Sunday, 16 August 2015

Traveling with the GWR (1)

While gravehunting recently in Prestbury Cemetery in Cheltenham,  I kept on hearing a steam whistle, and I had read that there was a heritage rail operation in the area called the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, it was time to investigate, and I duly headed in that direction on the 15th of August.


The railway runs from Cheltenham Race Course Station, to Gotherington, Winchcombe and then to Toddington stations where the loco shed and end point is. Actually that is not quite true as there is a halt further on called Laverton, which is really a signpost and not a station.  

Like most heritage rail operations I have encountered in the UK I was amazed at the professionalism of the operation. They are staffed by volunteers and run like well oiled machines, just like their fleet of steam and diesel engines.

I joined the train at Cheltenham Race Course Station for the run through to Toddington.


The loco in charge was a GWR 4200 Class, number 4270, and she dates from 1919 and she is one of 5 surviving sisters that were rescued from the famous Woodham Brothers Scrapyard in Barry. 


Her rake of coaches were a mixed bag of Carmine and Cream corridor and compartment coaches typically found in the UK. 



The train also had a buffet car and a compo van as well as a first class compartment coach. They are very comfortable coaches, totally unlike anything we had in South Africa. Oddly enough though, many of the internal fittings were the same as that found in South Africa, and the chances are the fittings all originated from the same place. 

Once our loco had had a drink she ran to the end of the line and then through the points onto the opposite line, ran past the train, back though the points and onto the back of the train (which was now the front of the train), she would run bunker first to Toddington. 


And then we were off. The line to Toddington has some challenging climbs until it comes to the Greet Tunnel which is almost the highest point of the line. The first station is Gotherington and I happened to be leaning out of the window as we came into it, and it looks like a fascinating place to visit as a destination. Technically from here you can just see Tewkesbury (although I expect binoculars would be needed).


The one things that amazes me is how children instinctively know how to emulate a team engine whistle, and I know that from the other heritage rail trips that I have taken.

The next "highlight" of the trip is the Greet Tunnel which is 693 yards long and it is the 2nd longest tunnel on a British heritage railway. I did try some photography in it using the camera flash, but my experiments were not really a success.


Next stop was Winchcombe and we stopped here to wait for the other train to arrive. The line is single rail between stations with passing blocks at the stattions. On this particular day there were 3 trains running on the system. 


And here comes the other train...


And with her out the way we could now proceed to Toddington. 


Our train is the one of the right, and the one on the left is the Railcar which runs between Laverton and Winchcombe. I had planned to look around Toddington and then grab the railcar to Laverton, and then reboard the train and travel back to Cheltenham with the next train depending on how much there was to see at Toddington. The loco shed is here and that was what I was really after. GWR also operates heritage diesels, and while these do not have the attraction of a steamer, some are really interesting machines in their own right.

45149 (D135) - Class 45/1 Diesel Electric Locomotive.

Class  49 'electro-diesel 6036
26043 (D5343) Class 26, Diesel Electric Locomotive

Yorkshire Engine Company 372
Of course there were steamers too, but they were all in the wrong position to photograph, the closest I could see were:

2807 - '28xx' class heavy freight locomotive, built 1905
35006 'Peninsular & Oriental S. N. Co' - Rebuilt Merchant Navy class
I would have really liked to have seen that Merchant Navy Class in action, but there was just now way to even get a decent pic of her.

I had decided to catch the railcar to Laverton and time was catching up with me so I headed across to the platform where she was was now due after a short jaunt to Winchcombe.


This particular example is 117 and it comprises cars W51405 (DMS), W59510 (TCL), W51363 (DMBS), although on this occasion there were only two cars coupled, of which both had a drivers end. They are powered by 2 x Leyland 680 150hp driving through 4-speed epicyclic gearboxes on each power car. It is an odd vehicle though, not quite a train, not quite a bus, although I was impressed by the smooth ride that it gave.


The trip to Laverton is a a short one, and the highlight is traveling over the Stanway Viaduct, which is 50 feet above the valley floor and comprises of 15 arches. You cannot really get a sense of these things when you are going over them, but you can bet that from ground level the viaduct is a pretty impressive piece of engineering.


The end of the line is Laverton. It is really just a signpost and not much else. However, there are future plans to extend the railway till it meets with the main line at Broadway, and then this operation will explode with traffic. It is 2 miles from here, so near, yet so far.
Our driver changed ends and we headed back to Toddington. Once we arrived I bailed out and went looking around again, realistically I wanted to catch a train back about 14H00, and it was do-able assuming I planned it right. The train was already in Toddington, but would not leave here until the other train had turned around at Cheltenham. It left me about 45 minutes to kill.

There was a particularly interesting exhibition in a restored bag van that had some fascinating artifacts in it, as well as a small shop with similar items.



Realistically Toddington is an eclectic place, with the emphasis on the past. They even have a narrow gauge railway at the station, but sadly this was not in use on the day when I was there.

Time was creeping, and I reboarded the railcar for Winchcomb as there were a lot of interesting pieces of rolling stock that I wanted to look at.


Unfortunately Winchcomb was a bit of a disappointment as the coaches were not accessible. It was a pity though as there were a lot of very interesting coaches to see.


I stuck my nose into nooks and crannies, passing time till my train arrived, or should I say, till both trains arrive. The one train cannot pass a section while there other is possibly in that section. It is the safe way to do things.




And then I heard a steam whistle.

It was not some imitation done by a child, but the sound of the train from Cheltenham. She would have to be alongside the platform and could only proceed until the Cheltenham bound train arrived. With minutes of her arriving my train hove along the bend and it was time for me to head off home.


That is the thing about trains, some arrive, and some depart, and some pass each other along the way.



My loco for the ride home was the 1928 built 2-6-2T - known as a ‘small prairie’ tank engine, and was used on light branch lines.  Her coaches were a crimson rake and they were just as nice inside.




As I left the station and headed for the bus stop I could hear the loco blowing her whistle, and I knew that I had heard that sound a few weeks ago, and that is what drew me to here in the first place.

It had been an awesome day, and I had seen so much interesting stuff and travelled on or behind three heritage railway vehicles. The GWR operation is fantastic, my only real gripe is that I did not get to see more of the loco shed, but otherwise, it was worth the time and effort. I returned to the GWR for the heritage diesel weekend, and you can read about it here.

Video of the some of the loco movements are on my youtube channel

DRW 2015.

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