SteamTrains: West Somerset Railway booming

Posted on by Mike Evans

My friend Ralf Meier of is a frequent visitor to Britain, drawn inexorably by the multitude or railway museums and heritage railways. He often comments that Britain is like a living Disney World with the difference that everything is genuine and historic. Last week he was in London and I drove him down to Somerset to ride on one of the few steam railways he hadn't visited.

Great Western Railway Manor Class locomotive Norton Manor under steam at Minehead terminus after hauling our train from Bishops Lydeard.

Resplendent in its black wartime livery (enhanced by the post-war British Railways badge), No 3850 was one of the last batch of twenty three 2884 Class locomotives built at Swindon in 1942 at a cost of £7,911 each (about £325,000 in depreciated 2013 pounds)

Storm clouds gather over Bishops Lydeard station at the southernmost end of the West Somerset Railway. Norton Manor steaming at the head of the train

The West Somerset Railway is surprisingly popular. Our train was packed, with every seat taken and people getting on and off at intermediate stations: Just like a real train service and not simply a museum line. The 90-minute, 22.75-mile journey from Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, takes passengers to the pretty resort of Minehead on the North Somerset coast. The round trip costs £17 (£15 in advance) and there is a regular service. But check with the web site because it varies throughout the year. The volunteer staff run a mix of diesel and steam, so check that also when planning a visit.

Both Ralf and I much preferred the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Pickering and Whitby which we visited last year; but the West Somerset is definitely worth the effort if you are in the West Country.

This was a three-day outing from London. We needed somewhere to stay and, for once, I hit the jackpot when I selected Farthing's Hotel at Hatch Beauchamp, about five miles outside Taunton. This small family hotel offers superb accommodation and excellent food and was a real find.

An amazing variety of fowl, from peacocks to geese, ducks and hens, roams the grounds and provides fresh produce for the kitchen. The breakfast eggs were the bes I have tasted, used as I am to supermarket fare. If you are visiting the area, especially for the West Somerset Railway, I cannot think of a better place to stay. You will need a car, of course. Our only complaint was the rather patchy wifi in the hotel. Unfortunately this is a common problem with hotels throughout the world.

Farthings Hotel in the small village of Hatch Beauchamp is one of the best small hotels I have visited in the past few years: Fine dining and comfortable accommodation

During the stay at Farthings I  made the mistake of leaving my bedroom door ajar. Mr. and Mrs. Pea were just itching to get inside and try my bed. For hours Mr.P had been flexing his feathers in the face of complete female indifference. He probably thought a nice warm room would spice up the relationship

The pretty resort of Minehead is worth a visit, preferably taking the West Somerset Railway from Bishops Lydeard

Photographic note

All the pictures in this article were taken with the new Leica M240 and the superb 50mm Summilux ASPH f/1.4 lens. The rather noisy, hand-held night-time shot of Farthings Hotel was taken at ISO 1600 (f/2 at 1/45s).

by Mike Evans, 22 May 2013

Ralf filming Norton Manor on its way to head the return train. See Ralf's YouTube train videos by clicking this link

Ralf filming Norton Manor on its way to head the return train. See Ralf's YouTube train videos by clicking this link

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