“Ever since childhood, when I lived within earshot of the Boston and Maine, I have seldom heard a train go by and not wished I was on it.” Paul Theroux’s words from The Great Railway Bazaar must have captured the sentiments of countless young boys through the generations.
Living in a small village three smiles from the town of Langport meant being three miles from where the trains of the Great Western Railway had once sometimes paused at Langport East railway station. By the time I was born, the GWR was becoming a story from history, British Railways had been established in 1948, and the British Rail trains ceased to stop in Langport when I was two.
Perhaps it was the absence of a station that allowed the trains to move at a speed where the sound of their progress carried across the fields on a summer’s evening. A high speed train rushing through the cuttings at Long Sutton and Pitney and over the viaduct at Langport was as evocative for me as the sound of the Boston and Maine for Paul Theroux.
Sometimes, in imagination, Langport East station was reopened and I would think to myself where I might go.
Eastward, the destination seemed uninviting. Castle Cary was just another place in Somerset and I knew nothing about Westbury or Reading. London Paddington was the end of the line, but London was crowded and expensive and there were stories that your pockets would be picked or that you would be mugged. It was not a place to journey in imagination.
It was in a westward direction that there were stations that brought thoughts of summertime and the seaside. Heading west, bound for Penzance, there would be Taunton, where we had to travel for real train journeys, and then a sequence of stations that seemed like poetry when recited by a station announcer: Tiverton Parkway, Exeter Saint David’s, Newton Abbot, Totnes, Plymouth, Saltash, Saint Germans, Liskeard, Bodmin Road, Par, Saint Austell, Truro, Redruth, Hayle, Saint Erth and, finally, Penzance.
After Exeter, the train would rush down the estuary and travel along the seafront at Dawlish. Children on the beach would wave at the passing carriages, they realized how magical trains were.
It was not possible to stand in the garden at home on a summer evening and not be transported by the sounds of the rushing trains. Perhaps those who rode on the trains thought their journeys far more prosaic, perhaps standing as an onlooker allows space for poetry.