Have I at long last found that illustrious ancestor connected to royalty? Sadly, no. This is about a trip last week to the Severn Valley Railway (SVR). The King & Castle is the public house forming part of Kidderminster station, the eastern terminus of the heritage railway that runs through the Severn valley from Bridgnorth, Shropshire. Speed has to be kept down to 25 mph, but you still get an impression of the slower and smoother acceleration and deceleration of the days of steam compared to the much more nippy, and noisier, diesel multiple units of today. A better impression the experience of the steam trains our parents, grandparents and great grandparents had is to be gained by travelling on mainline steam trains, such as excursions involving powerful engines like the new Tornado, or main line engines on the West Highland Railway in Scotland. On this scenic route the fireman has to work very hard to get the engine up some of the steep inclines and the passenger sometimes wonders whether, as the train crawls toward the summit, whether it might begin to roll backwards!
The SVR is a more gentle route, with even a pannier tank engine hauling eight carriages.
In some senses the locomotives are the stars of the show, but there is far more to the SVR. For example, the passenger experience is based as much on the carriages that convey them along the line. Each one (I think) has a board saying which year they were from and the class. For me, the most comfortable was the 1945 third class open carriage on the way back from Bridgnorth to Bewdley: much better than on London Midland or Virgin.
There were also some corridor carriages with compartments. When I first went to Scotland, sometime in the 1980s, these venerable old conveyances were still in action and very comfortable. I remember sharing one with a lovely young lass from Northern Ireland, who was going to be the reserve warden on Fair Isle. I envied her that. But, as we were the only two in that compartment designed for six or eight, we stretched out either side and chatted all the way to Birmingham (changing in Glasgow).
1945 fitted with the World War II theme at various places along the line. Some semi-demolished buildings are signed “Danger. Bomb damage.” There are sandbags at the windows of some stations, and that diagonal brown tape you see in movies, and other buildings and various other artifacts from the period. School children can (maybe could) go on educational excursions and learn about how people dressed, evacuation, and the sorts of people one would meet on wartime trains, such as soldiers in period uniform. They are invited to dress 1940s-style to join in the experience. Never had that when I was a kid! Back then, steam was all but forgotten, except by a few enthusiasts, who were considered eccentric to the point of madness, but if you want to find out a bit more about how people started to revive steam railways you could do worse than watch The Golden Age of Steam Railways: Branching out on UKTV Yesterday (Chanel 19 in UK), next broadcast apparently 11 Aug 5pm (BST). Now, heritage railways are among the most popular attractions in England.
And that is why the SVR is building for the future, with new facilities under construction at Bewdley.
Bewdley is a fine town with many Georgian and some older buildings and is well worth a visit in its own right. Here are a few of my less lamentable efforts.
What I’ve found on this trip is that you can get around pretty well, at least until teatime, by public transport. The buses don’t hang about like they do in the West Midlands conurbation and they are relatively inexpensive, so you can enjoy some of the excellent pubs, ales and meals available, as well as the scenery and townscapes.
This is as much about nostalgia as anything else and the old posters of places our foebears might have visited on their first summer holidays perhaps included these places:
Finally, a view of Bewdley from the train.