Monday, 19 June 2017

48 Hours - London & Devon Part Two

In Part One I travelled to Plymouth via London to catch up with the former Anglian gas buses, which turned into quite an anticlimax. The rest of the day was spent getting the most of what has got to be one of the best value train tickets around - the Devon Day Ranger. For £12 you get the freedom of Devon's railways from Tiverton Parkway in the East to Plymouth in the West and all branch lines within. I started with the 0840  along the Tamar Valley Line to Gunnislake, completely oblivious to the jaw dropping railway landscape that awaited. Traction was a 2 car 150, which is basically a 156 with a different layout.

150238 at Plymouth about to depart for Gunnislake
To say the Gunnislake branch is spectacular is doing it an injustice. After passing the naval dockyard the line follows the river offering some cracking views.

View from train on  Gunnislake branch
This was just a foretaste though. At Bere Alston the driver changes ends and the train reverses out for the climb to Calstock and Gunnislake, and when I say climb I mean climb. I have never travelled on gradients like this on non preservation lines before. 10mph limits on winding lines climbing up through dense woodland. The only line I have been on that comes close to resembling it is the Ffestiniog Raailway in North Wales. One thing sprung immediately to mind - that line has got to be Hell in leaf fall season! The driver confirmed that when I grabbed a few words with him back at Plymouth.

The view from Calstock Viaduct over the River Tamar
It was a quick turn round at Gunnislake, which is actually in Cornwall, which was a shame, but what goes up has to go back down, and down we did go. It will not be the last time I do that line. Only 14 miles long but surely 14 miles of the best railway you'll ever go on. I'd kill for a cab ride!

At Gunnislake terminus
That more than made up for the disappointing gas buses but there was much more to do. I jumped on a Cross Country Voyager for the trip along the South Devon coast to Exeter. A long time since I've been on a Voyager, and despite the interior looking a bit in need of a freshen up the ride was smooth and sleep inducing, so I saw little of the aforementioned coast! Luckily I woke up before Exeter as that particular train was carrying on to Glasgow, which for some reason isn't included in the Devon Day Ranger!

The Cross Country Voyager at Exeter St Davids
 My next destination was Barnstaple, along another branch line, and this time I got my first taste of a Class 143 Pacer, the scourge of the North. It was over an hour to Barnstaple and by time we got there my backside was beginning to feel the pace of the Pacer a bit. They aren't nearly as bad as I was led to believe. Yes the suspension appears to have been forgotten in the design, and yes it rattled a bit, and they are getting on a bit like yours truly, but for branch lines like this they are ideal. The line itself wasn't as spectacular as the Tamar valley Line, but pleasant enough. I decided to make Barnstaple my lunch stop, and so walked into town to see what there was. There was a bus station!

Barnstaple Bus Station
Stagecoach seem to rule the roost in these parts with the odd independent. Next time I visit I'll do some bus exploring. After an excellent lunch I returned to the station which has some nice quirks about it.

Old style signs
A lovely preserved station building
And this the quirkiest/daftest of all. This picture got some of the great and the good in the railway media world debating if they were the most pointless seats left on the network. The platform is closed to the public so who are they intended for? Answers on a postcard, and if anyone knows of other pointless seats let me know!

Symmetrical yes, useful no!
The Pacer sits at Barnstaple Station
Back in Exeter and it was time to retrace some memories and embark on a pilgrimage to Dawlish, surely the Mecca of the train enthusiast's England. A 143 was attached to a single car 153, and I chose the latter for the better seats. 20 mins later we were in Dawlish, where I hadn't been for 15 years but a place I watch regularly thanks to the excellent Dawlish Beach webcams. Felt a bit like going home.
The view from the footbridge at Dawlish Station
I don't know anywhere you can get closer to mainline moving trains without high fences than Dawlish. Stations excepted obviously. Dawlish sea wall runs from the far end in the photo above to Dawlish Warren, and after making sure the quality of ice cream in Dawlish was as good as I remembered (it was), I ended up walking the entire length of the wall, something I truly regretted later due to my choice of footwear - suitable for travelling but definitely not for extended walking!

Dawlish sea wall and its proximity to the Great Western mainline

At the end of the post will be a compilation of the videos I took on the day, so the trains will appear there!

I wanted to spend some time at Starcross, a lovely location on the Ex estuary, but although one stop up from Dawlish Warren not many trains stop there so I had to go via Exeter St Davids once more. A single car 153 was my train, and it was without doubt the most comfortable train of the day. All new train seats should be modeled on this unit!

While at Exeter I managed to snap one of SouthWest Trains class 159 units about to depart for Waterloo. Now First have won the franchise this livery won't be seen for much longer. I just hope whatever replaces it is just as striking.

159003 at Exeter St Davids
So to Starcross on a 150, and the weather didn't disappoint me. A glorious evening at one of the most glorious places to watch trains.

View from Starcross Station
The results of my hour at Starcross can be seen on the video but this will give you an idea!

Taken from the footbridge at Starcross
I caught the next train back to Dawlish for tea, which happened to be an HST. I have to say at this point that HST's on the inside could be any type of train, and are iconic to look at only. I think people who like watching them will be sadder to see them go than those who regularly travel on them.

By now my feet and legs were seriously suffering and I was delighted to see buses still running at 10pm so caught one to Newton Abbot where the driver, bless him, flagged down the bus to the station (saved me 2 footbridges). The last train to Plymouth came in, which was the Welshman set. I cannot describe just how bright the interior lights are in those refurbished coaches. Totally unnecessary and makes seeing anything outside when dark impossible. GWR take note when designing the new trains.

A stagger back to Plymouth coach station and I was soon back on the coach to London. Where I was faced with a problem. I had booked myself on the 1300 coach back to Norwich to allow time in London but I was exhausted and my legs were killing me. So I checked out how much extra it would cost to get the earlier 0930 coach. Megabus told me £10 which since I'd only paid £1 for the 1300 I thought a bit much. Mind you Greater Anglia wanted £45.50 for a turn up and go single. So I checked the website to see how much a new ticket would cost on the 0930 coach. £4 later I was happily sleeping on another Scania tri-axle back to Norwich.

A brilliant trip, one I'll definitely do again only with better footwear. This week I'm on another 48 hour trip, this time to Crewe, Carlisle, the Cumbrian coast, Settle & Carlisle line and York. Reports and I hope spectacular pics over the weekend. In the meantime here are the Devon vids. Enjoy.

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