As I write this it is almost 12 months to the day since I attended the West Somerset Railway (WSR) Spring Steam Gala in 2016 and I’m now looking forward to attending the 2017 Spring Gala in 2 weeks. The 2016 gala was a good ‘un and certainly merits a look. The chosen theme was the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway (SDJR) with locomotive types chosen for having worked on the SDJR and the stations appropriately renamed.
The Stations Renamed
Renaming locomotives and stations for particular steam events is becoming more common and is not something that I usually go for. However on this occasion I thought it worked rather well with the opportunity to photograph images that, with a stretch of the imagine, could have been back in the days of the SDJR.
All the stations sported appropriate SDJR running in boards and were renamed as follows:
- Minehead became Bournemouth West
- Dunster became Shillingstone
- Blue Anchor became Bailey Gate
- Washford became Midford
- Watchet became Binegar
- Doniford Halt became Stoupaine and Durweston Halt
- Wiliton became Evercreech Junction
- Stogumber became Henstridge
- Crowcombe Heathfield became Shepton Mallet
- Bishops Lydeard became Templecombe
The locomotives in steam were a varied collection, perhaps the best I’ve seen at any gala for some time.
- Rebuilt Bulleid Light Pacific 4-6-2 34053 “Sir Keith Park” (taking the identity of 34098 “Templecombe” for the gala)
- BR Standard 4MT 2-6-4T 80072 (taking the identity of 80043 for the gala)
- Peckett 0-4-0ST “Kilmersdon”
- LMS 4F 0-6-0 44422
- Bullied Light Pacific 4-6-2 34070 “Manston”
- SDJR 7F 2-8-0 53808
- SDJR 7F 2-8-0 53809
- BR Standard 9F 2-10-0 92214
- LMS Black 5MT 4-6-0 48624
Notable rolling stock included a splendid period SDJR carriage pulled by “Kilmersdon” with, for a bit of fun, a Titfield Thunderbolt head board.
The locations are listed in no particular order other than that in which they occur to me. For those visiting the line I would recommend Ordnance Survey map 181 Minehead & Brendon Hills and I have included approximate grid references to the locations in brackets (remember Eastings first!)
- Location 1 – pedestrian crossing just east of Minehead Station (SS 985456)
- Location 2 – Minehead Station, (SS 975464)
- Location 3 – publicly accessible field on the South side of the line just outside Minehead Station (SS 982455)
- Location 4 – Minhead Station looking over the boundary fence opposite Morrisons supermarket (SS 977462)
- Location 5 – Crowcombe Heathfield Station
- Location 6 – Wiliton Station (ST 086416)
- Location 7 – Wiliton Station foot bridge (ST 086416)
- Location 8 – Wiliton Station loco yard / workshop (ST 086416).
- Location 9 – Watchet Station (ST 072434)
Grid references are supplied for stations mainly for the sake of completeness and not because I think they are necessary to find them.
So on to the pictures. Captions are minimal using just a description of the locomotive and the location, expressed as Location 1 through to Location 9. Where a locomotive has taken on an alternate identity I have used that identity in the captions thereby staying with the spirit of the SDJR.
One of the big advantages that the WSR has over some other heritage railways (which are all excellent BTW!) is a turntable at the Minehead end of the line and a turning triangle (Norton Fitzwarren – not accessible to the public as it’s on private industrial land) at the Bishops Lydeard end. The result of this is that it’s rare to see a locomotive running tender first at a gala, which really adds to the spectacle of seeing a steam train rush past and is really great for us photographers.
The Event Guide
Yet one more thing I like about the WSR galas is the event guide that they produce, this lists the stations, the locomotives in steam and contains a working time table for each day. It’s a quality booklet and I’m sure it costs the WSR a good deal of money to produce but in my opinion it adds much to the event for both the casual visitor and the enthusiast.
Places to Stay
There are literally dozens and dozens of places to stay in the local area. I nearly always stay in the medieval village of Dunster my two favourite places (in no particular order) being The Yarn Market Hotel and the Luttrel Arms. Both are in the centre of the village and both offer excellent accommodation.
My choice is usually governed by which establishment has vacancies by the time I think to book, they do both get rather busy at the time of WSR galas as you can probably imagine. However if you are more organised and can make your choice based on criteria other than availability, then I would suggest the Yarn Market has more of a hotel feel to it while the Luttrel Arms feels more like an old world coaching inn. Both have good restaurants and with the Luttrel Arms you also have a choice of eating good quality ‘pub grub’ in the bar with a good selection of local ales and ciders on tap. With the Yarn Market the welcome is particularly warm on arrival and being a family run business nothing is too much trouble to ensure you have a good stay.
There are other places to stay in Dunster which all look very good, but not having stayed at any of them I can’t comment further.
Talking of Dunster
While in the area do your best to take time out and visit the splendid Dunster Castle. Its history goes back hundreds of years from when it was a Norman fortress to more recent times when it was a opulent family home.
Other places of interest in Dunster include the watermill, the town history walk, a doll museum (not my cup of tea but Dee was impressed) and if you are feeling energetic a walk up to the Conygar Tower folly. You need good weather, good walking shoes and a “bit of puff” for the latter but the views amply reward all efforts when you reach the top.
It’s just about 10 years back when I became seriously interested in heritage railways. I attended my first gala at the WSR and one particular memory is of standing by the public crossing just outside Minehead Station and being transfixed as Bulleid Light Pacific 34070 “Manston” thundered past. I think for that reason, if none other, the WSR is my favourite heritage railway. Make a trip to visit and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed – but strictly no cash refunds!