‘Strawberry Special’ Vintage Coach Tour – 7th September 2013
On Saturday 7th September over eighty members and visitors enjoyed our unique trip down memory lane by vintage coach commemorating the last passenger train to run on the Strawberry Line. The day triggered many carefree memories of days gone by, travel by steam – some on the Strawberry Line itself and even on that actual last train exactly fifty years ago to the day!
The event was organised in collaboration with Winscombe & Sandford Millennium Green Trust and Axbridge Sea Cadets to whom we are indebted for adding so much to the event. Three tours from the Heritage Centre visiting Winscombe and Axbridge historic stations down the Strawberry Line were scheduled during the day.
Sadly, the advertised 1950’s Bedford OB coach developed an oil leak and was unable to run, but the day was saved by another vintage beauty, the larger Devon General AC. The first stop was ‘Winscombe Old Station’, now owned and managed by members of the local community as a Millennium Green environment and heritage site.
Here visitors were ‘wowed’ to arrive at a nostalgic scene of people on the platform waiting for an imaginary train in 1963. ‘Stop the Clock’, a living history performed by the volunteers of W &S Millennium Green Trust, related the story of Winscombe station from opening in 1869 to closure and regeneration as a Millennium Green in 2000.
On the busy platform the imposing figure of Mr. Veal, the last stationmaster at Winscombe, was looking at his watch. The part was appropriately played by Rod Simmons in Stationmaster Veal’s actual BR uniform, his own grandfather having been stationmaster at Chard. A porter was ready to assist with luggage. A businessman commuting to the city, couples off on a jaunt, women with baskets of fruit and flowers from the garden visiting relatives, holiday makers, cyclists, golfers, girls in ‘minis’ going to town adding a touch of sixties ‘glam’ were all departing.
Parked by the remnants of the GWR station, a 50’s Raleigh bicycle, Morris Minor, 2½ litre Rover Coupe and Ford Zodiac, drew admirers.
Then off to Axbridge, ironically, travelling down the bypass which was built on the former track-bed shortly after closure of the line. The land was purchased by Somerset County Council for the highways scheme and the main station building has been used since that time for youth activities. It is now, newly in the hands of Weston Sea Cadets for training on the reservoir nearby. This was a rare opportunity to see inside the larger station built to serve the bustling mediaeval town and thriving local strawberry trade of 1869. The station, which had opened its doors for the day, laid on a superb display of archive material and photographs of historic events relating to the railway in Axbridge from the ‘Cutting of the First Sod’ of the Yatton and Cheddar Valley Railway at Shute Shelve Hill, the extensive strawberry traffic, followed by decline and the building of the bypass on the dismantled track-bed with its knock-on effect on the mediaeval town.
Back at our own wonderful Bristol and Exeter station, tea and cake was waiting. At tables set on the flower-filled platform, or in the old quarry waggons alongside. Visitors had opportunity to look round the Centre, the iconic BR MK1 carriage and also take in an exhibition relating to the last train, closure, dismantling and demolition of the line locally.
The exhibition will remain at the station until the end of October when the Centre closes.