Train Ride of the Week: West Somerset Railway

Name: West Somerset Railway

Route: Minehead to Bishops Lydeard, Somerset, United Kingdom

Overview: Operating on a former Great Western Railway branch line, the West Somerset Railway is the longest independent heritage railway in the United Kingdom. Over the 20-mile journey, passengers experience both the rolling hills and coastline scenery of the Somerset countryside. When departing from Bishops Lydeard, the railway travels through the rolling countryside of the Quantock Hills just beyond Exmoor National Park to Watchet. Once at Watchet, the tracks regularly stay within view of the Bristol Channel for the remainder of the journey to Minehead.

Classes of Service: For the West Somerset Railway, passengers are carried in vintage passenger coaches (or carriages as they’re known in the UK). Passengers can purchase single tickets, from one station to another, return tickets, from one station to another and back, or rover tickets which give visitors unlimited travel between all of our stations for one day. A new ticket, known as the weekly Freedom of the Line ticket, was recently introduced in 2016 and allows unlimited travel for up to 7 consecutive days across the railway. All the aforementioned tickets are available to purchase on the day from the booking office, or on the train from the Ticket Inspectors (cash only). Rover tickets and Freedom of the Line tickets can be purchased in advance through the West Somerset Railway website, which can provide savings for visitors.

Train Schedule: Throughout the year, the West Somerset has numerous timetables throughout the year and operates up to 7 roundtrip services per day depending on the timetable of that day. For rail enthusiasts, so-called “Gala” days feature additional services and visiting locomotives from other heritage railways and owners. For a full breakdown of the timetable, visit https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/timetables.

Other Experiences:

Dunster Castle Express – Along the route of the WSR is the thousand year-old village of Dunster, which is home to the ancient Dunster Castle. The Castle, overseen by the National Trust, dates back to medieval era and provides views of both the Bristol Channel and Exmoor National Park. To harken back to the days of tourism in the Victorian and Georgian era, the West Somerset operates the Dunster Castle Express. The Dunster Castle Express will be running most Wednesdays and Saturdays until November. Arrive in style, at a pace that reflects the Castle in its early 20th Century heyday, with a special coach (bus) connection from Dunster station to the Castle entrance.

Quantock Belle Dining Train – The West Somerset Railway also offers a dining train, departing Bishops Lydeard. The Quantock Belle operates on a limited number of dates and is extremely popular.  Advance booking is therefore mandatory.  Passengers’ fare includes return travel at your reserved dining table, a four-course meal with tea or coffee served during the journey, and Value Added Tax, as applicable. A comprehensive bar service, including a varied wine list and soft drinks, is provided to your table by our attentive liveried stewards throughout the day and charged towards the end of your return journey. Vegetarian options, which are homemade, gluten-free, and dairy-free, is available as an alternative to all advertised menus, but the WSR must be notified at time of booking. The train arrives at Minehead at the end of the main course, where passengers can stretch their legs and breathe the sea air at the station.  Dessert is served on the return journey, followed by a continuous tea and coffee service.  On Sunday luncheon trains, the layover in Minehead is longer.

The West Somerset Railway is also occasionally served by mainline steam train tours departing from London or Bristol.

Getting to Bishops Lydeard: While not directly connected to the national network, Bishops Lydeard is a short distance from the Somerset county seat of Taunton. Taunton is served by both the Great Western from London, Bristol, and Exeter, and CrossCountry from Bristol. From the Taunton station, visitors can connect to the WSR’s Bishops Lydeard depot via a bus line, operated by the First Somerset and Avon Bus service 28.

If driving, the M5 Motorway passes by Taunton. To reach the West Somerset Railway leave the M5 at Junction 25 in Taunton and follow signs for Minehead. There are also brown tourist signs for the Railway itself, but following the signs for Minehead works as well. Instead of going into the village of Bishops Lydeard, remain on the by-pass until you see signs directing you to the Railway. Turn left here and Bishops Lydeard station is directly in front of you behind the Broad Gauge Industrial Park. There is a large free car park at Bishops Lydeard Station.

Other nearby attractions: Minehead is a long-time resort town and still features the Butlins Minehead Resort to this day, offering attractions for visitors of all ages. The Somerset coastal town is also popular for sailing, wind surfing, golfing, and hiking. The quality hiking is exemplified by the South West Coast Path. Beginning in Minehead, the South West Coast Path runs for 630 miles from the Somerset coast in Minehead, through Exmoor, Cornwall, and Devon. This path is the longest national pathway in the United Kingdom. Along the line, attractions include the Dunster Castle, the Somerset and Dorset Joint Railway Museum in Washford, and the boat museum near the station in Watchet.

Helpful Links:

West Somerset Railway – https://www.west-somerset-railway.co.uk/
Visit Somerset – https://www.visitsomerset.co.uk/