Considering the train journey as an integral part of the adventure when getting away for a few days can really add the whole experience, instead of merely being a means to an end. For me, a recent trip from the West of England right into the centre of London was a great way to put this theory into practice. If you are a bit of a history nut, which might be the case if planning to hit some of the museums and historic sites of the capital, then the significance of the name Isambard Kingdom Brunnel will not be lost on you.
The route from Bristol Temple Meads into Paddington Station picks out some landmarks that this influential British engineer… well, engineered! Voted a close second in a 2002 BBC “Greatest Briton” poll, Mr Brunel built bridges, tunnels, steamships and indeed the track for the Great Western Railway route itself.
Brunels’s Temple Meads in ‘Olden Days’
It was his vision that a passenger could travel from London Paddington to New York, changing from the Great Western Railway to the Great Western Steamship service at the terminus in Neyland, South Wales, all on one ticket to ride (and sail).
The Route Today
My modern journey was devoid of steam, but not without some interesting architectural highlights.
First up is the Chippenham Box Tunnel at around 100 miles out from Paddington.
Chippenham Box Tunnel, Ghost Train Runs All Night (© Copyright Derek Hawkins and licensed for reuse)
There is a story that the Box Tunnel may have been purposely constructed so that the rising sun (from the East, then) shines all the way through it on Brunel’s birthday. It would seem that this could be put to the test on almost any April 9th – the sunny ones anyway.
At 22 or so miles from our destination, the bridge at Maidenhead crosses the River Thames. This brick-built arch design was completed in 1838. It is rumoured that if you cross this bridge at 18:38 on Brunel’s birthday, you can see his ghost appear under the central arch. Actually I made that up, but it is less easy to disprove than the Box Tunnel story.
Maidenhead Railway Bridge (Painting: Rain Steam and Speed the Great Western Railway, by Turner)
Once in London, the original of this painting is exhibited at The National Gallery.
Continuing on an artistic theme, the majestic and notorious Paddington Station is the terminus for the rail part of my journey.
The Artistic Detailing of Paddington Station (wikimedia)
This building has a mystery also as with the tunnel and bridge(!). The roof has two trancepts for which the reason is completely unknown (whoo!) – Though probably civil engineering-related.
This completed my particular journey – train, bridge and tunnel spotting as I went – however a hotel stay close to Paddington today allows for a quick getaway to London Heathrow Airport and onwards to New York. This last part would possibly not be imagined by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, whose own journey ended in 1859, around 40 years before the first faltering Wright brother’s flights. But who knows maybe Brunel’s ghost, as he walks the Maidenhead Bridge, looks up and sees these miraculous inventions once every April?