As the alarm went off at 5.30AM it seemed like yet another unwanted early morning start. The big difference though was that this was an early start I was looking forward to. I was going to be heading to London on the first direct train from Okehampton to London Paddington in some 50 years.
Living in Tavistock, travel to London by train first involves a car journey to either Plymouth, Exeter or Plymouth. Today I still needed a car journey but a much shorter one of just 30 minutes to Okehampton.
Never before having been to Okehampton Station I was a little worried about finding it. I need not have worried, it was well sign-posted from the High Street and lies at the end of a rather long, aptly named Station Road.
On arrival, there was a very helpful lady directing everyone to the car park, just beyond the station entrance. Plenty of space and easy parking for all and the best bit was that there was no charge, the car parking was completely free.
The station itself feels rather quaint, indeed old fashioned, almost like it has stood still for the 50 years since the last direct train to London ran.
As I arrived on the station platform at about 7.15, it was really buzzing. Plenty of people, groups of friends and families as well as some, like myself, travelling individually.
Most, including myself, headed to the Buffet area for a cup of tea or coffee, accompanied either by some lovely smelling bacon rolls or something a little sweeter, as it was for me, a millionaires shortbread.
Standing waiting for the train, you could feel the anticipation and the excitement building. There were lots of photos being taken and videos being shot. A truly fantastic atmosphere.
This direct train to London was the result of much hard work by OkeRail, an organisation made up of representatives from a number of stakeholders to promote the reintroduction of a regular passenger service between Okehampton and Exeter.
Eventually the ‘Royal Oke’ train pulled into the station. Not all carriages could fit along the platform, so many of us had to board where we could and then walk to our seats, all of which had been pre-allocated.
The train left Okehampton Station a little after 7:45am and headed towards Crediton and Exeter as the first stops.
Much chatter was ongoing on the train with discussion on which London sites were going to be visited – ranging from the London Eye, the Science Museum and the Shard to a leisurely walk along the Thames.
For me I was on my way to meet some friends for lunch. An event truly made easier by this special rail service.
Our train encountered a small problem before we reached Exeter. It was explained as a ‘flat wheel’ which meant the train could not proceed beyond Exeter St David’s.
GWR managed to find a replacement train and had it pretty much waiting for us when we pulled in to Exeter. After the switch over we were quickly on our way again. Even with this little hiccup, we only arrived into London Paddington just over half an hour late.
On arrival at Paddington, Central Devon MP, Mel Stride and OkeRail members met the Under Secretary of State Paul Maynard to put forward the case for reopening the Okehampton line as an alternative to the current route to London, via Dawlish.
I understand from subsequent discussions that Mr Maynard found the argument for the line reopening “compelling”. Time will of course tell.
After a wonderful time catching up with my friends over a very leisurely lunch just off Regents Street, I meandered around a few shops before heading back to Paddington to catch the return train at 6PM.
Whilst on the tube, I started to wonder how I would know which platform our Okehampton train would run from. After all it wasn’t a conventional, timetabled service from GWR but a specially commissioned service. I felt that maybe we should be going from Platform 9 3/4, rather Harry Potter like!
On arrival at Paddington I asked one of the Platform guards where our train was going from. Despite it not being on the standard timetable he knew all about it and pointed me in the right direction.
Even though I knew there was a buffet and trolley service on the train, I decided to pop in to Marks and Spencers for some of my favourite salad and nibbles before boarding.
With my bag of goodies and current book club reading book, Pompeii by Robert Harris, I settled comfortably into my allocated seat and waited for departure.
Soon after 6 we were on our way. The atmosphere was again wonderful, in this homeward direction, the talk about the fantastic sites all had seen, the food eaten and photos taken. Gradually as we got further into the journey, the noise level dropped as more and more of the tired passengers decided to have a little dose.
I happily read my book and mulled over the delights of the day.
Shortly after 9PM we pulled back into Okehampton station. No problems this time en-route, just a very efficient, direct service from London to Paddington.
I was in the car within a few minutes of arrival and back home in about another 30 minutes. So easy and so wonderful to have such an easy trip to London to meet up with friends.
I can’t wait until the next Royal Oke trip – on which friends here from Tavistock are planning to travel so we can have a lovely, easy and cost effective trip together to London.
Well done OkeRAIL, keep up the good work and I do hope you succeed with your aim to re-establish a daily train service on the existing line between Okehampton and Exeter, as this video explains.