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Friday 14 June 2013

A Railway Adventure

An apt title because booking a seat on a steam train excursion over the UK mainline network has to be undertaken with an understanding that the unexpected may occur. Vintage steam trains are old and can fail causing delays, postponement or, loco replacement (perhaps with a diesel) at short notice.

And so it was with some apprehension we set out on a dull, drizzly summer morning to meet our train for our first excursion, having booked seats a couple of months in advance for a birthday treat.

The service was the Swanage Belle hauled by a Southern Railway locomotive, the Bulleid Pacific 'Tangmere'. Joining at Basingstoke it would take us via Southampton and Bournemouth to Wareham and then along the single branch of the Heritage Railway to Swanage. A few hours exploring the town and sea front before returning via Romsey and Salisbury.

Now, Tangmere had failed on another tour 4 days beforehand but with no notification of schedule change our expectation was that it would be repaired in time. Not to be so. On the day of departure a change of locomotive was announced and I assumed it was to be a diesel.

But, joy of joy as the station announcer reported the train was at Winchfield taking on water - this meant it had to be a steam locomotive. A little while later and another announcement that the train was delayed due to a 'problem'! About 15 minutes of uncertainty before the train pulled into platform 2.

The locomotive was Class 5MT (Black 5) 44932, which I had photographed nearly 3 years earlier from lineside hauling the same excursion!

Settling into our seats, the old maroon carriages were spacious, comfortable and very clean. A booklet was given out to passengers containing quite detailed information about sights to see along the route, timings, gradients, maps and colour photos. As the journey progressed the weather brightened and sunshine enhanced the expansive, lush green views of the British countryside. Herds of cows and horses stampeded across fields spooked by our own stallion in full flight. There was a great feeling of nostalgia hearing the rhythmic beat of the steam loco with puffs of white smoke passing the window occasionally sending a few smuts of coal dust through the open window onto the table before us. Enthusiasts and onlookers spaced out along the lineside and stations photographed our progress or waved enthusiastically.

Throughout the journey staff shuttled to and fro answering questions, staging a raffle (first prize another excursion), offered pastries, sandwiches and scones at cut prices to clear remaining stock and most importantly frequently cleared the tables of picnic waste. An exemplary service throughout.

If the journey was not enjoyable enough we then had the excitement of stepping back in time on the Swanage Railway to see vintage rolling stock, locomotives and station architecture, not forgetting the pleasures of a seaside resort.

All in all an enjoyable and well organised day out.

Excursion Organiser.

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