The Book : The Film : The Line

Tarka the Otter: His Joyful Water-Life and Death in the Country of the Two Rivers is a 1927 novel by English writer Henry Williamson, first published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons with an introduction by the Hon. Sir John Fortescue. It won the Hawthornden Prize in 1928, and has never been out of print since its first publication.

The novel describes the life of an otter, along with a detailed observation of its habitat in the country of the River Taw and River Torridge in North Devon (the “Two Rivers”); the name “Tarka” is said by Williamson to mean “Wandering as Water”. Although not written for children, the book soon became popular with young readers.

There was a film.

The railway line between Exeter and Barnstaple is shown branded “The Tarka Line” by the ptivatised Wesses Trains in 2001. 
But the name was first applied way back in 1989!
The logo was widely displayed at stations, on the trains and in printed publicity.
Now you would never know!
The Tarka Trail footpath etc. still features significantly in the area.
So it was on Saturday last that the fbbs took a ride from Axminster to Barnstaple, being their first train journey sice the Covid lockdown.
The trip was ludicrously cheap. You buy a Devon and Cornwall annual railcard for £12 (residents only) and you get the usual 1/3 off fares for journeys within the two counties. But a bonis is tht you can take one other adult (any other adult), and their fares are also reduced ditto.
So £8.80 each Axminster to Barnstaple day return!

Even Mts fbb was impressed and will join chubby hubby for a ride to Dawlish next.

Lunch was taken in the garden area of the delightful caff in Barnstaple Station …

… which more than doubled the budget; but fbb  enjoyed his bacon and sausage “bap” more speedily (greedily) than Mrs fbb chomped her “tuna melt”. The remnants were caught by the fbb phone camera.

There were no remnants from the  “bap” and contents!

Historically the line was one of the Southern Railway’s key holiday routes. It took trains beyond Barnstaple to Bideford and Ilfracombe. Both routes leave the old Barnstaple map on the left …

… with the Ilfracombe line soon turning north.

And, by turning left at the junction at Colebrooke, just beyond Yeoford …

…  trains ran to Okehampton, Tavistock and Plymouth. 

Here is a video showing something of the traffic beyond what was then called Barnstaple Junction.
It is hard, now, to imagine big passenger trains thundering along what has become a delightful trundling branch line.

They may have thundered, but they did not do it very fast!

But, remarkably, ALL the stations between Exeter St Davids and Barnstaple are still open. This timetable extract shown how it works.

The GWR table combines the recently introduced Okehampton service with the long standing (ish) Barnstaple line trains.

travelling south from Barnstaple, all trains stop at Eggesford, Copplestone and Crediton. All the other stations are not served by all trains. When a train DOES call it is “by request only”. That includes Newton St Cyres, served only by Okehampton trains.

Tomorrow, fbb will take you on a whistle-stop (horn-stop) tour of each station, attempting to contrast the past from today. But for the time being a synopsis of the line’s history will be appropriate.

After years of dispute, controversy and financial anguish trains began running from Exeter St Davids to Newton St Cyres and Crediton in 1871. Five years later the line opened serving todays’s stations as far as Barnstaple. The line soon passed to the London and South western Railway, later the Southern Region of british Railways.

One big dispute, outside the scope of these blogs, was whether the line should be Great Western broad gauge or LSWR standard gage.

Below is Cowley Bridge Junction (just north of Exeter St Davids) showing mixed broad and standard gauge tracks. The Barnstaple line veers left.

That must have been fun, fun all the way operationally!

So the fbbs boarded their three car Super Sprinter for the 1019 departure on platform 3B at St Davids …

… as their train from Axminster pulled in to Platform 1 for a 1025 departure back to London Waterloo. The GWR train was later photographed at Barnstaple.

 Next Tarka Train blog : Tuesday 20th June 

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