All Aboard - The South Devon Railway
steaming alongside the River Dart in Devon
South Devon Railway - glorious steam!
Many of us enjoy seeing steam trains. Having a ride in an old carriage pulled by one is something to be experienced. The smell of coal from the funnel brings back memories of my early childhood. In my article, The Barrow Hill Roundhouse, I mentioned that my grandfather was a steam engine driver. He shared his love of railways with me. I must add that I am not a ‘steam nerd’ and have never got anywhere near being one. It is nice, though, to visit a heritage railway.
A few weeks ago, the opportunity arose to visit the South Devon Railway. Since 1991 the railway has been run as a charity by a predominantly group of dedicated volunteers. I caught the train at Buckfastleigh, and it runs to Totnes. Visitors can take in extra attractions, as the Buckfast Butterfly Farm and Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary share the railway car park.
South Devon Railway - its history
Originally the line was built by the Buckfastleigh, Totnes & South Devon Railway Company in 1872. The line was nine miles long and ran between Ashburton, a few miles north of Buckfastleigh, and then south to finish at Totnes. Today it is just from Buckfastleigh to Totnes, a distance of 6.64 miles and runs alongside the River Dart.
In 1876 it was taken over, as were many railways, by the Great Western Railway. It remained in GWR's hands until the railways were nationalised in 1948. Ten years after nationalisation, the line was closed to passengers and closed to all traffic a few years later. A revival came in 1969 when a group of businessmen formed the Dart Valley Railway. It was to be a tourist attraction with steam trains running on the line. The last train to run the entire length of the track ended in 1971 when the A38 dual carriageway was built over the track bed between Buckfastleigh and Ashburton. As previously mentioned, the charity of South Devon Railway took over when Dart Valley decided they could no longer operate the railway economically. DVR still operate a similar-length steam railway between Paignton and Kingswear.
South Devon Railway - my journey
There is plenty to see at Buckfastleigh Station, and on this visit, the station and a steam train were being used for filming a future episode of the BBC series Beyond Paradise. Quite by chance, I captured a photo of the lead actor Kris Marshall talking to the engine crew of 5562 GWR 2-6-2T.1 This was not part of the story. It appeared that Kris was suggesting something for the next run. It was the last day of filming, according to one of the railway’s volunteers, and the story was about an actual murder that took place on a murder mystery train ride. The station had been renamed to the fictitious Shipton Abbott, and posters for the episodes ‘murder mystery’ and others for realism adorned the station.
Getting back to reality, the station has a small museum that contains some interesting items from the railway’s past. A look around the museum filled my time whilst waiting for the next train. My train left promptly at 12.10 pm, with the usual whistle from the platform and steam toot from the engine.
The engine pulling my train is the 1369 - GWR 0-6-0PT (opening image), and you enthusiasts will know what those numbers mean. For more about the engine, I will add a link at the end of the article.2 This is one of the eight steam trains operated by the South Devon Railway.
Photo Gallery South Devon Railway
It’s a pleasant gentle journey, and at times almost like travelling through woods. The River Dart snakes on the western side of the track, and I watch the water tumbling over the stones and gravel as we head south towards Totnes.
The weather was not too good, a little dreary with that on-and-off rain that often plagues an English summer. Through the opening in the windows would occasionally drift the smell of smoke as the coal burned to heat the water to make the necessary steam. Travellers can embark at Staverton Station, which has been used for many TV and film scenes, including a BBC adaption of the Hound of the Baskervilles in 1982. I stayed on the train to continue to the end of the line at Totnes. Staverton is relatively small, with a few houses, a church and a pub.
The train arrives at Totnes Riverside Station at 12.40 pm, making this a 30-minute journey, including the short stop at Staverton. There is an active rail line into Totnes, and the mainline station isn’t too far away from Riverside. For anyone wishing to go into Totnes, it’s recommended by South Devon Railway to allow 15 minutes to walk into town, but I am told by someone who has walked the route that to get to the central part of the town, it will be longer. It’s a pretty town and one to explore another day.
Once back at Buckfastleigh, it was time for food. I enjoyed an all-day breakfast at Birdie’s Kitchen, which was good and very reasonably priced. The gift and model shop is well stocked with railway-related items and includes a good working model railway to entertain you.
There are other features to look at when you’re here at this station. There are gardens with room for children to play and an area for modellers to run their trains. The half-mile track of the miniature railway is sadly out of action at the moment. There are some essential safety works to complete.
If you want to take in the countryside there are many fine walks, including those alongside the River Dart, you can spend more than a day in this area, should you wish.
I certainly would like to revisit South Devon Railway and stop at Staverton and Totnes to explore more of this area.
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