The latest tour in Vintage Trains' busy Spring programme was to Didcot via the scenic route, through Worcester, Gloucester and the Golden Valley. The object of the visit was to celebrate the inauguration of the newly restored King class 4-6-0 No 6023 King Edward II - hence the train was titled the Coronation Express. The train of 10 VT coaches was headed by GWR 4-6-0s No 4965 Rood Ashton Hall and Castle class No 5043 Earl of Mount Edgcumbe.
I boarded at Smethwick Galton Bridge and after Stourbridge Junction the pair hustled us quickly up into the sixties through Hagley and Kidderminster to the outskirts of Droitwich: after slowing, another brisk spell followed to the edge of Worcester, our final pickup. Then we sprinted down the mainline, apart from slowing through Ashchurch and Cheltenham, all the way to the water stop at Gloucester.
A short burst followed before a slow approach and dead stand at Standish Junction, then a brisk start up into the Cotswolds. We were doing 53 at Stroud and as the climb steepened, the bark from the two exhausts ensured that we stayed at over 50 all the way up into Sapperton Tunnel, entered at exactly 50 mph. Further sprints before and after Kemble saw us early into Swindon, and early away. Such was our storming start along the 'billiard table' and the speeds maintained for the next ten miles, that we were near even time past Uffington. Slowings around Challow and Wantage Road could not take the edge of what was a sparkling run throughout, and it was no surprise to see the redoubtable Ray Churchill had been on the footplate of the Hall.
Then it was into Didcot Railway Centre to admire the new King, a fine sight in the very early, and short lived, BR express blue - much darker and purpler than the Caley blue of Sir Nigel Gresley. She was displayed in various locations, alongside various resident engines and, of course, our two visitors. Then I took a quick HST ride to Swindon to snap three more of their veteran locos at Steam, before picking up the return run after its first short leg.
The return was as outward, with us passing 60 before the outskirts of Swindon, touching the day's maximum at Shrivenham and staying above 60 to Oaksey. After Kemble, we charged up the 1 in 100/94/90 in the fifties, touching 61 before entering Sapperton tunnel at 59. We dawdled down the Golden valley with the stopper ahead of us, but once again had a number of bursts of high speed along the main line, between checks. Given the Hall is limited to 60, it is frustrating to be unable to report the specifics! On the final stretch, she passed Cradley Heath at 51 and as they powered up the 1 in 51 of Old Hill bank, the speed dropped only slowly through the forties, and the train entered the tunnel at 41. So ended an excellent day, immersed in all things GWR, past and present.
Keywords:4965, 5043, 6023, Didcot, Vintage Trains
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures