Saturday, 5 August 2017

By Train from Toddington

Our little diesel railcar trundled away from Toddington, heading north.  My friend Julliette and I claimed seats in the front of the train, right behind the driver. You definitely get the best views from there.

Soon the guard appeared and sat down in the next seat. "Why," I asked him, tongue-in-cheekily, "do you call your line the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway when you don't go into Warwickshire?"

"We needed the 'W'," he replied.  And, of course, they did. What self-respecting Heritage Railway on a former Great Western main line would pass on the chance to call itself the GWR?!  The good guard could have added that they will soon earn the right to that 'W', for work is proceeding apace to extend the line over the county border and into the attractive Cotswold town of Broadway.

Our little train crossed Stanway Viaduct and edged cautiously along the newly laid track. "Even I haven't been this far before," admitted our guard. Eventually we drew to a halt, surrounded by open countryside, in front of a large red and white STOP board. In the distance we could see work progressing on the new line.

Our driver went to the other end of the train and soon we were returning to Toddington, then on through Winchcombe to Cheltenham Racecourse.

According to the GWR's guidebook, Greet Tunnel is said to be haunted. Having walked through a few similar tunnels, I can understand how the story originated. Dark... then very dark... rough under foot... water dripping from the roof...!  You can see what I meant, though, about getting the best views from the front of a railcar. The crowds who pack themselves onto steam-hauled trains miss all the fun.

This pretty little station is Gotherington. My photo makes it appear to be devoid of track, but there's another platform opposite this one. I wonder why they didn't lay the track on the 'main' station side?

According to that guide book, Gotherington is a 'terrific' starting point for walking the Cotswolds. Such bold claims just had to be checked out, so when I got home I looked at the Ordinance Survey map. They're right. The Winchcombe Way passes close to the station, and to the south traverses Nottingham Hill and Cleeve Hill. Definitely one to explore.

Ignore the compass bearing, it just records the way my smartphone
was pointing when I took the screenshot.
Julliette and I stayed on board as the train reversed its direction once more and returned to Winchcombe. "They serve excellent food on Platform 1," our guard assured us so, tummies rumbling, we decided to give it a try.  He was right; their homemade cake is superb.

This is Winchcombe Station. Our little railcar is on the right. We waited for the big steam train to make its way down to Cheltenham Racecourse, then boarded it on the way back.

Here's Julliette, admiring 7903 Foremarke Hall. Railway buffs will doubtless notice that the train is travelling 'wrong line'. They didn't wish to smoke out builders who were working on platform 1, I was told.

Back in Toddington, we checked out the 'Have-a-Go Signal Box'. Now tell it not in Gath, but this girl has been let loose in a 'real' signal box on more than one occasion. Feeling devilish, I pulled the yellow distant signal lever whilst leaving the big red one 'on'.  The signal went down.  It's a pity that I didn't ask Julliette to record the event as the railway inspectorate would not be amused.  You're not supposed to be able to do that!   

So what's my verdict on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway? Well clearly an enormous amount of effort had gone into restoring and preserving it and the dedicated army of volunteers can be justifiably proud of their efforts. I wish them every success as they press on towards Broadway.  If my oft-visited friend Lucy ever decides to pitch her caravan there again, I may well arrive in style, and perhaps even drag her off for a brisk hike up Nottingham Hill.

Here, though, I must choose my words carefully. Main Line railways like the Gloucestershire Warwickshire were originally engineered on a grand scale, consequently they lack the bucolic charm of many little branch lines. For instance, the Dean Forest Railway, less than a mile from my home, twists and turns along wooded valleys and pauses frequently as level crossing gates are opened and closed, all of which, for me, adds immeasurably to its appeal. And how about this one – the amazing Tanfield Railway?

But the crowds waiting to board our train as we returned to Toddington bear witness that not everyone thinks like me. Vive la difference!  And yes, one day I would love to return.


  1. Surely you'd not spurn the Settle & Carlisle, just because it was the Midlands's main line to Scotland? But on the whole, I agree that the little lines are the prettiest, ot at least the most individual.

    I may return to Broadway, although the downside of having a steam line station close by is the noise, and I am a bit noise-sensitive. I well recall a weekend, many years ago now, at a caravan site uphill from Ropley station on the Mid-Hants line, which was running Thomas the Tank Engine specials all day, accompanied by very loud children's singing, in a non-stop loop, which was clearly audible and highly annoying even from half a mile away. It seemed worse because it was a scorchingly hot weekend, and you wanted mostly to doze in the shade. It has rather put me off Thomas and his friends.


  2. Memories of childhood. There was a signal box and crossing a quarter mile away from my home and us children were often allowed into the box to watch the workings of the bells and levers. Boys loved to "help" pulling the levers but I just enjoyed seeing the trains flash past jest feet away from our high vantage point. Hard to imagine anything like that happening to today's children...