Working up nostalgic steam

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STEAM TRAIN: A journey that sparks the imagination.

AS summer begins to unfold, it triggers a memory of those wonderful boyhood holidays many years ago.
There’s something about a steam train journey that sparks the imagination and, if you are over 50 like me – yes, I know it’s hard to believe – the very thought brings childhood memories flooding back.
With modern high-speed trains, the romance has largely gone from this mode of transport but even so, travelling through countryside that would normally remain hidden to the motorist, is still a pleasant experience.
It’s even more pleasant in Spain if you happen to be of a certain age, and qualified to purchase a railway Gold Card which entitles the holder to a substantial discount on all rail travel. For €6 a year, the holder can enjoy unlimited rail travel at 40 per cent discount midweek and 25 per cent at weekends.
Our first such trip, was to Madrid and Toledo a few years ago when we purchased two first class tickets and such was the experience, we resolved that any travel involving more than three hours in the car, would thereafter be made by train. Low cost, great comfort and meals and drinks included – you can’t wack it.
And on a subsequent trip to Barcelona, two of us had to be poured off the train at Alicante station. I mean, how can you say no to a friendly steward who constantly asks if the señors would care for more brandy? It would be extremely rude – and silly, as it was all included in the price.
But it’s a funny thing about the days of steam. Trains were noisy iron monsters wreathed in swirling smoke and steam, accompanied by the acrid smell of scorched grease that permeated the air at railway stations. And yet the fascination with steam locomotives is something that leaves us reminiscing about curly edged buffet sandwiches and station hoardings advertising Andrews Liver Salts and Pears Soap.
Then there were those photographs on the walls of carriages, depicting exotic locations like Whitby and the Isle of Man – names that we southern kids had only glimpsed in story books. It was the dream of many a schoolboy to be a train driver one day.
Devon was our annual holiday destination, and I was always disappointed if my father elected to book bus tickets.
It’s a pity, but nostalgia seems increasingly to be a thing of the past.

, because although the Royal Blue coach was still a treat to a boy who had rarely travelled even in a car, it wasn’t a patch on that train journey on the Cornish Riviera Express from Reading to Exeter where we changed trains for Exmouth.

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