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13 November 2014

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You are in: Somerset > Places > Places features > Re-tracing Somerset's 'Beeching Axe'

Re-tracing Somerset's 'Beeching Axe'

The 60s saw a glut of railway lines closed during the 'Beeching Axe' and Somerset was no different. TV presenter and travel writer Simon Calder re-traces the line from Portishead to Minehead.

Simon Calder on the train

Simon is a renowned travel writer

Travel journalist Simon Calder takes a journey from Portishead to Minehead in a BBC television documentary exploring the legacy of the Beeching railway cuts. He examines the arguments for reopening some of the branch lines axed by Dr Beeching in the 1960s.

His journey begins in Portishead, where he hears the frustrations of commuters who have to endure the daily grind into Bristol. He hitches a ride with Lisa Metcalfe, who uses her car to get to work as a marketing officer with the Soil Association in Bristol. In the 1960s the journey took just over half an hour by rail but on the day Simon joins the queues on the Portbury 100 it takes more than two hours.

"It's just a nightmare. If they had a rail network from Portishead I would not drive," said Lisa. 

Simon concludes that there's now a pressing need to reopen the railway line. His view is shared by one of Britain's leading travel consultants, David Henshaw.

He says: "The Beeching report was much tougher on the railways than perhaps it should have been and we're regretting it now like crazy."

Simon in front of ticket sign

Simon's journey continues by bicycle along the Strawberry Line between Yatton and Cheddar. Then he crosses the Somerset Levels to Taunton.

Although the tracks remain in place, there are no longer any rail services from Taunton out to the seaside resort of Minehead. It means that holidaymakers heading to Minehead have no choice but to use their cars.

Angela Lamplough from West Somerset Council said: "We would actually like to get a commuter train running from Taunton to Minehead if the local people can demonstrate that, yes, they would use that service.

"Plus it would give people an opportunity to travel down from the Midlands all the way through to Minehead for a holiday without having to use their own vehicles."

Filming for the show

The show was made by Yeovil's Grace Prod

At Bishops Lydeard, Simon can finally rejoin the rail network on the hugely popular steam train to Minehead. The heritage service has become one of the area's biggest tourist attractions.    

'Beeching's Tracks with Simon Calder' has been made by Yeovil based Grace Productions for the BBC. It can be seen on BBC Four on 27 November at 8.30pm.

It will also be available on the BBC’s iPlayer for seven days after the original transmission.  

last updated: 27/11/2008 at 15:37
created: 16/10/2008

You are in: Somerset > Places > Places features > Re-tracing Somerset's 'Beeching Axe'

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