After being closed for exactly one full year next Wednesday (17th March) as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, the scenic South Devon Railway (SDR) has just announced its outline programme today for a Spring re-opening of the seven-mile heritage line running from Buckfastleigh to Totnes.
The last SDR steam trains ran virtually empty on Tuesday 17 March 2020 after visitors deserted Devon just ahead of the first lockdown the following weekend. This dramatic change came straight after a very popular weekend SDR steam gala event featuring former branch favourite loco No. 4555 as the star visitor. What a contrast!
It’s now the longest period that the quintessential former GWR branch line has been closed in its 52-year history after re-opening as a tourist railway in 1969 following closure by British Railways in 1962.
Now, the SDR says it will re-open to visitors in phases starting with the large Buckfastleigh site first on Monday 12 April when national CV-19 restrictions are set to ease significantly for attractions.
The site ‘Open Days’ will follow a similar format to those successfully staged last summer and autumn. Opening up the site was very popular with SDR visitors last year, and includes the gardens, workshop viewing, riverside picnic area, children’s playground, Lee Moor Tramway museum, north signal box, and the gift & model shop will be open too.
Many of the SDR’s steam and diesel locomotives and historic coaches will be on display and, on selected days, both the miniature railway and the garden railway will be in operation too.
The SDR site will be open all of the week commencing 12th April for the half-term holiday, then on every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday until 16th May. Entrance is free, but the SDR does ask for a donation at the gate. There is plenty of free car parking at Buckfastleigh station too.
And, at long last, the really good news is that SDR trains are set to start steaming down the picturesque valley of the River Dart once more from Monday 17 May, and the fantastic sight, sound and smell of them are now almost as much a natural part of the landscape as the trees, green fields, cattle and Devon’s rolling hills.
Not surprisingly, SDR staff can’t wait to welcome visitors back to the railway. A timetable of four steam trains per day will be in operation, leaving Buckfastleigh at 10.30, 12.10, 2.15 and 4.00, and arriving back about one and quarter hours later.