“I really want to go on that train,” was a sentence that I had heard for two weeks. My sister had flippantly suggested that there was a coastal train that we could catch in the south of Devon and that the views were fantastic. Personally I had never heard of such a train. However, my wife was convinced, and she was waiting for that train. “He who waits for something good can never wait too long.” I remember hearing that phrase from a Swedish friend once and I love it.
Now even though by far our main means of transport is our feet we have also been on some powered ones. The odd bus and taxi along the way when we get lost and boats, lots of boats.
The coastal path, especially in the south of the country, is indented with rivers. The vast majority are tidal rivers, meaning that when the tide goes out you are left with a trickling stream in the middle. And all these rivers need crossing. From large ferries pulled by underwater chains to sell wooden boats that we have to jump into. We’ve even had a tractor take us out into the river to meet the boat and we jumped from the tractor into the bobbing boat. That was a fun one.
And just the other day a new experience. A floating pontoon that was dragged across the river by a tug boat. “We have done it this way for years,” smiled the conductor on the pontoon as we paid. Traditions aren’t given up easily in this part of the world. And on that early morning ferry ride was only one other passenger.
“Oh, you are going to Paignton today,” she said as we started talking. “Why don’t you get the steam train,” she added. My wife’s ears pricked up like a hunting dog hearing a twig snap. “Where is the train,” she asked in a flash. The ferry landed and the steam train was literally right there. “Can we go on it, we’ve got to go on it,” said my wife with a beaming smile across her face.
I had a dilemma. The train would take a whole stage out of our walk. I knew that if we did indeed take the train that we would have to come back at some point in the future to walk this stage. But I have to say that the train looked absolutely enchanting. Two tickets and a dog ticket in our hands (yes, our dog had his own ticket) and we were waiting on a platform that was like travelling back in time to the early 1900’s. A few large screeches of steam and a bellowing steam cloud and our locomotive arrived. The whole experience was unforgettable and clearly I wasn’t the only person enjoying it. As one particularly large cloud of steam left the train a group of Americans showed their appreciation by clapping the puffing train.
And the train was full. With tickets around 20 pounds it was clearly a good business, but more importantly it is a valuable tourist experience that highlights a golden chapter from the past.
If only Dubrovnik had such an opportunity. If only Dubrovnik had a former means of transport that could be reintroduced. If only that form of transport was not only attractive but could also have a practical use to move people from the port to the Old City. If only we had a steam train or something like that, maybe a tram or something.
Wait! Hang on! How stupid of me.
We don’t have one option, we have them both. Imagine the steam train “Ćiro” puffing clouds of steam over the hills as tourists scream in excitement or the former tramway pulling carriage loads of tourists back from a visit to the Old City to their waiting cruise ship. Sometimes you have to look backwards to see forwards. Both of these old forms of transport were “green” to a certain extent and both nonpolluting. To say that the reintroduction of the tram and steam train would be a hit and a magnet for guests would be an understatement.
However, passion and handwork are required. It was clear that the steam railway between Dartmouth and Paignton was not only an attraction but also a “passion project” for the people employed. It took them lots and lots of time, energy and hard work to get the railway as impressive as it is today. This didn’t happen overnight. However, with a vision and determination anything is possible. So we boarded our carriage. And out of the seven carriages we had been allocated two seats on a carriage named “Dave.” Yes, we were sitting on a train named after my later father. One of the main reasons that I am doing the walk is that my father loved this part of the world and would have loved to have walked the path. Unfortunately, we never got the opportunity. So I am doing the walk in his name. And don’t ask me how, but somehow his name keeps appearing on our walk. The wooden sign the carriage was just the latest example.
The 20-minute ride was magical. Older men were almost in tears as the carriages bumped along the tracks. And indeed my wife was in tears, tears of joy, as the coast flashed past our windows. Any guilt that I had initially felt on taking the day off from walking and taking the train soon melted away. Yes, we will at some point come back and walk this part of the South West Coast Path, but that day on the steam train will remain etched into our memories forever. And the best thing about memories is actually making them.