On The Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys
Michael Williams has spent the past year travelling along the fascinating rail byways of Britain for this new collection of journeys. Here is the ‘train to the end of the world’ running for more than four splendid hours through lake, loch and moorland from Inverness to Wick, the most northerly town in Britain. He discovers a perfect country branch line in London’s commuterland, and travels on one of the slowest services in the land along the shores of the lovely Dovey estuary to the far west of Wales. He takes the stopping train across the Pennines on a line with so few services that its glorious scenery is a secret known only to the regulars. Here, too, is the Bittern Line in Norfolk and the Tarka Line in North Devon as well as the little branch line to the fishing port of Looe in Cornwall, rescued from closure in the 1960s and now celebrating its 150th anniversary taking families on holiday to the seaside. From the most luxurious and historic – aboard the Orient Express – to the most futuristic – on the driverless trains of London’s Docklands Light Railway – here is a unique travel companion celebrating the treasures of our railway heritage from one of Britain’s most knowledgeable railway writers.
9 FEB 2012
And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews.
This is their story.
‘One man’s joyous account of his two-year, 30,000 mile quest of find Britain’s most enchanting train journeys’ – Daily Mail
‘A delicious read, an evocative tour of our heritage, vividly described’ – Evening Standard
‘Well worth reading simply for the pleasure of Michael Williams’s language’ – Bookbag
A writer’s view’ – An extract from On the Slow Train Again, chosen by Venice-Simplon Orient Express for their 2013 brochure – click here
Sun sets on a railway empire: The year is 1959, when the axe fell on most of the sprawling network of the old Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway, nicknamed the ‘Muddle and get Nowhere’. Fortunately Sheringham station lives on and can still be reached on a slow train from Norwich
Fit for a Duke: Originally the private station of the Dukes of Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle is one of the charms of the Far North Line for modern travellers. Here, a Class 158 unit arrives with an Inverness-bound train on 30 June 2010
The final whistle: Members of the Liskeard Drama Group perform the last rites for steam on the Liskeard to Looe branch, which ended on 10 September 1961. But a steam train returned nearly half a century later to celebrate the line’s 150th anniversary in autumn 2010
‘We’re neither of us free to love each other’: Famous words, spoken by Celia Johnson to Trevor Howard on the platform at Carnforth in David Lean’s 1945 film ‘Brief Encounter’, helped transform a Lancashire junction into one of the world’s most romantic settings
Pastoral in commuterland: A solitary passenger slumbers on a sultry afternoon at Ridgmont in Bedfordshire in June 2010. The Marston Vale Line offers a timeless journey through sleepy villages and rural landscapes not far from the fringes of semi-detached London
Wales’s wild west: The narrow-gauge Vale of Rheidol railway climbs 700 feet over 11 miles from Aberystwyth to Devil’s Bridge in Ceredigion. It is one of the treats accessible from the Cambrian Line, which hugs the shores of Cardigan Bay, offering one of the world’s most dramatic coastal rail rides
Small but beautiful: The Brockenhurst to Lymington branch is one of the shortest on the network but is crammed with scenic delights. It was also England’s last steam-operated branch line. Here Ivatt 2-6-2T No. 41224 approaches Lymington Junction in summer 1966
Power on the Orient Express: Class 8P Pacific Duke of Gloucester rests in London’s Victoria station after hauling the Orient Express to Bristol and back on 27 October 2010. The modern Class 67 diesel was coupled behind to generate power for the Pullman carriages
Northern soul: Class 8F 2-8-0 No 48730 lifts a westbound freight train across a viaduct in Burnley, Lancashire on 7 July 1968. The Blackpool-Colne line runs through gritty Pennine scenery along one of the historic sinews of industrial Britain. Note the absence of motor traffic
Holiday memories: An Ilfracombe-bound train from London’s Waterloo, packed with holidaymakers, crosses the River Taw at Barnstaple behind ‘West Country’ class Pacific No. 34016 Bodmin in summer 1953. Now the bridge is demolished and the old line to the coast is a cycleway
Branch-line beauty: Preserved British Railways ‘Standard’ class 2-6-0 No. 76079 crosses a bridge over the River Esk at Ruswarp, North Yorkshire, in June 2009. The 36-mile single-track line to Whitby traverses England’s green and pleasant land at its most glorious
All aboard the Time Train: London’s Docklands Light Railway is one of the most futuristic lines in the world, yet offers a spectacular historical panorama for the window-gazer. Here one of the DLR’s driverless trains pauses at City Airport station on a Bank service