The Swindon & Cricklade Railway is one of the smaller volunteer efforts to preserve the age of steam. It boasts that it’s the only standard-gauge preserved railway in Wiltshire and occupies, not part of Brunel’s former broad-gauge Great Western, but a stretch of the little-known Midland & South Western Railway, a late-comer which allowed the trains of the Midland Railway and its allies to penetrate Great Western territory to reach Southampton. The section from Swindon through Cricklade to Cheltenham was opened in 1881.
When the Swindon & Cricklade volunteers came here there was nothing but trackbed. Every sleeper and rail, every stick and sheet of metal has been brought here since 1978. This is a railway that hasn’t been blessed with lottery money or large donations.
Volunteers have built two stations, Blunsdon (which last saw a passenger train in 1924), and a temporary terminus with loco- and carriage-sheds at Hayes Knoll, where additional land was available short of the ultimate destination at Cricklade.
The long-term plan is to extend southwards, diverging from the M&SWR line to a new station at Mouldon Hill Country Park and then eventually to an interchange station with the Great Western main line at Sparcells. A northward extension to Cricklade is also planned. The current round-trip ride is around four miles.
There is an excellent Whistlestop Café, housed in two Norwegian railway carriages, from which you can birdwatch as well as train-watch, and a rolling programme of entertaining events through the year – not only the customary Wartime Weekend and Santa Specials, but Murder Mystery Evenings and a Halloween Ghost Train. On-board dining is provided on two beautifully spruced-up blue-and-cream Moonraker carriages.
Details of this year’s and next year’s programmes are at http://www.swindon-cricklade-railway.org.
Every cup of tea bought, and every fiver pushed into the green donations pillar-box, takes this enjoyable little railway nearer to its termini.
The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2012 Waterways and Railways between Thames and Severn tour, with text, photographs, maps and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £15.00 including postage and packing. To view sample pages click here. Please send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.