Monday, 25 May 2015

The Cotswold Festival of Steam...

Hello everyone. This was a last minute outing to the 12-mile long Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway at Toddington. The annual Cotswold Festival of Steam Gala would be taking place over the bank holiday weekend and the line-up was too good to miss. With the bill topped by two Bullied West Country Pacifics and a Modified Hall, the trio would also be joined by four resident engines to complete the theme: "Speed To The West". I arrived at the GWSR base of Toddington at around 8:40am and was greeted on arrival by the parking staff. Having purchased my ticket and walked onto the platform, I was met with the pretty sight of the double-headed 9am departure. Headed by the immaculate Heavy Tank No4270 and visiting "Raveningham Hall", the train would run to Cheltenham Racecourse via a non-stop blast through Winchcombe. I decided to join this train and picked a good 'window position'. The pair got away smartly and showed off their true Great Western pedigrees as they took off along GWSR metals. Upon arrival at Cheltenham I left the train to see the immaculate Hall Class 4-6-0, built at Swindon in 1944...
"Raveningham Hall" is an ex-GWSR resident and was visiting this weekend from the West Somerset Railway. The lovely 4270 was built in 1919 and completed her restoration at Toddington. I really like these Heavy Tanks. Interestingly they are driven off the second driving axle rather than the third, unlike the 28/38xx types, resulting in a shorter connecting rod...
Having watched 4270 run round I reboarded the train and found a seat with a cuppa'. Despite it being May the weather wasn't the warmest and so the sanctuary of the coaches provided a warm haven. A film crew filming a documentary for Channel 4 happened to sit by me and chatted about what they were making; an unusual conversation that was...
Having left the Hall at Cheltenham awaiting her next turn, 4270 marched back towards Winchcombe via Gotherington. The GWSR countryside is lovely...
I alighted at Winchcombe in order to catch the goings on at this bustling passing station. Clearing the next section to make way for 4270 was BR-built No7820 "Dinmore Manor", hauling a freight train bound for Cheltenham Racecourse...
In the bay platform at Winchcombe was a third, out of steam Bullied. This is Merchant Navy Class No35006 "P & O". The massive pacific has been undergoing restoration at the GWSR for a long time and is now nearing completion. Built in 1941 and rebuilt in 1959, the engine is massive, weighing in at around 95 tons without the tender! The engine has had some test steamings but has yet to make it to the magic blowing off pressure. The engine will however be running, so they say, by the summer...
Members of the 35006 group were aboard the footplate of their engine allowing visitors on board. Taking a look at the almost space age controls of this Southern giant, we can see how Bullied's innovations made a change from the designs that preceded them. 100mph performances were not uncommon and the overall bulk of the engine made for a very strong machine. The slightly smaller West Country and Battle of Britain classes could only boost the Southern image...
Having put a fiver in the 35006 donation tin, I carried on walking around the station. The TPO coach houses an impressive model railway whilst the station building boasts a pleasant tea room. As part of the gala attractions the Carriage & Wagon department was open for tours and, though not a C & W enthusiast myself, I thought it was worth a look. Well, what a place. Shackerstone wagon repairer supremo Graham has been talking about this place for a good while and seemed quite in awe of it: quite rightly so! I walked into the new building which houses a workshop and a purpose built paint-shop. This converted TSO is now the GWSR Santa coach and was receiving some attention...
The carriage & wagon works transforms rolling stock from tattered lumps to immaculate pieces of rail engineering over a matter of months. My guide explained that it takes about 3 months to overhaul a coach from start to finish, depending on the amount of work required. They had three coaches in the works today, as well as a few wagons. Each of the coaches was in a different state of repair from just started to nearly done. The guide explained that the process involves volunteers working on them four days a week...yes, you read it right, four days a week. As well as the building itself they have all of the equipment (including their own fully serviced lifting jacks) required to do the job. Its a great place; a really tremendous concern. Out the back of the carriage works stood the standby loco for the morning shift and currently the oldest working GWR engine so I'm told: 2-8-0 No2807...
At the back of the carriage shed you could see all of the comings and the goings on the line. Here, one of the stars of the show: West Country Class No34092 "City of Wells": arrives from Toddington...
"City of Wells" is currently only carrying the name "Wells". I believe this is because she is waiting for the Bishop of Wells to re-christen her when he/she gets a free day! 34092 is based on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway and has gained the name "Volcano" during its preservation career. This is because she is fitted with a Giesel ejector system which creates a pretty atomic exhaust when working hard. With "Wells" having cleared the section, sister engine "Wadebridge" duly departed. Next down the line was 4270 again...
With the section clear once again, the loud and very nippy 6960 got the freight train away in smart style...
Returning to the platforms of the station I enjoyed a fresh cuppa' before awaiting the next Toddington bound train, hauled by 34092...
As I crossed the bridge the assembled hoards were already boarding the coaches...
With the Planet's Favourite Prairie No5542 having cleared the line, "Wells" got her train away. The West Country class put in a spirited performance and had the 7-coach train up to line speed before long...
Back at Toddington I caught a glimpse of some of the road steamers in the yard...
Burrell 'Devonshire' Engine "Coeur De Lion" of 1913...
Just behind the road steamers was the terminus of the North Gloucestershire Railway; a thriving little 2ft gauge operation. This line has four steamers in its care and two of them were in action today. Here is one of them, No15, simmering in the car park station awaiting the next up train...
With No15 showing no signs of movement, I wandered over to the platforms to watch the next train leave. This train was hauled by the Manor Class No7820...
Out in the car park, Barry Wreck No2874 stood forlorn and awaiting much attention...
Soon enough, there was movement on the narrow gauge. 0-8-0 Henschel No1091 had just arrived whilst sister 0-8-0 No15 had taken up her place at the head of the next train. The NGR trains roll down the bank to their base at California Crossing where I believe a shed tour takes place. The train then continues to Didbrook where the loco runs round before coming back up non stop. The run isn't much, about half a mile, but its nice to see a thriving little operation looking after historic engines...
Over at the station by now crowds were gathering to see the days highlight, though the wrong way around: double-headed Spam's. The nickname 'Spamcan' was forced onto the air-smoothed Bullieds as they arrived on the scene at the same time as the American processed meat product did. Here, "Wells" and "Wadebridge" get away from Toddington with a fully loaded 7-coach train...
Having watched the two Bullieds depart I decided it was time to call it a day. We're off on a short holiday tomorrow and I really should start packing. All in all the day had been fab. Seven engines in steam plus the NGR pair and some roaders, packed trains and an intensive timetable: what more could you want. The GWSR certainly know how to put on a gala. Well done to them and all of their volunteers for putting on a great show: I really enjoyed it. All the best guys, Sam...

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