Our recent trip to Devon brought back memories of my first sight of the West Country, when I was very young. My father decided it would be fun to visit his sister and my cousins in Yealmpton (near Plymouth) by train, taking the coastal route for much of the journey.
Plymouth Hoe 1953
One vivid memory I have is of the railway line beyond Exeter, right next to the sea! Miraculously, we didn't tumble off the rails and into the salty waves. A month ago I rediscovered the thrilling setting.
This is Starcross, near Dawlish. The red brick tower is a Victorian pumping station, built for Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Atmospheric Railway which ran between Exeter and Plymouth for barely a year - 1847 to 1848.
This means of rail transport was an expensive experiment built by Brunel and others in various locations, and involved, to put it simply, the propulsion of the train by suction. The salty spray on this seaside route meant that leather seals on vital vacuum pipes were difficult to keep in good condition and, when greased and oiled with tallow, became tasty treats for rats. The experiment was a failure...
...but trains still run along the track.
Railways are written into my family's history. They enjoyed the romance of the journey. They travelled to the hills above Darjeeling on the Himalayan Railway, as well as around Britain and Europe - on trains.
And they worked on the railways - navvies in the Welsh Marches, plate-layers and station masters in Buckinghamshire, signalmen and train drivers on the Southern Region. It's in our blood.
(If you are old enough to know the name of the passenger, I promise I won't tell!)
Clickety clack. Clickety clack. Wooooo Wooooo!