I’ve never really classed myself as a train enthusiast. I enjoy travelling by train, and I do find there is something rather magical about steam trains, but I’m not mad about them. However, when I found out that part of The Blogger’s Retreat Visit Somerset trip was a ride on the West Somerset Railway, I did get a little bit excited. There’s something rather quaint about heritage railways that makes them rather appealing. I’m not an expert, but in my experience the stations are usually very pretty, the railway is usually run by volunteers, and it’s a lovely way to watch the countryside go by. The West Somerset Railway certainly fitted that description!
The West Somerset Railway is a heritage steam railway which travels for 20 miles between Bishops Lydeard and Minehead in Somerset. It’s the longest independent railway in Britain and, if you are in the area, it’s certainly worth the visit. Apparently it’s one of the largest attractions in South West England as it carries over 200,000 passengers a year. Dogs are also allowed on board (providing they have a ticket!) meaning that you can make it a day out for the whole family.
The carriage next door to the one I was sitting in was described to us as a ‘Harry Potter’ carriage, as it was split into compartments just like on the Hogwarts Express. It certainly felt as though you could sit there eating chocolate frogs and feel the books come to life around you.
We travelled the full length of the line and luckily the rain stopped before we embarked on our trip, allowing us to fully appreciate the countryside surroundings. Everything was so lush and green! With gently rolling hills and lambs in the fields it felt like a stereotypical English spring day. As we got closer to Minehead, we were treated to coastline views of the Bristol Channel and in the distance you could just about make out South Wales. It was very picturesque, and far too easy to just sit back and watch the world go by.
A lot of the stations that we passed through were very pretty and covered in flowers, but my favourite station had to be Stogumber, simply for the name! As Lucy from On The Luce said, “it sounds like it belongs in a Roald Dahl book!” We didn’t get off at any of the stations en route, but I imagine that they would have been gateways to some cute little villages and excellent countryside walks. If I go back I will certainly take my time and hop on and off the train, more like I did on the Keighley and Worth Valley railway (another journey I’d recommend).
Arriving in Minehead was a bit of a strange experience for me. I last visited Minehead on a family holiday when I was a child; a memory that many people might share, although we weren’t staying in Butlins. All I could remember was it being a seaside town that we arrived at towards the end of the day, sitting on a wall and eating fish and chips with our dog, before getting back in the car for a drive around Exmoor.
I have to admit, my first impressions this time weren’t great. It was cold, it was grey, the tide was out and other than the Butlins fairground in the distance, there didn’t appear to be much going on. However, first impressions can be deceiving and once I’d wandered along the front a little way, allowing time for the sun to start coming out, I was starting to admire the town.
There were a collection of beautiful cottages lining the sea-front; the sort that you can imagine filled with sea shells and driftwood found on the beach. I found that I was suddenly walking more slowly, taking the time to admire each one and the flowers in the gardens, rather than looking for a shelter from the biting wind.
After a while, I came across a sign to Blenheim Gardens which I decided to follow, rather than continuing further to see some of the boats in the harbour. I think it’s a sign of age that I’m slowly becoming more attracted to gardens (when I was younger I couldn’t see the fascination unless there was a play park!) but there is no better time to view a garden than in Spring when all of the flowers are starting to come out. Compared to the more muted colours of the cottages that I’d just seen, suddenly there was a riot of vibrant colours which were being quietly enjoyed by the many people occupying the benches in the garden.
Thinking I maybe had just enough time to go back and see the harbour as well, I realised that actually it was time to go and I felt slightly sad – not the reaction I’d expected when I first arrived. Luckily the weather made my departure slightly easier, deciding to pour down just as I got back on our mini-bus! Whilst I enjoyed my trip to Minehead, I wouldn’t plan to spend a full day here if you are in the area. Instead, I’d combine the trip with a visit to the nearby medieval of Dunster. I remember going here on a previous holiday and thought it was lovely, with the castle being particularly worth visiting. There was a striking view of Dunster Castle from the West Somerset Railway line which reminded me that it’s somewhere I need to visit again.
Disclaimer: My trip on the West Somerset Railway to Minehead was courtesy of Visit Somerset and Visit England. All opinions are my own, as usual.