Isambard Kingdom Brunel designed his Great Western Railway to be the finest in the world. Its route through Didcot from Bristol to London was completed in 1841 and until 1892 its trains ran on Brunel's broad gauge tracks. The Great Western retained its independence until nationalisation in 1948 and is still regarded with affection by those who knew it.
The four friends; Angus Davis, Graham Perry, Jon Barlow and Mike Peart, decided to write a letter to the Railway Magazine to publicise their 14xx fund. As Jon Barlow was the only one with a typewriter he wrote the letter. They posted it in April 1961, but it was several months before it was published, in the August 1961 edition of Railway Magazine. The cost of launching the Society was a three penny stamp (1.25p in decimal coinage). The initial tiny investment has resulted in an organisation that 50 years later is responsible for assets in excess of £12 million.
So it is fitting that our first visit on our adventure across England to visit Heritage Railway sites should be here at Didcot Railway Centre. We arrived at 1000 but could not gain access as the time had changed till 1030. However, at 1030 we gained access and headed down to where the Locomotives were sitting waiting for our visit. There was hardly anyone there and it was if we had a private visit. As always, the Locomotives were in top shape as were all the commercial carriages. A lot of work had been done by the volunteers during COVID and that work was really evident. We had a very good visit and left around 1245 for our visit at the Watercress Line.
The country is not as burnt looking as Lincolnshire or Yorkshire but still desperately needs some rain. With that the countryside we were passing through was typical English with its paddocks surrounded by the hedges and wildlife refuge barriers and then the villages that were dotted around the landscape, peaceful beautiful.
We were to visit the Mid Hants Railway, better known as the Watercress Line. The line opened in 1865 as the Mid Hants Railway Company with 4 passenger services each weekday. There were quite a few changes from then to the time British Rail stopped the service on 4 February 1973. However in 1975 a company and preservation society formed to purchase the railway, raising funds through share issue. Why British Rail removed the existing track and ballast in 1976 can only be surmised but in 1977 Mid Hants Railway reopened the line from Alresford to Ropley as a heritage railway. By 1985 the line had been extended to Alton, running 16 kilometres from Alresford to Alton and this was what we rode on today.
As part of the line is single line, there is a safety system which prevents any train going onto that part of the line without a specific large key. The key is picked up before the single phase of the line and is carried from there to Alresford where it is put into its special home in the signal box. We rode on the train until we reached Ropley where some debussed and spent time around the station and workshops prior to the train returning and we were picked up and returned to Alresford Station. We then headed to our hotel, The Royal Chase Hotel that in its earlier life was a Monastery. Arrived late at 1835 and changed dinner to 1900. Dinner was really nice and most finished with a sticky date pudding with ice cream and cream.
Big day again tomorrow visiting 2 special Heritage Railways before dinner at Buckfast Abbey. Looking forward to this adventure.