A Brief Encounter with Miss Froy

Posted on Sep 8, 2012 by


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Interested in trains? Nor me. So how come I spent August Bank Holiday on the Severn Valley Railway (SVR)? Even more mysterious. How come I want to go back?

The only Late Room was in The Bromsgrove Hilton. Bromsgrove. I ask you. Definition of an oxymoron. Bromsgrove Hilton. Old Conrad would turn in his grave. Luxury it ain’t. With no lift (waspishly to the Manager) we suggest you remove your self-accredited stars.

Anyway, it’s only twenty minutes away from the SVR. The £15 all day Rover Ticket from Kidderminster in Worcestershire (once famous for carpets, the town is now a bit of a dump) to the terminus sixteen miles away at Bridgenorth (quaint) in Shropshire. Ace value.

Puffing Billy – not the real one – goes over the river Stour, through  a tunnel, past a Safari Park (rhinos from a train window make an exotic change from sheep) calling at Bewdley and Arley (where himself dragged me for miles across fields to a bridge too far to take photos of Ivor The Engine – not the real one – chugging over Victoria Bridge) then on to Highley and the delightfully named Hampton Loade. When it was built in 1861, the bridge’s 200 feet single span was the longest in the world.

The bumpety bump rhythm of wheels as they clatter over the track brings back memories of every song about trains you ever sang: The Runaway Train went over the hill and she blew, she blew; Rocking, rolling, riding: Down In The Valley, the valley so low, late in the evening, hear the train blow…    You find yourself reciting This is the Night Mail crossing the border, bringing the cheque and the postal order…

The Visitor Centre actually owns a wonderful Night Mail Train (Travelling Post Office) with catching nets and collection arms so that mailbags could be exchanged without the train needing to stop. This system was, understandably, modified following The Great Train Robbery. Why don’t you, say we, collaring a sainted Volunteer, play the Night Mail DVD in the carriage? We do, says he, when it works.

We ask him about the equally awesome King George VI Royal Saloon with its armour plated roof, panels and window shutters. Would you like to go inside? Indeed we would. Fascinating.  Oooh, I say, single beds!  The King and Queen never travelled together during the war (of course not, silly me), she travelled in The Queen’s Coach, now in York Railway Museum.

On the way back, we talk about Brief Encounter, The Railway Children, Strangers On A Train and giggle over The Lady Vanishes.

“l’ll ring for the attendant…pot of tea, please…tell them to make it from this. Harriman’s Herbal Tea. l don’t drink any other. A million Mexicans drink it. At least that’s what it says on the packet. l’m a governess. My charges are grown up. My name’s Froy. F.R.O.Y. lt rhymes with joy”.

Back at Kidderminster (‘Kiddy’) another treat. Chatting to the Station Master he asks if we would like to see inside a not open to the public 1950 sleeping car. We would. All human life in a capsule. Bed, sink, loo, bedside table, lights, bell for the attendant.

The lovingly restored locos and carriages on SVR are delightful. Uplifting. The Line, a hundred and fifty years old, thanks to its 1500 dedicated volunteers, does not show its age. Absorbed into the Great Western Railway in the 1870s, closed in 1963, the present story began in 1970.

This is bygone age of milk churns and leather suitcases, porters and station masters in immaculate uniforms, an age when Britons cared about – well – everything – an age before mass immigration churned us into – well – what we have become. We lost pride in our country because it no longer is our country. Now in free fall, thanks to successive undemocratic governments with no interest in the well being of its citizens, it belongs to all. The Severn Valley Railways offers respite from the horrors of modern life and we salute it.

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