Father's Day, 17th June 2018, saw Clan Line making history by being the first Merchant Navy class locomotive to cross the Royal Albert Bridge and enter Cornwall. It was a challenging day, with climbs of Whiteball and the South Devon Banks.

The first of the South Devon Banks is Dainton, the third steepest mainline bank on the British mainland, with two miles varying between one in thirty six and one in fifty seven. Leaving Newton Abbott, the line is nearly level until Aller Junction, where the line to Torbay diverges to the left. The climb proper begins at Stoneycombe, where there was a signal box and a quarry siding, and continues through Dainton Tunnell to Dainton signal box, a distance of two miles and seventeen chains.

Next comes Rattery, the seventh steepest mainline bank on the British mainland, with four and a quarter miles, initially between one in forty five and one in seventy, before easing to one in ninety, and then increasing to one in sixty five. Leaving Totnes station, the line immediately climbs past the site of Tigley signal box and on to the site of Rattery signal box, a distance of four miles and fifty chains.

On the return, we have Hemerdon Bank, the fourth steepest mainline bank on the British mainland, with a constant one in forty two for two and a half miles. The ascent begins at Plympton, and climbs all the way to the site of Hemerdon signal box, a distance of two miles and fifty chains.

Our thanks goes to Wikipedia for the above descriptions.

The climbs were made more of a challenge by the weather on the day, with damp conditions affecting adhesion.

Even though the engine and support coach were ready to leave the depot at St. Philip's Marsh on time, we were delayed by an overrunning possession, caused by communications problems. We made up time, though, and our thirty two minutes late departure from Bristol Temple Meads became an eight minute late departure from Plymouth, despite the climbs.

Clan Line rolling into Bodmin Parkway - photograph by Jimmy James, Bodmin and Wenford Railway

After dropping off our passengers, we finally arrived at St. Blazey for turning and servicing fourteen minutes late. We had previously surveyed the turntable, and knew exactly what had to be done to turn Clan Line. Nevertheless, it was still hard work, and took the power of ten men to achieve the turn. We had enough time to load six tons of coal, re-fill the tender tank with water, clean the fire, and attend to the lubrication. Because of the terrain, we also re-filled and tested the sanders.

Clan Line backing into St. Blazey yard to be turned and serviced - photograph by Jimmy James, Bodmin and Wenford Railway

Clan Line on the turntable at St. Blazey - photograph by Jimmy James, Bodmin and Wenford Railway

On the return, we watered at Plymouth, as we had done on the way down. Because of access difficulties for a tanker, we had to use a hydrant and run out our own hoses. On the way down, the loco had been able to stop close to the hydrant, but on the return, this was not possible. We had to run out several hoses, and roll them up afterwards. As with the turntable at St. Blazey, we had previously surveyed the station, and knew exactly what to do. This was a new task for some of our support crew members, so we had practiced it beforehand, and everything went well. Unfortunately, because of low water pressure from the hydrant, we did leave Plymout a few minutes late.

With the climb of Hemerdon coming up, it was sensible to have a class 66 at Plymouth, just in case. As expected, this wasn't needed, and we climbed the bank with plenty of steam to spare.

On the way down, the sea view from the Dawlish Sea Wall was somewhat spoilt by the mist and drizzle, but this had improved a lot for the return, and we were able to enjoy the view.

Having dropped off our happy passengers, we were able to return to St. Philip's Marsh, and prepare for our return home to Stewarts Lane.

Thoughts are now turning to plans for next year.....


The following appeared in Tuesday's Western Morning News, courtesy of Jimmy James, Publicity Officer, Bodmin and Wenford Railway:-

A Cornish First

This steam locomotive, no. 35028 "Clan Line" is seen rolling into Bodmin Parkway on Sunday 17 June with the down Cornishman, a steam special from Bristol to Par operated by Pathfinder Tours.

It is then seen backing into St. Blazey yard to be turned and serviced there before taking its train back to Bristol.

Clan Line and its tender weigh in at 142 tons, and are 70 feet in length. The six driving wheels are 6' 2" in diameter. 30 examples of this class of loco were built in the 1940s at Eastleigh in Hampshire for the Southern Railway. They were named after shipping companies of the Merchant Navy. They were designed to haul heavy express trains from Waterloo to Southampton, Bournemouth, Weymouth and Exeter Central, and were known to regularly reach 100 MPH on the main line. Even after nationalisation in 1948 they never reached Cornwall.

Clan Line was one of the few members of the class to be preserved after British Railways finished with steam traction in 1968. Fifty years later she has finally crossed the Tamar, and what a sight it was for steam enthusiasts up and down the main line in Cornwall and Devon.