All Aboard!

PUBLISHED: 15:25 21 July 2011 | UPDATED: 19:44 20 February 2013

Car No 12 at Colyton

Car No 12 at Colyton PHOTOS: PETER WHITE

Take a ride on the historic Seaton Tramway to Colyton. Words and photos Peter White

Take a ride on the historic Seaton Tramway to Colyton. Words and photos Peter White

We were sitting on the open-top deck of Car No 8 in the Seaton Tramway station, listening to a briefing from our driver and looking forward to the trip up to Colyton. Will those passengers in the fully air-conditioned compartment please refrain from standing up, and from touching the overhead arm, unless you want the tram to stop very suddenly, and your hand to feel rather warm. It didnt occur to me at first that this applied to us, but then I realised that the air-conditioning was the keen north wind blowing down the River Axe estuary and the overhead arm was the connection to our power supply above!

We eased out of the terminus, and soon emerged onto the banks of the estuary. The air-conditioning was working well. But the sun shone and we rattled happily along the shoreline through the nature reserves of Seaton Marshes and Colyford Common. Snowy-white little egrets hunted busily in the shallows, grey herons stood stock-still waiting for the fish to come to them, and little waders scuttled around on the mud. And none of them took any notice of the tram!

At passing loops along the track we waved and exchanged a few words with passengers travelling in the other direction. At Colyford there was the option of breaking the journey for refreshments in the White Hart or to visit the motor museum, but we stayed on board as the driver alighted to operate traffic lights which stop the cars on the busy A3052. With an authoritative ring of the bell we trundled across the main road, feeling rather superior and waving enthusiastically at the queue of traffic.

The end of the line is Colyton Station, with the Tram Stop Restaurant, a shop and information. By now we were curious. How on earth did this eccentric means of transport come to be located in the depths of East Devon? The story is fascinating. It starts with Claude Lane, who owned the Lancaster Electrical Company of Barnet, making electric milk floats. In 1949, for his own pleasure, he built a 15-inch gauge miniature electric tram which he ran at local ftes. Surprised at the amount of interest, he started operating on a more permanent basis at St Leonards and then Rhyl, before setting up the 24-inch Eastbourne Tramway operating on one mile of track.

By the 1960s Claude was looking for a site with scope for a longer track, and in 1969 he purchased the Seaton to Colyton section of branch line, closed by Dr Beeching in 1966.

In what must have been a busy year, new 33-inch gauge line was laid, trams were transported across the country and modified, and the first section of Seaton Tramway was opened in August 1970. Claude sadly passed away in 1971, but he had lived to see his dream. Luckily, others shared his enthusiasm and development continued, with the final section to Colyton opened in 1980.
We lingered on the platform of the original branch line station, built in 1868, and watched the trams come and go. There are 13 of them; the oldest was built in 1904 Metropolitan Tramways Type A Car 94. The three most recent acquisitions were purpose-built in Bolton and fitted out at Seaton. In between there is an amazing miscellany of cars built in different places and modified at Seaton to fit the gauge, reflecting the design of historic trams from Blackpool, Llandudno, the Isle of Man and elsewhere. Car No 19 (they are not numbered consecutively) started life in 1906 as an Exeter Corporation tram and is the only Exeter tram to survive.

We walked the ten minutes into Colyton, and were very glad that we did. It is a beautiful little town, narrow streets with flint walls, a good selection of shops, and a wonderful church dating from Norman times which is topped with one of only three lantern towers in the UK. Inside are impressive family tombs, a very unusual stone screen, wonderful stained glass and a host of beautiful detail to be found. Dont miss it!
We wandered back to the station to join the queue for the return journey. We were soon on our way, with the air-conditioning now blowing from behind. Twenty-five minutes later we were back in Seaton. A stroll along the seafront to the busy little harbour at Axmouth, with its view up the estuary from the bridge, rounded off the day nicely.

Later, I spoke to Sue Bowman, the companys commercial manager. They carry 90-100,000 passengers each year, many of them on repeat visits. Some real enthusiasts become volunteer workers currently there are 25 of them driving the trams and helping with maintenance. Sue told me about the programme of special events running throughout the year. Bird-watching trips with local experts are particularly popular, but you can go on the Halloween Tram of Terror, visit Santa by tram, celebrate a birthday on board, or give a days tram-driving experience as a present!
So the dream of one man became a slick operation, and a really good day out. We loved it, and well be back with the grandchildren. Try it! Times, fares and special events are all on

Latest from the Devon Life