23. Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway

Steaming through the Cotswolds on the volunteer-run Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway.
GWR passengers on the station platform at Toddington. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway (GWR) is often known as the "Friendly line in the Cotswolds" – and not without reason.

The GWR is a professional operating railway almost entirely run by volunteers who are from all walks of live and who are passionate about what they do.

The track runs along part of the former Great Western Railway's mainline from Birmingham to Cheltenham. Primarily built in the 1900s, the line closed to local passenger traffic in 1960 but remained in use for goods services until 1976.

The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway was formed in 1981 with the aim of one day restoring this line from Stratford Racecourse to Cheltenham Racecourse back to its former glory.

Following the Volunteers with one of the GWR engines. Picture by Ian Crowder/GWSRpurchase of the track bed from Broadway to Cheltenham Racecourse, an operating base was established at a derelict station site at Toddington and reconstruction began.

The railway currently offers a 25-mile round trip between Cheltenham Racecourse in the south to Laverton in the north, taking in Gotherington, Winchcombe and Toddington stations on the way through some spectacular Cotswold scenery.

Now there is just two miles separating the northern railhead at Laverton and Broadway where a new station is being built from the foundations of the old.

"Time has proven that the railway can be rebuilt," said Ian Crowder of the GWSR. "It has taken time but painstakingly, the railway has expanded by around half a mile per year. Given that this has involvedThomas the Tank Engine at Winchcombe station. Picture by Ian Crowder/GWSR building stations, refurbishing bridges, repairing embankments, installing facilities as well as reinstating track, signalling and communications and locomotive servicing facilities, this is indeed impressive."

Mr Crowder added: "Times have changed and the railway’s purpose has also. It no longer carries goods, livestock and passengers between local stations. It no longer hosts the Royal Train from London to Cheltenham Races.  It no longer sees the ‘Cornishman’ express thundering through on its way from the Midlands to Cornwall packed with holidaymakers.

 "But it does contribute massively to local tourism as one of the leading attractions in the Cotswolds. With 80,000 passengers a year, quite apart from those who come along just to have a cuppa in the "Flag & Whistle" at Toddington or the "Coffee Pot" in Winchcombe and watch the trains go by. Ask anyone and they will say how much they love the railway and what it represents.

"It’s about preserving something of Britain’s transport heritage. It’s about recalling times past; a nostalgia for something that many people can’t even recall. It’s about the enjoyment in the faces of youngsters breathing real steam for the first time or seeing Thomas the Tank Engine really come to life. 

 "It’s about hearing a distant whistle echoing off the nearby hills. It’s about recreating something that’s so worthwhile, that brings so much colour to many people's lives. And, above all, it's about the smiles and laughter that are part of this wonderful, evocative,  creative, exciting venture that is the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway."

An original aim of the railway that still stands today is to "restore as much as possible of the former Stratford-upon-Avon to Cheltenham Railway". 

A GWR train steaming across Stanway viaduct.The railway will soon be in Broadway, which is in Worcestershire, and next it intends to forge north to Honeybourne for a connection with the main line, for which Network Rail has had the vision to make provision for. And then from there, it is almost in Warwickshire. But will it get there?

 "You becha," said Mr Crowder. "Maybe not next year or in the next decade. But it will – because so many people hold this very special railway in such affection and want it to succeed."
Cleeve Hill provides a stunning backdrop to a GWR locomotive. Picture by Andrew Hill.

More information

Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway
The Railway Station, Toddington, Gloucestershire GL54 5DT
01242 621405

© Loving The Cotswolds. 2018.