IF YOU enjoy Bill Bryson’s work, you will love this quirky, humorous look at yet another angle on British eccentricity. The subject is narrow-gauge railways, which have not merely survived as relics of a bygone age, but are flourishing right across the country.
And the trend is likely to continue with the recent arrival of Nia, Emily, and Rebecca as new engines and new friends for Thomas the Tank Engine. Nia is from Africa; so I guess that’s killed two birds with one engine. This treat, traditionally for little boys, is about to embark on a whole new ball game.
Chris Arnot, who has previously discovered lost cricket grounds and lost breweries, begins his odyssey with the lost mines near Blaenau Ffestiniog. Here is one of the crowning glories of the narrow-gauge world. The style is gentle and teasing: “Travelling on the Ffestinigg Railway to Blaenau Ffestiniog in a ffirst-class Pullman carriage on the ffinal train out of Porthmadog was a ffine way to relax after a ffraught Ffriday [etc. etc.]” You get the gist.
The “stars” of the narrow-gauge firmament — the Snowdon Mountain Railway; Ravenglass to Eskdale; and the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Light Railway — are all featured. There is much “name-dropping” of the great and the good who have passed along their routes. It would make a great Christmas present for Grandad, and, given the revolution chez Thomas, it won’t be long before Grandma wants to join the party as well.
Dennis Richards is a former head of St Aidan’s C of E High School, Harrogate.
Small Island by Little Train: A narrow-gauge adventure
AA Publishing £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30