Two great paperbacks!
Michael Williams; The Trains Now Departed – Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways; ISBN 978-0-099-59058-3.
Tom Chesshyre; Ticket to Ride – Around the World on 49 Unusual Train Journeys; ISBN 978-1-84953-826-8.
Two excellent paperback books for an enjoyable read on holiday! I picked up both second-hand at very reasonable prices.
Tom Chesshyre starts, seemingly, from a lack of knowledge about the railways and finds that it does not take too much effort to begin to enjoy speaking with railway enthusiasts. Tom is a journalist who is on a quest to find out why people seem to love trains so much. His idea, as the back cover of his book explains, was to find the answer, “by experiencing the world through train travel – on both epic and everyday rail routes, aboard every type of ride, from steam locomotives to bullet trains, meeting a cast of memorable characters who share a passion for train travel.”
So, Tom embarks on a whistle-stop tour around the world. His adventures are recounted in a humorous and entertaining way. The different chapters are held together by the common theme of the railways an people that he encounters. Beginning at Crewe, his journeys take him to: Kosovo and Macedonia; Sri Lanka, India and China; Turkey and Iran; Finland and Russia; Australia and America; North Korea, Italy, Poland, Peru, Switzerland and Spain; Kaliningrad and Lithuania. After such a smörgåsbord of different railway experiences he returns to three UK railways to complete the book – two lines in Scotland, the Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh line and the Mallaig to Glasgow line, and finally the Kent and East Sussex line in England.
Reading this book in early Summer 2021, interested me in exploring some of Tom Chesshyre’s other books. Perhaps further reviews will follow.
Michael Williams’ approach is similarly eclectic, although he restricts his perambulations to the United Kingdom. Thoroughly absorbing chapters focus on a variety of different railway-related loses. The Spectator says that ‘‘Williams celebrates the best of what is gone from our railways in 16 vivid, highly-readable chapters.’’
It was a delight to read of specific lines long-closed, such as Somerset & Dorset; the Stainmore line over the Pennines; the Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway; the Lynton & Barnstaple; the Withered Arm; the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway*; the Liverpool Overhead Railway; and the Waverley route. Among these was a saunter through Metro-land to what was the furthest outpost of the line from Baker Street. Verney Junction was, what Williams refers to as the Shangri-La of the Metro-land paradise, invoked by the skilled advertising gurus of the Metropolitan Railway.
William’s reflections on long-lost lines are supplemented by chapters on other great losses: the Night Ferry from Victoria to the Continent; the myriad of named trains which used to invoke a sense of glamour, speed and luxury; the dining car; the destruction, in a spate of wanton vandalism, of some of the architectural gems of railway heritage.
He includes reflections on: Parliamentary trains; engineering marvels sent for scrap; seaside specials which carried millions from industrial centres to holidays on the coast.
Williams introduces his book by talking of ‘‘the ghosts of trains now departed – lines prematurely axed often with gripping and colourful tales to tell, marvels of locomotive engineering prematurely sent to the scrapyard, and architecturally magnificent stations felled by the wrecker’s ball,’’ and ‘‘the lost delights of train travel.’’
C. Hamilton-Ellis, in concluding his book, The Trains We Loved, says:
‘‘These were the trains we loved; grand, elegant and full of grace. We knew them and they belonged to the days … when the steam locomotive, unchallenged, bestrode the world like a friendly giant.’’
Williams’s book does not pretend that everything was perfect in those nostalgic days of yore, but it does invoke the ‘essential flavour of the railways of the past,’ and draws the reader back into that world which, in some inexplicable way, seems to define the British spirit even in these days of websites, apps, air-conditioning, speed and frequent rail services.
*The Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Light Railway features in short series of articles on this website which can be found on the following links: