A dedicated Swanage Railway volunteer has written a fascinating new book detailing the last weeks, days and hours of the long-lamented Somerset and Dorset line between Bournemouth, Blandford, Templecombe, Evercreech and Bath – marking the 50th anniversary of the route’s controversial closure.
Copies of the newly published ‘Somerset and Dorset Swansong – The Last Days of a Steam Railway’, by Bob Bunyar, have received acclaim from readers after a signing session on the platform outside the railway shop at Swanage station.
A life-long Somerset and Dorset fan, Bob has carried out similarly popular signing sessions at exhibitions at the Museum of Bath at Work and at a display in Evercreech, at the restored Midsomer Norton station, as well as at the Gartell Light Railway on the trackbed of the former main line.
Bob recalled: “My last train ride on the Somerset and Dorset before it closed was on Saturday, 5 March 1966, from Bath to Bournemouth and return on a Great Western Society Special hauled by 8F steam locomotive No 48706.
“My memories of this last train trip are of seeing large numbers of people out in fields and on station platforms watching the death-throws of the line with the last trains passing before closure and demolition,” he added.
Now living in Swanage, the 62-year old retired Avon fire-fighter grew up in Bath’s Pulteney Street – within sound of the old Somerset and Dorset line – and before that he and his family lived next to the line in the village of Wellow in Somerset.
With 67 photographs – many never published before – the new 97-page softback published by Wild Swan of Bath book covers, in detail, the death throes of what was, and probably still is, the most affectionately remembered and mourned railway line in the country.
Bob explained: “To my knowledge, the final sad hours of the Somerset and Dorset have not been recorded in detail before. The book is not just aimed at enthusiasts but also people with a casual interest in railways.
“It’s important that we remember and record history and human experience for future generations and the Somerset and Dorset is one line that has gone down in railway folk law,” he added.
“I have two very different lasting memories of the Somerset and Dorset. The first is watching the steam trains rumble through Wellow station on long hot summer days. The second is when I had a ride in the brake van of a demolition train from Radstock to Binegar in 1968 hauled by a diesel. Dereliction was everywhere and it was a very sad sight indeed,” added Bob.
A Swanage Railway volunteer train guard for 20 years until 2005, Bob is part of the dedicated team that maintains and develops Harman’s Cross station while also being on the Swanage Railway’s marketing committee.
Copies of ‘Somerset and Dorset Swansong – The Last Days of a Steam Railway’ are £14.95 and available from the Swanage Railway shop at Swanage station or on-line at www.swanagerailway.co.uk.