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“A return to Toddington please.” – Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway

As we missed the narrow-gauge railway the last time we visited “The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway” at Toddington. We made a return visit having checked that the narrow-gauge trains were running.

If we were in any doubt that the light railway was operating they were immediately dispelled as we arrived at the site and rounded a bend to see a plume of smoke disappearing up the track from the opposite side of the complex. After parking up, and donning raincoats, we headed for the little ticket office to ascertain the times of the next departure. Finding we had forty minutes to spare we headed for the Flag and Whistle café.

It is a delightful place, very clean, the food was good, the staff were lovely, and it was not overly expensive. The walls are adorned with replicas of engine name plates. Paul pointed out the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Co. Merchant Navy Class replica over the entrance door. There was a birthday celebration in progress and we all sang happy birthday to Ken and Beryl (no idea who they were but we sang along). Singing and hot chocolate finished we headed back over to the ticket office.

My other half purchased two tickets and very soon after, the familiar hiss of a steam train could be herd as a lovely steam engine rounded the bend towards the station.  It looked very picturesque as it emerged through a cloud of its own steam and drew to a halt.

It turned out to be Polish engine, 0-6-0 side tank, built in1957 and named TOURSKA. The fireman and driver took some photos of the cab for me and then we hopped on board an absolutely charming, but very basic, carriage that had a stove on board (dismantled now for safety).

Our guard was lovely and extremely knowledgeable. Pulling out of the station we passed some extra rolling stock and some tip wagons, all tipped up and standing to attention like a row of soldiers. We halted at “California Crossing” signal box and engine shed.  We visited the engine shed first passing an engaging 32mm lay out on route.

At the shed we first saw a blue diesel Hunslet poking its nose out of the building, inside we found three carriages, the first two were built on Hudson tip wagon chassis not the most comfortable of rides, I am sure,,but fascinating to see their construction. The third carriage was a restored old Roadrail carriage (thought to be the only one in existence).

There was a film playing in the shed that showed the Roadrail operating. They were rather ungainly engines with normal wheels that could be hoisted up, or were wide enough apart, to follow flat ground beside a track where the train wheels ran. Our lovely guard informed us that they were innovative in their time, even John Buchan (Author of 39 Steps), was one of the first investors in this mode of transport.  You can view the film here. Hubby has also very recently read a piece about this unusual mode of transport in the “Narrow Gauge and Industrial Review” magazine issue number 114 page 57. You can imagine his excitement to actually see a carriage.

I dragged my husband away from the Roadrail carriage to look at a German built Henschel + Sohn engine, a magnificent beast, one of 2500 built for the war effort. Its works number is 15968 and it was built in 1918 just too late to be in military service, so it ended up at the Naklo sugar factory in Poland transporting sugar beet. Mechanically it is a pannier tank (again we had a bit of a debate, could it be a side tank?) 0-8-0 and has external Stephenson’s link valve gear, and features Klein-Lindner axles front and rear to allow the wheels to move laterally and radially with respect to the axle itself.  It came to Toddington in 1985.

We also saw another Hunslet, Chakaskraal No. 6, which originally was an “Avonside Engine Co..” of Bristol design, but they closed down in 1934 and Hunslet acquired the goodwill. This beautiful locomotive spent its working life in South Africa working for “Gledhow Chakaskraal Sugar Co. Ltd” in Natal, finally returning to this country in 1981.

Engine shed explored we turned our attention to the signalbox. What a magnificent experience. This signal box was originally situated in Gloucester and still has the mechanism that was used to open and close the level crossing gates and the leavers for the smaller pedestrian picket gates.  It has a Tyers patent tablet dispenser, a very reliable method to maintain safety on the tracks ensuring the line is clear for a loco to proceed.  All the leavers for the points, and all the dials showing line clear, line blocked and train on line, like majestic mantle clocks above the leavers.  You can imagine the sound of “ting,ting” as trains travelled up and down the line.

Too soon we were boarding the train again to follow the line to its end, not a long journey, but a pleasant one. On the return route we stopped to refill at the water tower. Back in the station we decided to stay on the train and repeat the journey as our ticket allowed.  If you are an enthusiast a second look at the engine shed and signal box is a must.

We had a lovely time and as we headed for home hubby promised to find the article in the Narrow Gauge and Industrial Magazine for me to read about the Roadrail.