Steaming to Highbridge

Mar 30th, 2008 | By | Category: Personal Columns

“When I retire”, I said at teatime, “I want to visit all 180 Somerset stations”.

“Oh, joy”, muttered the good lady of the house, “I suppose you’ll want a flask of tea”.

“Yes”, I said, “and a rug for having picnics.”

Being honest, there aren’t 180 stations in Somerset; there are only thirty and eleven of those are on a railway preservation trust’s line, but there once were. The three Somerset counties – Somerset, North Somerset and Bath and North East Somerset – had180 stations on a web of different lines. Many of them were never viable, built distant from towns and villages in places where the population was sparse.

Railways have a special fascination, even for someone who knows nothing about engines or engineering. Maybe they represent an ordered world, a safe world structured by timetables. Maybe they were from a world where people were still courteous and the country had not been franchised out.

Maybe it’s just a case of being a grumpy old man who thinks that John Betjeman’s England was not the worst of places.

For those into a lost England, here’s the laureate himself travelling through Somerset; through stations the location of which I might one day seek out and sit on my rug and drink my tea and mourn a place that is no more.

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  1. Ian, it sounds like you’ll have to carry your own bag! 😉

  2. Ian what an absolute gem of a film I loved it (saved in favourites!) I wonder what was in that Airfix package right at the end? Unfortunately the line is long gone, the section between Shapwick and Eddington is now a footpath which runs along the abandoned,flooded peat diggings which have become a wild fowl sanctuary.

  3. I hate city trains . . smelly, crowded, noisy – On the few occasions I’ve caught one I’ve been cornered by a flasher or some weirdo venting their opinions.

    Having said that, I spent many an hour dangling my legs from Alsey Bridge in Hertforsdhire where my Gran lived, taking down the numbers of steam engines that flew under the bridge. Now they were trains! having said that, I wouldn’t mind a couple of legendary train trips, Orient Express? That one that goes through the Canadian Rockies or even our own Ghan to Alice Springs . . .

  4. Ian

    That was fascinating! I have a nephew in the UK who is completely hooked on everything to do with trains and he’ll love this film. When he was little, I had to read him endless Thomas the Tank Engine stories (though I don’t sound a bit like Ringo!) and every year as a family, we made an expedition to visit the latest restored line for a trip on a steam train. Coincidently, this lad’s middle name is ‘Thomas’ 🙂

  5. Grannymar,

    It’s something you would have to do by yourself, company would ruin the atmosphere.


    I was delighted to find the film – it was on TV years ago and I only tried YouTube on an off chance. By the time I retire (2027 – the CofI is raising the age) there will be even less left.


    Those are grand railways – this was an obscure branchline – the Somerset and Dorset ( S & D) was known as the slow and dirty!


    Thomas the tank engine has loads of theology!

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