Written by Steph Woolvin, Part 3
We tried that….
DARTMOUTH STEAM RAILWAY FOOT PLATE EXPERIENCE
In this feature we send our reporter Steph Woolvin to try a variety of activities around Dartmouth and Kingswear. She discovers how challenging, exciting or relaxing they are and reports back! This month she donned her overalls, popped on some suitable footwear and helped drive the Dartmouth steam train......
As we move off and pick up speed trees, meadows and streams start whooshing by. You can certainly feel the wind in your hair even though we’re only going 25mph. “We could actually do 45mph,” says Andy “but it’s only a seven mile stretch of railway so we would probably be in Paignton in 15 minutes!” Each time Jack opens the door to the firebox the burst of heat is quite overpowering but the boys don’t even flinch! Apparently the temperature in there can get up to 1,800 degrees on coal coming from Northumberland, Wales and Russia.
As we pull into Churston we have a quick break waiting for the Kingswear bound train to pass. It was quite a relief to leave the hot engine and step into the cool air on the platform, but after five minutes on the bench I couldn’t wait to get back in and set off again. We travel over viaducts passing high above houses, and coloured beach huts at Broadsands, then wave to people lined up with their cameras at Goodrington Sands. Just before approaching Paignton Jack puts on his fluorescent jacket and jumps down to open the level crossing (which is shared with Network Rail). This part of the line runs parallel to the mainline so they often run alongside a Virgin or Great Western. Andy says some of the mainline drivers have a spirit of fun and there’s been the odd race between electric and steam! “There can’t be many places in the country where that happens,” he says, with a cheeky grin.
At Paignton Jack unhooks the engine and Andy expertly lines up the 87 tonne engine underneath the water tank. He then jumps out to refill the water – a job that needs to be done regularly as they use up to a thousand galleons per trip. It doesn’t take long before crowds of people appear outside the engine eager to take photos and quiz Jack. I asked if he gets tired of the attention: “We like it, although you sometimes get people who know a lot about steam engines and want to tell you everything right there and then! We don’t have a huge amount of time to talk, especially in the summer when the turn around is less than 15 minutes. Although we always find time to wave to the little boy who stands at the Sands Road level crossing pretty much everyday. He even taps at his watch if we’re late!”
The Footplate Experience costs £85 and you need to be 18. Andy says they enjoy having new faces to chat to each day; “I’d say we probably see more men than women but it’s actually quite nice having ladies up here as they don’t mind asking lots of questions - men tend to be a little more reserved” (apparently more cautious about revealing gaps in their engineering knowledge). “We see excited 70-year-olds who’re fulfilling a lifelong dream, eager 18-year-olds who have been given this as a birthday present and all ages between. If you fancy a go or know someone who would appreciate a voucher just click here.