Perchance it awakens

I kept thinking I would wake up. After all, it must be a dream, surely? I was at Woody Bay station on the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway, on September 29 and there in front of me was a four-coach L&B train headed by the Baldwin 2-4-2T Lyn. But, I had come by VW Tiguan not Tardis, and if Ia��d gone back in time I would have surely travelled by the Southern from Waterloo…

September 29 is etched in the mind of any L&B enthusiast. On that day, the final Saturday of the 1935 summer timetable, the last L&B train ran. Yeo and Lew, the railwaya��s first and last locomotives, headed the final train on its return journey from Barnstaple Town to Lynton. The railwaya��s famous epitaph comes from a wreath placed on the Barnstaple stop block on the Monday: a�?Perchance it is not dead but sleepeth.a�?

In the subsequent weeks, North Devona��s unique narrow gauge railway was reduced to scrap. Two carriages, a handful of bits of carriages and five habitable station buildings were about all that was left. Oh, and Lew escaped immediate destruction, having been exiled to a coffee plantation in Brazil, never to be seen or heard of again.

In 1982, as custodian of Ian Allana��s photographic library, it was part of my role to buy negatives to expand the collection. One morning my post tray arrived and among the usual mail was a battered envelope containing an old-style negative wallet with 100 pockets, each containing a 31/2in by 21/4in negative of the Lynton & Barnstaple Railway. Each negative was marked in the corner a�?FEBa��, which I recognised as the initials of Frank Box, a well-known 1930s railway photographer and fan of the L&BR. I had to request permission from above to spend money on these gems. The response was along the lines of: a�?If youa��re going to spend all of that money, youa��d better make a book out of them.a�?

And so followed some fascinating conversations with my IA Library colleague A B MacLeod who, as Locomotive Running Superintendent at Waterloo in the mid-1930s, had included the L&B in his area of responsibility. He had ridden on a couple of the locomotives and – judging by his comments about the position of the firehole a�� had fired them too. I had already made a point of going to Clannaborough Rectory to photograph carriage No. 2 in the garden there, and I had taken holidays in the station buildings at Lynmouth (1972) and Bratton Fleming (1976).

Even as I was writing my text, there were stirrings of preservation down in North Devon. It was difficult to believe that any part of the L&B might be revived and I noted in the book my concern that a spluttering petrol tractor on a few yards of industrial track would not do the L&B justice. Thirty-five years on from that book, Ia��m delighted to admit that my fears were unfounded. The present Lynton & Barnstaple Railway Association may only have a short section of the railway restored to operation, but ita��s every inch pure L&B. Whata��s more, at Snapper Halt and Chelfham they have made big strides in renovating the stations, and they are gathering more sections of original railway as it becomes available.

The Lynton & Barnstaple Railway is awakening and ita��s every bit as great as Ia��d always imagined!