Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Where The Railroad Meets The Sea

I have an unexpected day free tomorrow and in a carpe diem moment am taking the chance to visit The Aged Parents in South Devon. I'll be taking the train down from London and the journey will take me along one of the most beautiful stretches of railway in Britain - Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Dawlish section of the Exeter-Plymouth railway.

When the train leaves Exeter (last outpost of culture - a University, a cathedral, some bookshops!) it slips alongside the Exe estuary and you get this beautiful calm panorama of the river, the sandflats and the soft, distant hills beyond. At the mouth of the Exe, the train rounds Dawlish Warren, a duny sandspit with mini-golf and a few huddled beach huts, and then the drama begins; for the next few miles the track hugs the red sandstone cliffs on the right and on the left there is nothing between you and the open sea.

It's a calm day in the picture, but even on those the spray hits the train windows; on bleak winter days huge waves crash over the trains, the tracks and everything. Sea, shingle and storm debris frequently close the line. It's the most expensively-maintained stretch of railway in Europe and climate change is making things worse. There's talk of re-routing the whole section. God though, it's beautiful.

There's no interwebby in Devon: well, there is, but not in the home of The Aged Ps. So I'll be silent for a while. Back for the weekend, crashing surf notwithstanding...

Here are three very special songs that will soundtrack my journey.

Heidi Berry - 'Northshore Train' (1989)
Cocteau Twins - 'Road, River And Rail' (1990)
David Sylvian - 'Where The Railroad Meets The Sea' (1986)

And yes, I know it's about the wrong sort of station, but this seems kind of appropriate too...

The Field Mice - 'Coach Station Reunion' (1991)

[from this (more about her here), this, this and this - but I expect you knew that already]


  1. Excuse me, Davy sir! I used to live in Plymouth, and we have a university, bookshops (Waterstones) AND a cathedral! Pistols at dawn, you cad etc etc.
    Have a nice time with Mum and Dad, won't you?

  2. Not a PROPER University though is it?

    *ducks for cover*

  3. Da nada Master Vinyl. S'a great album that one.

  4. It's a magic area, red rocks and greenery. Ness Cove and the smugglers tunnel, Posh ol' Salcombe and it's crazy sea tractor, Blackpool Sands.

    I always like a bit of XTC when I'm way out west, or Eno's Another Green World

  5. That Cocteau's track is so good... Nice one Davy. I made a record with heidi berry once. she was lovely (i should put all these amazing reminiscences into a book, innit?)

  6. I went out with a woman once who was completely unimpreseed by this beautiful part of the country. As I pointed out how the track swept passed the cliffs on our way to Cornwall she looked bored.

    I knew then it was over.

  7. I did play some XTC actually Mondo - 'Chalkhills & Children' - very good whilst slipping across Wiltshire downlands. Rob, I'd expect a complimentary signed copy of that bok, natch. She 'ditn't' deserve ya Marmite Boy...


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