In the 1970s, a railway track still ran along the railway valley from Barnstaple to Bideford. The line had been closed to passengers by Dr Beeching in 1965, but it still seemed to be in use by goods trains. Passing the line on the way to our annual camping holiday each year, it seemed that it would have been a fine way to travel on your holiday: no need to worry about delays at Taunton, or on the narrow road that wound its way to North Devon. Instead, there would have been a Penzance-bound train from Taunton to Exeter and then a change for the Barnstaple train. We could have sat and looked out of the carriage window as we rolled through the quiet pastures of mid-Devon.
Of course, the problem was that we had to reach Taunton in the first place, and how would we have carried all of our camping equipment? And how much would the fares have been for a family of five? And how would we have got from the railway station at Bideford to the campsite at Westward Ho! (the only place in England with an exclamation mark in its name)? And, having pitched our tent and set up camp for two to three weeks, how would we have visited anywhere or gone to Northam for our shopping?
Our journey had no Enid Blyton qualities, nothing that would have inspired the sort of coloured illustrations that emerged from that imagined golden age of travel. Instead, the blue and gold Bedford van was loaded with everything anyone could possibly have required and we headed off. The seventy-two mile trip was never completed in less than two hours, but we were able to take everything we wanted and we were able to go where we wanted when we wanted.
Train travel from Barnstaple to Bideford along the banks of the Rivers Taw and Torridge might have seemed an idyllic way to pass an evening after more than two hours sitting in an old Bedford in traffic jams, but a railway carriage could not have taken us on the holiday that we wanted.
Proponents of public transport seem to forget why cars became popular in the first place: people stopped using trains because they wanted freedom of travel, they didn’t want to be bound by time, or by destination.
Compelled to travel by train, we could never have afforded a holiday and we would never have spent the long hot days of 1970s summers on the beach at Westward Ho!