Monday, 25 April 2016

A Visit to Starcross

When I owned Starcross - the narrowboat - we were often asked by people on the towpath whether we came from the Devon village of the same name. I had to admit that not only did we not, but that I had never been there (although I must have passed through at speed on a train to the west).

But recently, during part of my epic bus voyage "around the edge of England" not only did I have the chance to visit Starcross - the village - but I was also able to go for a boat ride.

My trip involves a journey around England following the coast (or the Welsh and Scottish borders) as closely as possible using local buses but also other forms of public transport if they are more appropriate. Until I'd set off I didn't realise how many esturial and river ferries there are along the south coast and I've been enjoying making use of them including that which runs across the Exe estuary from Starcross to Exmouth.

I arrived in Starcross on the bus from Teignmouth, one of the few buses I've used so far that was running significantly (30 minutes!) late. I was still in time for the ferry, which was due to leave at 13.10 but the boats were proving even more unrelaible than the buses that day with the 13.10 sailing cancelled due to an exceptionally low tide.

That at least gave me time to look around the village, although I must admit that the main street at least is somewhat uninspiring.
Not much to look at on the main street but note the excellent bus/rail/ferry interchange!
The Pumping Station

Starcross's main claim to fame is as a station of one of Isambard Kingdom Brunel's less successful engineering ventures: the atmospheric railway.  The idea was that trains would be propelled along the line by compressed air pumped through a big pipe laid between the tracks. The air would move a piston through the tube that was attached to the underside of the train, thus doing away with the need for a separate locomotive.  Of course, the flaw is obvious; the need for a slot in the top of the pipe that would allow the piston to move along the track without letting all the air out!  Brunel's idea was to use heavy leather flaps to make the seal - and to be fair it worked, at least until the leather got eaten by the local rats!  The railway is remembered in Starcross by one of the few remaining pumping stations that were situated along the line and also in the name and signboard of one of the local pubs, although the illustration of a steam-hauled express rather misses the point.

One other item of transport interest in Starcross is the local garage. 

Garages designed so that motorists could fill-up by just pulling over to the side of the main road were not uncommon, but very few now remain and I imagine that in practice most people nowadays would drive onto the forecourt behind the pumps to get their fuel. (Note also that "red diesel" is available - another reminder for me of the other Starcross).

Sit at the bow please!

By 14.10 the tide was judged high enough for sailings to recommence - although only just so. Passengers were instructed to sit in the bow of the boat, to reduce the stern draught, and we literally "bumped along the bottom" for the first couple of hundred metres - something I was quite used to on the canals, but which I have never experienced in tidal waters before!

I'm still in the process of writing up this section of the trip for the Around the Edge of England blog as well as planning the next stage - due for mid-May - that should take me from Bournemouth along the coast to Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight using not only buses but several more ferries and some rather more exotic forms of transport!


A Heron's View said...

Many years ago people would be very careful about saying that there were in Starcross because of the Psychiatric Hospital which dealt with severe cases.

Jim said...

Such as people going round the coast of England by bus I suppose!