West Somerset Railway & the start of the South West Coast Path
9 April 2009
|In which: I start with a damaged
I progress by means of four trains and a bus
● the weather is bad, but improves
I reach the start of the South West Coast Path
● I find a pub with a comfy sofa
|Time of walk: 1745 to 1800
Today's walking: 0.9 km
Progress along SWCP: 0.3 km
Estimated ascent: nil
My second Easter holiday walking a bit of the South
West Coast Path began like the last, with a journey to Edmonton Green
railway station, and from there to Paddington. Last year I commented
that my right knee was twinging “which was not a good omen for a walking
holiday”. It was this year too, but this year I knew it to be
potentially worse as I’d suffered an injury in the Reading half-marathon
a couple of weeks earlier, and while it was much improved, that was
partly as a result of extensive use of Ibuleve and other medication.
Still, I was moderately confident that it would hold up for the
At Paddington I repeated last year’s visit to the
first class lounge. They proudly reported that phase one of the
refurbishment was finished - I saw little difference other than that the
comfortable chairs had been replaced with some much less comfortable,
presumably to discourage lingering. I eked out the value from my first
class ticket with a banana, a drink, and a visit to the loo.
The 1306 whisked me to Taunton in a little under two
hours, where I briefly joined about 40 other people crammed into a bus
waiting room which was big enough for about ten, then decided to wait
outside in the rain instead. It was as well I did, for not all of us got
on the bus, which was initially very crowded and totally inadequate to
the job of carrying tourists with their holiday luggage.
Although the bus was going to Minehead, my
destination, I was going to make the holiday more pleasant than a
tedious bus ride, and I got off at Bishops Lydeard for the West Somerset
Railway. This is one of the longest heritage railways in the country,
but was very quiet when I arrived through the rain. I trundled my
suitcase along the platform to the ticket office at the other end.
Although it was about 1530 and the last train didn’t depart until 1615,
I was asked if I minded paying by card as they’d already cashed up -
apparently they didn’t anticipate any more customers on this damp day.
That wasn’t a problem for me, and with my ticket in my pocket I waited
outside under the canopy for the train to arrive from Minehead, then
popped into the shop where I bought a “Past and Present” book with
photographs of the line showing its decline under BR and renewal in the
What is to be my train arrives at Bishops Lydeard tender first, pulling
a long rake of carriages
The locomotive has detached from the far end of the train, and is
running round ready to pull my train
From above, ready to couple up to the carriages. 9351 is a Class 2-6-0,
converted from GWR class 2-6-2 No. 5193
I then found myself a compartment to myself, and once underway watched a
damp Somerset go by, the very modestly sized Quantock Hills with their
heads in the clouds. Most of the cuttings and embankments were lined
with primroses, and there were a few early bluebells. However, as we
neared the coast the weather improved: the combination of the improving
weather and the excitement of seeing the sea made the day seem more
cheerful again, and as we turned away from the sea at Watchet for a
little while the locomotive made wonderful noises as it worked hard to lift
us from almost sea level to 50 metres in a short time, after which we coasted
back down to the sea for the run in to Minehead.
Waiting at Williton for the last train from Minehead to pass us in this
I don't think this will be going to the Continent again
The weather starts to brighten up as I look for the first glimpse of the
And there it is
Doniford Halt, a request stop, with its unusual pagoda waiting hut
Making our way along the coast
The harbour at Watchet as we turn inland and start to gain height
Up she goes!
Some attractive goods wagons
At Blue Anchor station where we have regained sea level for the run into
Minehead. Although not captured on this photo, there were bluebells here
in the railway garden.
Lots of spare speed limit signs
Approaching Minehead, and a look ahead to the hills of Exmoor
187½ miles from London Paddington - a shame it had to
be interrupted by the short bus ride as there is no regular service
between Taunton and Bishops Lydeard.
Minehead station, with North Hill in the distance
The recently installed turntable at the end of the line
The sea front at Minehead. At the base of North Hill is the start of the
South West Coast Path, and a little further along among the white
buildings is my accommodation for tonight.
The middle brown sign is pointing the wrong way, but the bottom one both
shows I'm going the right way, and is interesting that a footpath is
mentioned on a road sign.
A short walk along the
sea-front brought me to the sculpture of two giant hands holding a giant
map, that marks the official start of the South West Coast Path. It
seems at first sight to be an odd spot to pick, just being part-way
along the front, but the original route of the SWCP ran away from this
point inland between cottages, whereas the modern route runs along the
front from here, shown by words writ large on the pavement.
The start of the South West Coast Path
I thus walked along the SWCP to my accommodation for the night, The Old
Ship Aground. The bar was busy, and I felt a bit self-conscious lifting
a suitcase through it, but I soon attracted the attention I was looking
for. A woman who I deduced was the daughter of the owner or manager
initially worried me by saying that she didn’t think I was booked in,
but it was just her memory failing her as I was in the book. She showed
me where breakfast was, and then to my room, which was fine if
non-descript. I had a sliver of a sea-view between two other buildings
on the front.
The Old Ship Aground, my accommodation for the night.
The sea view from my bedroom.
After a little rest, I went out for dinner. The menu at the Old Ship
Aground looked good, but it also looked very busy, and it was good to
stretch the legs, so I went into the town centre, phoning Lucy as I
went. After a bit of scouting around, I found a Wetherspoon’s, which
wasn’t very original, but it did have a nice comfy sofa where I parked
myself for an hour and a half with some food and a couple of drinks. I
then returned to the Old Ship Aground where I read for a while before
The harbour after sunset
A peek into the lifeboat station