The preserved East Somerset Railway owes its existence primarily to one man, the renowned wildlife and railway artist David Shepherd.
He, and a group of friends, bought the line in 1971 to house his two steam engines (BR Standard Class 9F No. 92203 Black Prince and Standard Class 4MT No. 75029 The Green Knight).
The site opened to the public in 1973 offering brake van rides along a short length of track, and was officially opened by HRH The Prince of the Netherlands on 20th June 1975. Quite by chance, the first time I visited the railway was the day after the official opening. I remember the place being covered in bunting and with something of a morning after the night before feeling.
A lot has changed since then. There is a fine new station building at Cranmore completed in 1991 that incorporates a café, booking office, gift shop and toilets. This somewhat overshadows the original Brunel station which is easily dismissed as outbuildings containing a small museum; more should be made of it.
On the platform is one of only half a dozen or so surviving K4 red telephone boxes, a design which incorporate a stamp machine and post box. It dates from 1927 and only 50 of them were ever made.
The line has been extended to a modest 2½ miles (4 kms), but only has one station. There are halts at Cranmore West (for the Engine Shed), Merryfield Lane (a run-down picnic area with no access) and Mendip Vale (in the middle of nowhere with foot access only).
Plans are afoot to extend the line towards Shepton Mallet to new terminus at Cannard's Grave. If this goes ahead, then perhaps the line will begin to feel less like an overgrown garden railway and more like the real thing. Not that I've anything against garden railways.
For opening times, timetable, ticket prices, etc. please see the official site detailed below.