7 April 2011
and Swindon & Cricklade Railway
|Fifteen members assembled in the foyer of the STEAM museum
at Swindon for our summer outing. Unfortunately a few
members had been forced to withdraw from the visit due to
ill health. At 10.30 we were met by our two guides and
commenced the tour. We were introduced to the history of the
Great Western Railway's Swindon workshops, one of the
"shops" of which the museum now occupies.
Some of the dioramas, showing the activities of the workshops, are extremely realistic.
The mannequins in the displays are all models of real residents of the town, many being previous employees of the railway.
The locomotives and rolling stock are all well displayed and many are accessible, an inspection pit even providing access to the underside of Caerphilly Castle.
One display which is not normally accessible to the public, because of the need to preserve its original upholstery, is the GWR diesel railcar No 4. We, however, were taken on a guided tour of its interior, being allowed to inspect the driving cab, main saloon, buffet area and even the toilet. All are in good order. The tour finished with a visit to the seaside - at least a virtual one - as we were transported to the destination of so many travellers in earlier years. This included a display of the delights of the company's hotels and even some "what-the-butler-saw" machines.
Following our tour we were encouraged to walk round the museum at our leisure, followed by a visit to the well stocked shop. Lunch was provided in the museum's own restaurant, with an excellent sandwich and fresh fruit collection. The museum is certainly well worth a visit and it is surprising, despite it adjoining the Swindon factory retail outlet, how few other visitors were in attendance while we made our tour. I only hope that they manage to keep their financial heads above water.
In the afternoon we made our way to Blunsdon to start our tour of the Swindon and Cricklade Railway. We were met by our guide Russell Wear, who started by walking down the line away from the station and towards Swindon, stopping on the bridge over the River Ray (a tributary of the Thames). Here he gave us a brief history of the line and the plans for the future. Unfortunately, because of building on the trackbed, they will be unable to reinstate the line into Swindon, but they do have plans to extend northwards to Cricklade.
A few hundred metres away a diesel horn sounded - the signal for us to move towards our special train. Two Mark 1 coaches awaited, with ex-BR Class 03 diesel No D2152 ready to propel the train north to Hayes Knoll. We passed along the track by the storage sidings and through a stretch of open countryside to our destination. This is a completely new station, there being no equivalent when the line was originally in operation. We moved into the capacious shed which adjoins the station. This contains four tracks with a variety of locos and rolling stock undergoing restoration. Russell took us on a tour of the stock and introduced us to some of the volunteers working on the items.
We then walked out of the shed towards the end of the line.
The sidings are used to store stock which is awaiting its turn in the restoration sheds. The railway is fortunate that Hayes Knoll is located well away from any habitation and the only access is via the railway.
As a consequence, the stock, although kept in the open, is at low risk from the attention of vandals.
The signal box is in the process of commissioning, along with the signal installation. This will allow more flexibility during open days. After a good look round, probing all the interesting corners, we rejoined our train and set off for the return trip to Blunsdon. Here we disembarked just as the skies opened. However, there was no danger of us getting soaked, as our hosts had arranged for the shop and café to be open. The former was well stocked with interesting second-hand books and many of our number went away with bulky bags. The restaurant is housed in two ex-Norwegian Railway coaches and has ample seating. After an enjoyable light meal, we made our way back to the cars for departure.
Our thanks go to our hosts at both STEAM museum and the Swindon & Cricklade Railway for a very enjoyable day out.