Andrew and Amber
My oldest Daughter Amber and I embarked on a trip, common in the 50’s but rare these days. (interconnecting branch lines)
Once North Cornwall and North Devon had a multitude of lines and junctions enabling passengers to sample the delights of sea side towns like Ilfracombe, Padstow and beyond. This often required changing trains on branch line connections well away from the mainline, something almost lost on todays modern network. Thankfully with the re opening of the Okehampton line we can now experience all this again.
We purchased our tickets at Okehampton, a little bit of Southern Railway time warp, with its bright new cafe carefully retaining the original booking office windows behind a glass protective screen, for our 2 hour journey to Barnstaple changing at Crediton, all for the princely sum of £13.90 return for the 2 of us.
We were swept back in time leaving Okehampton dreaming of the ‘Atlantic Coast Express’ only today in our 2 car class 150 dmu departing at 09.25 and arriving at Crediton 09.48.
With a short while to wait for our connection to Barnstaple, we explored the recent restoration and admired what is said to be the oldest surviving station in the Westcountry. Now repainted in LSWR colours in use around 1900, the main building 1847 pre dates the waiting shelters and the LSWR type 1 signal box built in 1875 is possibly the oldest still working on the entire BR network.
Crediton was opened in 1851 after a short dispute over track gauge, by the Exeter and Crediton Railway. The line on to Barnstaple was opened in 1854 by the Bristol and Exeter railway. The LSWR was a major shareholder in both companies and on completion of the line to Okehampton in 1865 , LSWR trains ran through Crediton.
At 10.31 we boarded our comfortable 3 car class 158 dmu for the 55 min journey to Barnstaple.
The railway follows the River Taw for much of the way and although heavily wooded, glimpses of the surrounding countryside abound.
All went well until Eggesford when there was difficulty with adhesion accompanied with considerable slipping, the driver gradually regained control and our 3 car set continued without a reoccurrence. I know leaves on the track can be a problem on this line but was surprised so early in the season to encounter issues, as most of the leaves haven’t dropped!
We arrived at Barnstaple a little after booked time at 11.30 and noted that there was a real possibility of a bus replacement on our return due to the earlier issue.
Barnstaple station is in good condition, but unfortunately not as I remember, with just a single track, no run round and of course nothing left to indicate the existence of the Torrington or Ilfracombe lines.
The junction engine shed here once boasted 44 drivers and fireman forming a hub serving the outlying areas, including the GWR Taunton line at Barnstaple Victoria Road.
We walked into town over the river bridge and I explained to Amber the layout of the adjacent curved railway bridge but again very little remains of this once popular holiday route at this site.
I also explained the possibility of re opening the Lynton and Barnstaple line, although many years away and possibly not in my lifetime, which terminated at Braunton Road exchange siding adjacent Barnstaple Town Station.
During lunch I checked if our return journey was still running and with much relief found that the 14.35 was indeed on schedule.
We departed on time from Barnstaple, (a gentleman asked me if he was on the right platform to which I answered that there was only one ),arriving in Crediton at 15.35 we had a 14 minute wait for our connection to Okehampton departing at 15.49 and arriving 16.15 at our destination.
Thus ending an enjoyable day reliving a trip on the ‘withered arm’ (a little less withered), with hope for the future, our trains were very well loaded, with standing room only on the last leg.
The authorities should be congratulated, delivering a much needed service and revitalising Okehampton an important lesson to government of the need for reinstatement to Tavistock and Plymouth.
. I had the impression from the guard when inspecting my ticket that our journey was quite unusual and I suppose 2 hours for approx 40 miles does seem rather slow, it would certainly be quicker by car or bus, but what a way to travel, I know what I prefer… next stop Halwill Junction!!
Very best wishes Andrew and Diane and Amber