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It’s full steam ahead with a day out on the West Somerset Railway

Those staying on Exmoor should definitely put the West Somerset Railway, the longest preserved railway in the UK, on their list of things to do.
Nothing beats a trip on a heritage railway, and visitors staying on the north coast of Devon are within easy reach of the West Somerset Railway, the longest preserved railway in the UK. This delightful steam train and its beautifully restored brown and cream carriages now carry passengers along a 20-mile journey through the Quantock Hills. It runs between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard, stopping at 8 other stations along the way.

Explore with the West Somerset Railway

I found the was a great way to visit some of the charming villages in the Westcountry that are hard to find (and even more difficult to drive to). With a turntable at one end and three museums to visit at various stops along the way, you can design your own day out to suit your particular interests, be it walking, nature spotting, local history, eating or exploring.

During the summer, the railway offers two services. The Dunster Castle Express runs every Wedensday and Saturday, although don’t let the word “express” mislead you. It is still a pleasant jaunt at a modest pace through the countryside and villages. The Hestercombe Express also runs every Wednesday in the opposite direction. If you happen to be renting a self-catering cottage in North Devon in December, look out for the Santa Express, Christmas Carol Trains and trips to Dunster by Candlelight.

Other specials to check out when you arrive are combined tickets for the railway and admission to Hestercombe Gardens, a return trip for a day at Butlins at Minehead and fish and chip specials in conjunction with the Somerset CAMRA group. There is plenty of parking at the main stations.

Take a trip on the Dunster Castle Express

The Dunster Castle Express leaves Bishops Lydeard at 10:25 and arrives at Dunster Station at 11:33 or thereabouts. There is a courtesy bus which will meet the train and transport you to the lovely , returning you to the station in time for the return journey at 16:12, getting back to Bishops Lydeard at 17:19 in plenty of time for tea.

On that trip we stopped to pick up or drop off passengers at Crowcombe Heathfield and Stogumber for a day’s hiking, Williton, Doniford Halt, the harbour town of Watchet, Washford (home of Cleeve Abbey) and at the coastal village of Blue Anchor before reaching Dunster and Minehead.

I did the trip with two youngsters and they loved the one-hour journey – the smoking engine fascinated them and they hung out of the window on the curves and arrived home with sooty spots on their clothing, so be warned! Family saver tickets are available for two adults and up to 4 children and there is a generous discount if you show your National Trust membership card.

The destination of Dunster Castle is a real fairytale castle and one of the jewels in the National Trust crown and makes a wonderful day out.

A day at Hestercombe Gardens via the West Somerset Steam Railway

The Hestercombe Express runs in the opposite direction, starting from Minehead and ending at Bishops Lydeard where a heritage bus completes the journey to the beauty of Hestercombe Gardens near Taunton.

If you haven’t visited before, you are in for a treat with three different landscapes including the Georgian Landscape, the Victorian Terrace and shrubbery and finally the formal Edwardian Gardens.

There is plenty to do at Hestercombe before returning to the station at 16:10 for the return journey by steam train. There are 50 acres of formal gardens, woodland and rolling estate to walk and explore. offers lunch in a courtyard setting or at indoor tables in the coffee shop. The 17th century watermill demonstrates the original mill workings and shows how this original renewable energy resource was used. There’s another tea garden overlooking the mill pond and you can also browse local artworks at the Lutyens Gallery or pick up some new colour for your garden at the Garden shop.

Have you done a trip on one of the heritage steam railways in the Westcountry? There are several to choose from! We’d love to hear which trip you would recommend to other visitors.

About Gillian Birch

Born in Cheshire, Gillian Birch moved to Cornwall at her earliest opportunity and never looked back. After 20 years, her ongoing discovery of popular attractions, quiet footpaths and local eateries has made her a fount of knowledge as she entertains readers with her informative articles on the hidden gems of Devon & Cornwall from a local point-of-view.

Find Gillian on Google+, and Twitter.

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