Sunday 29 October 2017

Let's Go To Instow (5)

We Could Have Gone by Train : Part 2
Stand at the northern end of Barnstaple Station  and there is nothing to see except the station car park and the more recent road network.
But once upon a time there was a railway junction. Bear right and cross the River Taw and you were on your way to Ilfracombe ...
... bear left and the route takes you to Bideford. The bridges and the road over them have all gone, being replaced by a super junction linking to the spectacular Taw Bridge ...
... seen above just before opening when pedestrians were invited to cross.

One on-line source refers to the bridge at the far end of the car park as being built to allow the possible re-opening of the line to Bideford.
This seems highly unlikely (station bottom right) as the "next road round" the roundabout has no underbridge ...
... and cyclists seeking to traverse the Tarka Trail have a somewhat circuitous expedition to rejoin their route along the former branch (blue sign).
The first station along the line was Fremington.
A distinctive feature was the tall signalbox, but the community's fame was in its quay.
It claimed to be the biggest docks facility between Bristol and Cornwall, importing coal, building materials and general goods and exporting ball cay from quarries near Torrington.
Freight continued until well after passenger services were withdrawn.

The station has been re-created and serves as a superb cafe and visitor centre ...
... with a re-imagining of that tall signal box.
Next along the line, travelling west, was East Yelland Power Station.
Long since gone ...
... it had both rail and sea connections.
The power station opened in 1955 and closed in 1984.

Next the line curves southwest to get to Instow.
Here are preserved a length of track, a rusty signal or two ...
... and the signalbox.
The station building (below, upper right) ...
... has lost its canopy but still stands in the ownership of the local yacht club.
And so to Bideford. When originally opened the line stopped short of the town at Cross Parks as shown in this ancient engraving.
Later it was extended to a more convenient location nearer to the Town Bridge ...
... but actually in the community of East-the-Water.
The line continued south to Torrington.

The bits and pieces at Instow are under the care of the Bideford Railway Heritage Centre which has a collection of rolling stock and a small diesel loco at Bideford Station.
Of interest is that the town's Royal Hotel had an entrance direct on to the station platform for the benefit of rail-borne passengers.
Recent history provided a particular burst of fame for the line and the bit of the Tarka Train between Bideford and Barnstaple. It was the site of James May's "Great Train Race" when an OO loco ran all the way between the two.
Buffers Model Shop (at Colston Cross, near Axminster) was very much involved in the project ...
... and the model loco which completed the trip is still "preserved" (and still working!) in the shop.

Thus it would have been possible around 60 years ago for an fbb-and-Mrs clone to get to Instow from Seaton by train all the way.

Seaton to Seaton Junction
Seaton Junction to Exeter Central
Exeter Central to Barnstaple and Instow

Unfortunately, your chubby blogger does not have a suitable rail timetable, so cannot work out how long it would have taken. (Any offers out there?) By car the single journey took 1 hour and 45 minutes!

There may not be much working railway beyond Barnstaple, but there is certainly plenty to explore. Still to be researched, Barnstaple to Ilfracombe and Bideford to Westward Ho! and Appledore.

 Next newsworthy blog : Monday 30th October 


  1. From the winter 1956 timetable:

    Seaton dep 0825
    Seaton Junction arr 0838, dep 0842
    Barnstaple Junction arr 1110, dep 1123
    Instow arr 1135

    (The original timings are shown in 12 hour clock).

    The Sunday timetable only offered three trains to North Devon, while services from Seaton to the Junction were by bus (shown in the timetable). But the only one that offered reasonable connections for the whole journey would have been by departing Seaton at 6.0pm, which gave an Instow arrival of 10.9pm.

  2. Some comments on this series of posts.

    I've found them particularly interesting, as earlier this month I had a Rail Rover based in Exeter, including my first ever trip on the "Tarka Line" to Barnstaple.

    The line was closed for engineering work on the Sunday. The need for this was obvious during my trip (on the Thursday), as, even allowing for being on a Class 143 Pacer, the ride quality in places was dreadful. So I would recommend FBB to wait until improvements are complete before he has a trip on the line.

    I was impressed with Barnstaple station. I had thought about catching a bus to Ilfracombe, so was pleased to see that they pull in to the station forecourt. A photo taken there (which I will email to FBB) is of a "North Devon Wave" decker, which I didn't think looked forlorn. In the end my timings didn't allow a bus ride, so I walked into Barnstaple town.

    After seeing many bus stops near the shops, I eventually found the bus station, which might have been easier to find from a different direction. It seemed adequate for a place the size of Barnstaple, though I imagine many passengers use the other stops.

    I didn't try the bus station cafe, but I did buy a coffee from the railway station cafe to take on the train, and can recommend it.

  3. The Grauniad reported on Jeremy Corbyn's recent visit to Barnstaple. He apparently made mention of his train journey from Exeter and, in particular, 'the rather bumpy ride'.

  4. Andrew Kleissner30 October 2017 at 07:18

    I can't speak for the Tarka line, but I took a journey on the East Suffolk Line a year ago and some of the track was not only jointed but had the old 45-foot rails. I hadn't come across those since riding the Mid-Hants line in pre-preservation days! when was that last relaid???