We travelled by steam train as guests of the West Somerset Railway.
Although I’m not a major steam enthusiast, there’s something very special about steam trains. Maybe I’ve watched Brief Encounter too many times, but I just find it a very glamorous way to travel.
So when we visited Taunton with Classic Cottages recently, I was really excited to find out that there is a heritage railway just down the road at Bishops Lydeard. And I was even more excited when they kindly invited us to travel as their guests on the railway.
The West Somerset Railway has been running since the 1850’s and was a branch line of the Great Western Railway. England’s longest heritage railway runs for 20 miles through beautiful Somerset scenery. It now carries over 200,000 visitors each year, making it one of the biggest attractions in the South West of England.
A trip on the West Somerset Railways offers a fantastic day out, whether you are interested in the industrial heritage of the steam train, the beautiful countryside through which the line runs, or just fancy a nostalgic trip back to a bygone era.
Getting to the West Somerset Railway
The railway runs from Bishops Lydeard near Taunton, over to Minehead on the south bank of the Bristol Channel.
Bishops Lydeard is about a 15 minute drive from Taunton, and is easily accessible from the M5 motorway. This makes the railway a great day trip if you are planning a weekend or longer in Taunton.
At the other end of the line, the coastal town of Minehead is about an hour from the M5 motorway. You can also join the train at any of the other eight stops along the line.
You can buy tickets between specific stops or to cover the whole of the line. These are available from the ticket office or from the guard on the train (cash only). Family and senior citizen discounts are available and you can even get a ticket for your dog!
If you want to spend more time on the railway, a Day Rover ticket will allow you to get on and off the train as you wish, so you can explore the villages along the route. These can be bought in advance on the WSR website, or on the day.
Bishops Lydeard Station
Our journey began at the Bishops Lydeard end of the line. We arrived early enough to watch the train arriving at the station, so we called into the cafe to pick up some drinks and snacks for the journey.
There’s also a small shop at the station, where you can buy railway-related gifts and books. And a museum on Platform 1 shows how the railway affected the lives of people working on and near it.
We had been given Day Rover tickets, but a busy schedule meant that we were just going for a straight trip to and from Minehead.
When our train pulled into the station, we got on and decided where to sit. Our train had some fairly modern seating in some of its carriages. But that wasn’t exactly what I had in mind when I suggested a ride on a steam train!
This was more like it!
One of the carriages had several of these private compartments, which was far more ‘Brief Encounter’. Because we’d arrived so early, we were lucky enough to get one of them.
We settled down with our snacks and drinks in our carriage. Ollie was looking forward to the journey, honest…
There are toilets on all of the trains, along with a buffet car so that you can pick up extra refreshments.
The Journey to Minehead
The 20 mile journey from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead takes around 1 hr 45 minutes, and there are eight more stops along the way.
The journey takes in stations with names like Crowcombe Heathfield, Watchett and Stogumber. Each station platform is decorated with period advertisements and signs.
Children on the train are given an old fashioned paper ticket which the guard in full uniform checks and clips. For a short while, you could almost believe that you have left the modern age behind.
The line snakes through beautiful countryside that seems to change every few minutes. First a field of sheep, then a village, now an area of woodland. There’s a glimpse of the Bristol Channel for a while.
And all the time you are being rocked by the gentle sway of the carriage and lulled by the clickety-clack of the wheels. We all felt a little sleepy as the journey progressed.
Coming Soon: My Video Diary of a trip on the West Somerset Railway
The train pulled into Minehead Station, and we all got out to stretch our legs. If you have the full day at your disposal and the weather is good, I’d recommend getting the first train over to Minehead. You can then spend a few hours by the sea before heading back towards Taunton.
We had a busier schedule, and it was also pretty cold in February. So we planned to get the next train back to Bishops Lydeard, which would leave in about 30 minutes.
That was just enough time to take a closer look at the engine which had pulled our train to Minehead, and nip into the Turntable Cafe for lunch.
You can sit and eat a light meal at the cafe, but we decided to take our food with us on the journey back. The cafe were happy to pack up some sandwiches for the boys, and I opted for a hot hand-made West Country Pasty.
It might not be the prettiest food I’ve ever photographed, but it tasted really good!
The Journey back to Bishops Lydeard
And so we got back on the train and headed back to Bishops Lydeard. Unfortunately we’d lost our ‘Brief Encounter’ carriage, and were in the more modern seating for the return leg of our journey.
But it was still good fun, and we enjoyed watching the scenery fly past the window. Although it was cold, we were lucky that the sun was shining and the Somerset countryside looked beautiful.
Our full journey took around 4 hours, and I would highly recommend a trip on the West Somerset Railway if you are visiting the area.
The West Somerset Railway, The Railway Station, Minehead, Somerset, TA24 5BG
Trains run throughout the year from January to November, however the timetables and frequency of service vary. Please visit check the relevant timetable on the WSR website for the day you are planning to visit.