The South West of England: Pt 27 – Buckfastleigh (For South Devon Railway)

Leaving the beautiful surroundings of Buckfast Abbey, we made the short 1 mile journey to the next village along, Buckfastleigh, which is also the home of the South Devon Railway…


Status: Teignbridge District, Devon, Town, England

Date: 10/08/2014

Travel: Car

Eating & Sleeping: N/A

Attractions: The Valiant Soldier, South Devon Railway etc

Leigh 1

We drove through the town of Buckfastleigh itself on the way towards the railway, and there are a few landmarks to look out for as you pass through, but the one that stuck out for me was “The Valiant Soldier”. It’s got an interesting history, which began in the 1700’s, when it was built as a house. By 1813 it was registered as a pub, owned by Norman & Pring Ltd, from the nearby city of Exeter. It became a popular local inn over the next 150 years, until one day in 1965…

The story goes that the local brewery decided there were too many pubs in Buckfastleigh, and withdrew the license from the “The Valiant Soldier”. When that happened, everybody left, the patrons, the staff, the customers, but there was no tidying up, no closing down. Everything stayed the same, from the dust to the change in the till, and time almost stopped in the pub. Even though the Roberts family, who were running it at the time, bought the pub from the brewery a few years later, they never opened the doors again. Mr Roberts passed away 4 years after the pub closed, and his wife Alice stayed on the top floor as a resident until the 1990’s, but since then the pub is still in it’s 1965 state, and visitors can come in at certain times of the year to view this unique building. You can find out more about this piece of history here.

Leigh 2

We moved on to the railway, where there are two different car parks you can stop in. We parked up in the far one, and to access the platform you have to cross an old footbridge which crosses the rails themselves. Unlike many of the other heritage railways we have been too, this is standard gauge (4 ft 8 1/2 inches) which is in common use on mainstream Railways as well as in other countries like the USA and Australia.

The line starts in Buckfastleigh, and runs around 6.5 miles to the town of Totnes, which is interesting as the Dartmouth Steam Railway, another local heritage railway, also runs into Totnes. We haven’t been to many places where two heritage railways terminate in the same town. Like most heritage railways, it was originally built as a public use train line, between Totnes and Ashburton, past Buckfastleigh, which opened in 1872. It joined the GWR (Great Western Railway) in 1897, and then British Rail when the various different lines were nationalised and came under government control. Thanks to the Beeching cuts in the 1960’s, the line closed in 1962. It was quickly bought and re-opened as a tourist line by a group of local businessmen. You may have noticed that I said originally the line ran to Ashburton? In 1971 the A38, which runs from Buckfastleigh to Ashburton, was widened and the line past Buckfastleigh was cut off, reducing the line by 2 and a half miles to it’s present length.

Leigh 3

Just after we reached the platform, the train pulled into the station, with one of the old Great Western Railway locomotives from the early 1930’s at it’s head. It’s a beautiful locomotive, and it’s been a while since we have seen a full size steam engine, seen as we volunteer at a narrow gauge steam railway.

Leigh 4

Behind the platform and the main station building is a storage yard, where a number of other loco’s can be found. This particular one is called Lady Angela, built in 1936 by Peckett & Sons in the city of Bristol, Gloucestershire. For any train spotters out there, it’s operation number is 1690, and in the 1970’s was moved to Shackerstone Railway, until 1976 when Dennis Braybrook, part of the South Devon Railway, bought the engine. He sadly passed away and his wife gave the engine to the railway for safe keeping. At the moment is isn’t actually running, but is on proud display to all visitors.

It’s name comes from Angela Mariota Tollemache, the 2nd wife of the 3rd Baron of Belper, Algernon Strutt (1883 – 1956) as the owned the estate where the engine originally worked, a Gypsum mine in Kingston-upon-Soar, in the English county of Nottinghamshire.

The Lady Angela is but one of an impressive collection of engine’s kept on the railway, which includes Diesel engines, which we would see later. Some of the smaller engines in it’s collection however, are shown below…

Leigh 5

Inside the railway shop to the left of the Lady Angela, they have a fantastic OO Gauge model railway, which is amazingly detailed and kept in a large glass case, for customers to marvel at as they browse. They do have Hornby stock in the shop, from trucks to engines to rolling stock, along with the scenery and building materials to go along with it. We also found a brilliant map that shows most of the other Heritage Railways in the United Kingdom, totalling around 160, which Gemma bought and hung up in the shop at the West Lancashire Light Railway (WLLR, where we volunteer) when we got back home. It has captivated visitors to the WLLR and its amazing how spread out all the railways are around the country.

Leigh 6

Moving further round the back of the platform and station buildings, you will find the other locomotives I mentioned earlier. This diesel is a class 37, No.37275 which was previously operating on the mainline routes with a company called Harry Needle. The South Devon Railway made a deal with Needle and had it transferred to them, and in return they sent a Class 20 No.20118 back for use on the mainlines. It has been much restored, as when it arrived it was in a sorry state.

Leigh 7

One of the many steam engines on show includes this one, called the “Dumbleton Hall”, No.4920. It was built in 1929 in Swindon, Wiltshire, for use on the Great Western Railway (GWR), and is a member of the “Hall” class, designed by Charles Benjamin Collett (1871 – 1952, Engineer on the GWR) and a further 258 models were built.

The locomotive is named after an actual house called Dumbleton Hall near Evesham in Worcestershire, which dates back to 1830. Like the Lady Angela, 4920 is out of use at the moment and by the looks of it is a good candidate for some extra restoration work.

Leigh 8

We moved onto the platform, and into the museum building, where a number of artefacts from the history of both this railway and many others reside. My favourite piece of the collection is called Tiny, No.2180, which is unique as it is apparently the last surviving GWR broad gauge locomotive left. When the GWR was originally built by Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859, English Engineer who also built the Clifton Suspension Bridge and SS Great Britain in Bristol), it was done in Broad Gauge, or 7 ft 0.1/4 Inch, and it was later converted down to standard gauge, pioneered in Britain by George Stephenson (1781 – 1848, English Engineer), in 1892.

This stunning piece of engineering was built in 1868, by a company called Sara & Co based in the major Devon city of Plymouth. It began life as a shunter in the town of Newton Abbot, until the GWR purchased it in the 1880’s and it began running on the line. The machine has been here at Buckfastleigh since 1980, on display for the public to enjoy its amazing design. The rest of the museum is full of detail and incredible old items, so if you ever get to visit spend some time in the museum and see what you discover.

Leigh 9

Sadly we didn’t have time to actually ride the train as it was still a bit of a distance back to the Caravan in Stoke Fleming near Dartmouth, so we set off. On the way, we passed the line and as it happened we met the train, with the D7612 at the front. This is a diesel engine which is a class 25 engine, also known as a Sulzer Type 2. It was built for use in Glasgow in the 1960’s but by 1967 it had moved down towards the English Midlands, and ended up in Bescot, part of Walsall in the West Midlands, in 1973. It remained in service in a variety of locations over the next few decades, including a maintenance depot at Kingmoor in the Northern city of Carlisle, until 1987 when the whole class was taken out of service. Harry Needle then took possession, before it was bought by the East Lancashire Railway, which runs from near Bury in Lancashire up to the town of Rawtenstall. It arrived here in Devon in 1999 and is currently running passenger services on this line.

The South Devon Railway is a great place to visit, and a trip on the line must be even more incredible. As I said it terminates in the town of Totnes, where you could get another steam train to the village of Kingswear on the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which lies opposite the larger town of Dartmouth, accessible via the Dartmouth Ferries. You can find out more info about visiting the South Devon Railway, on their official website here.


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