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When Siberia came to the Strawberry Line in 1962/63

Just after Christmas in December 1962 it began to snow across the Strawberry Line District and temperatures dropped. Amanda Cornwall put on her thermals and recalls the Big Freeze

The sea froze in the Bristol Channel and along the South Coast at Seaton and Lyme Regis. Roads were blocked for weeks and from early December 1962 to March 1963 there was a frost every night. Birds like the wren and robin were almost wiped out in some areas and as for the Strawberry Line - well there wasn’t one as it disappeared into a new ice age.

Colin Forse of Yatton can remember it well - as he was snowed in on the train. He recalls in the book A Life On the Railway that January day when he clocked in for work: “My adventure started on Tuesday 2nd January 1963. It had been snowing on and off since Boxing Day and it was beginning to build up quite deep in places when my fireman Clive Joslin and I set sail for Yatton. We had a Class 22xx that morning and with some difficulty finally made it to Wells.”

The Yatton engine driver clocked on for the early shift the following morning in the ealry hours and was asked to brave the snow again.

“That morning we had an Ivatt Class 2 46506 tender and locomotive. We went light engine to Yatton where we took on water and I picked up a packer’s shovel which was going to be very useful later that day.”

Together with Bob Ford the duo set off using a steam lance to free the points at the junction to Wrington between Congresbury and Banwell and Sandford. They ploughed through a snow drift at Winscombe station covering a passenger with snow but kept going until they arrived in Cheddar where there was a difference of opinion with the Inspector. Colin knew the line and insisted that the two trains should uncouple with the snow plough in front and the loco following behind in case the first engine got stuck. That way they could either pull the plough out or at least abandon it to the snow and escape back to Yatton on the engine. Alas the Inspector claimed he knew better and they set off coupled together towards the blizzard in the gathering gloom of a winter’s morning.

Speaking to the Strawberry Line Times Colin recalled: “The Inspector didn’t have the knowledge you see as he was from Stourbridge. Well we got to Cheddar and the signalman said it’s rough out Draycott way. There’s a cutting by the chicken farm and all the snow from the Mendips blows down into it and fills it. On we went into the blizzard and about 180 yards from Draycott Station we got stuck. Up near the level crossing. We were snowed in. Couldn’t move.”

In A Life On the Railway Colin said: “So both engines are now going flat out. The plough is piling up the snow in front and suddenly we are more or less buried in a deep drift and we’re firmly stuck. The inspector decides to get off the engine and promply disappeared out on sight, only his hat and hands can be seen!”

The chaps pulled the Inspector out and after a heated discussion the Inspector and Colin’s mate set off on foot for Cheddar. After finding the phone lines were down Colin and the snow plough driver then had to make the best of it. They hunkered down for the night fortified by hot tea and a roast chicken supper which they traded with a resident in exchange for some coal. They knew time was against them as if they didn’t move soon the train would run out of water - which they normally took on in Yatton. Eventually, depite a rescue attempt with a third engine, the locomotives were abandoned to the Siberian winter. If there

Snow joke: Shepton Mallet station during the winter of 1963

was one silver lining for Colin it was that due to being snowed in while on duty he clocked up an 86 hour week giving him a larger pay packet than normal.

However this was not the case for window cleaner Ron Moulton of Draycott. The village was cut off and the residents had to walk along hedges and across fields to reach Cheddar for supplies. For Ron it meant little work and less money for several weeks. He remembers walking to Cheddar along part of the railway embankment to get groceries as the village shop ran low on supplies in January.

In Axbridge farmer Jim Lukins remembered the challenge of milking his herd of cows and of rescuing sheep covered in 12ft snow drifts in Cheddar.

“On the first day we didn’t start the milking until nearly 11am,” he said, “We found you had to drain the pipes of water in the milking parlour at night so they didn’t freeze. It was terrible as there was a frost every night for weeks. We had three milk rounds in those days but you could put chains on your tyres and so the milk still got through in our Morris 8 Van. We just got on with it and didn’t make the fuss people make today when it snows.”

•Do you have memories and photographs of the era of steam travel along the line? Do you recall the Big Freeze? Contact the editor Harry Mottram on 07789 864769, or email him on, so we can share them with our readers in the magazine and website.

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From left: train stuck in the snow at Draycott in 1963; milk bottles (pic; and Cross on the A38 in 1963 (thanks to the Facebook Group Axbridge Old Photos and New) Strawberry Line Times

December 2012-January 2013 Strawberry Line Times December 2012-January 2013 21

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