The second leg of my trip took me away from nature. I decided to go out of my way to visit Steam — the Museum of the Great Western Railway.
I am not an extreme railway enthusiast, although I do find railways quite interesting. I only knew that Steam existed when I happened to pass it on the train a few weeks earlier on a separate journey.
I decided I wanted to visit, and it was quite convenient that I managed to incorporate it into my holiday. It is very easy to get to by rail, being just a stone’s throw away from Swindon railway station.
The museum is very comprehensive. It is not just a collection of old trains. The very first thing you see when you enter is a mocked-up back office. I wandered into a small room to find myself walking in on a worker being given a row by his boss for turning up late for work! Quite amusing.
From there, you go on to learn about the processes of building a steam locomotive, step by step.
Then, finally, you are presented with the finished product. This is Caerphilly Castle.
This is just one example of the excellent way exhibits are presented at Steam. A staircase allows you to walk straight underneath the locomotive to give a view of the underside.
After that, there are exhibits about the building of the railway itself. You learn about the Box Tunnel, and the Great Western Railway’s original unusual, but superior, broad gauge.
This is perhaps the most fun part of the museum. There is an awesome train driving simulator, and games that demonstrate the difficult job signalmen had.
Then you pay a visit to a mock GWR railway station.
The station contains objects like clocks, benches and vending machines of the steam period. But the highlight for me was the brilliant silver-plated locomotive-shaped coffee pot.
This was used at Swindon railway station, which apparently was notorious for its awful refreshments. Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself complained about it, with audio of his complaint playing out in the mock railway station. The display describes it as a “foul brew”, but you cannot deny that it was gloriously presented.
After you have looked around the railway station, it is time to enter ‘Speed to the West’, which is all about the efforts made to attract tourists to use the Great Western Railway. Among the exhibits are old slot machines, which you can still try out for 20p.
“See your own country first,” one poster implores. “There is a great similarity between Cornwall and Italy in shape, climate and natural features.”
This was another highlight for me. I have a particular fascination with the visual identity and graphic design of railways.
It would have been really great if I could buy some prints of old GWR posters from the souvenir shop, but sadly they didn’t sell anything like this. I made do with a GWR keyring and three bottles of beer that were brewed by the Box Steam Brewery, based near the Box tunnel.
I also pressed a penny to emboss it with the GWR logo. I haven’t done that in years, but it is always quite a nice and inexpensive souvenir of a visit.
All-in-all I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Steam, and would highly recommend that you pay a visit if you happen to be in the Swindon area.