

After a brief opportunity to see the station we boarded the train for the 23 mile trip to Minehead with GWR 4-6-0 6960 Raveningham Hall at the front. As it was still early in the day consideration was given to exploiting our rover ticket to the full and doing 3 complete journeys. This only appealed to Jim, so four of us returned from Minehead only as far as Watchet before returning to Minehead. This meant we were able to travel behind a different loco, this time SDJR 7F 2-8-0 No. 53808 and also be back in Minehead in time for an afternoon cream tea. A final meal in Wetherspoons and an early night.

Day 8 Homeward bound

The group split with three returning on the West Somerset Railway and Derek and I taking the bus from Minehead to Taunton. We all met up at Taunton Station for our train home and it was only now that we had our first real problem. The eight-carriage train had failed so only four carriages were available, seat reservations were meaningless so it was a rather cramped ride back to Birmingham New St. We had enough time at Birmingham to examine and critique the new station concourse before getting our final train together to Liverpool Parkway.

Thanks very much to all those who did all the organising, Tony for the tickets, Jim Derek and Frank for the accommodation and for all the options, Derek.

Richard Jones

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