Ding dong Devon Belle

I note that Hornby’s Devon Belle observation car is finally out. I might have to get myself one of those. Possibly a little hard to justify, as I have no suitable layout for it, precious little that I can run with it and the almost £50 price tag is a little much on my budget.

I feel some materialism coming on.

I feel some materialism coming on.

But on the other hand, it’s a model that has a certain amount of sentimental value for me. Actually, there are quite a few models in my collection that I own purely for sentimental value – Hornby’s Clan Line commemorates the fact that, living as I used to in West London, any steam specials passing through would like as not be hauled by this engine. I have Whiston, a Hunslet ‘Austerity’ tank in NCB livery because when visiting relatives in Staffordshire, we’d often stop at the Foxfield Railway where that engine is based.

Hercules rests at Paignton

Hercules rests at Paignton

The Devon Belle Observation Car actually took on special significance fairly recently. I was in Devon with some friends, in Dartmouth. Across the River Dart is Kingswear, the end of the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway. The Paignton and Dartmouth is an interesting one – it seems to aim to provide a ride for the tourists rather than a heritage experience in itself. For example, we rode behind Hercules, a 2-8-0 tank engine of the 42xx class originally designed for the unglamorous job of hauling coal in South Wales. It wouldn’t have been named, nor would it have worn the lined-out Brunswick Green livery it now carries.

The coaches, too, are named – our return journey was in a BR Mark I named Zoe, painted in a pseudo-Western Region livery. I also noted a ‘Shark’ brake van named Jaws

But the surprise (for me, my friends aren’t exactly railway nuts) was seeing the Devon Belle Observation Car. We decided it was very worth the £1 extra fare to travel in Pullman luxury. The huge, panoramic windows give you a splendid view of the River Dart and the coast near Paignton, and the swivelling, well-upholstered bucket seats beat the heck out of the dusty BR seating on the way back (sorry, Zoe).

The Devon Belle. Not the woman in the coach, although I'm sure she's lovely.

The Devon Belle. Not the woman in the coach, although I'm sure she's lovely.

All in all, it’s a pleasant journey through a pleasant part of the world. It doesn’t really offer you the opportunity to poke around engine sheds, and as I say, historical recreation is not the line’s strong suit, but if you’re in the area it’s worth a look. The only problem is that at one time or another you’re going to end up in Paignton, for which I am sorry.

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