There was a time when the train ran non-stop from Paddington to Taunton; hard now to imagine that there was once an express service from London to Somerset; hard to imagine Taunton station requiring a multiplicity of platforms. The train must have been long after that era, for it stopped at Castle Cary in east Somerset on its journey from the capital. It must have been winter time, for beyond the carriage windows there was darkness. Pulling out from the lights of Castle Cary, the British Rail diesel locomotive gathered speed as it rolled westward.
In a former age, the progress would have been monitored by the stations passed. There would have been the halt at Alford and the stations at Keinton Mandeville and Charlton Mackrell. In the daylight, the crossing of Somerton Viaduct would have been obvious, before passing the town’s station and going into the long tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel there would have been the little station serving Long Sutton and Pitney, then Langport East station, before Langport Viaduct and the flat moorland leading to Athelney. The cuttings after Athelney were passed and the train ran beside the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal before reaching Creech Saint Michael’ followed by the train’s arrival in the county town.
Such a possible marking of the journey was long past, no station remained between Castle Cary and Taunton. The only certain landmark was the tunnel at Somerton; the noise of the train reverberating from the walls. Beyond that point, progress was hard to judge.
Not wearing a watch in those days and finding the passing of time hard to judge, there was a feeling that it was time to move my book-filled suitcase to the door. The 1970s BR carriage was sparsely filled; it was not as though there was a crowd to negotiate, but there was always an irrational fear of still being aboard the train when it pulled out of the destination station.
Clearly, judgement of time and distance was awry, for having slid back the door to the seating area to reach the open area at the carriage doors, and half carried, half slid the suitcase through, there seemed an interminable wait before Taunton was reached. Feeling faintly ridiculous at having moved so early, and fearing that someone might wonder what had prompted such strange behaviour, I stared earnestly out into the impenetrable darkness, as if knowing something unknown to anyone else on the train.
Since that time, the tendency has been to be the last rather than the first to move; the Ryanair queue, the 21st century equivalent to those 1970s train journeys, has to be down to two or three people before I move from my seat.
A fear of missing Taunton station would have served well today. Sitting on the Luas as it headed south from Saint Stephen’s Green, a moment’s reverie meant completely missing the stop at Beechwood and having to get off at Cowper, the next stop, and walk back along Palmserston Road; at least there was no suitcase to carry.