THERE was an air of excitement and anticipation at Bradford on Avon this morning when the steam train Braunton made only its second scheduled stop at the railway station since the mid-1960s to pick up passengers.

Its arrival took place just after 8.35am and attracted a large crowd of steam train enthusiasts, photographers and some lucky passengers.

The train, run by Saphos Train Travel, a steam engine charter company, was passing through the town on its way from Bristol Temple Meads to Kingswear so that passengers could cross over the River Dart to Dartmouth for a few hours before returning later in the day.

Along the way, it travelled along the Heart of Wessex Line, passing through stations at Bath Spa, Westbury and Taunton, to pick up some of the 300-plus passengers making the trip on Father’s Day.

Among those boarding the train was steam enthusiast John Baxter, 69, from Bradford on Avon, who was travelling with his wife, Mary-Anne, 64.

The couple were on their way to Dartmouth to meet family before driving out to the National Trust property at Coleton Fishacre, the Arts and Crafts-style former country home of the D'Oyly Carte family.

Mr Baxter said: “I have wanted to travel on the train for a long while and when I heard it was stopping at Bradford on Avon I decided to book the excursion.

“It’s only the second time that Braunton has stopped at Bradford on Avon. It offers a great experience to re-live the days of steam and Pullman fine dining.

“We will be having breakfast on the way down and a four-course silver service meal on the way home.”

John Potter, chairman of Bradford on Avon Preservation Trust, and a steam enthusiast, was also on hand to see the Braunton arrive and depart a few minutes later.

He said: “It’s my favourite engine. It was originally built at the Brighton Works in 1946 but is now owned by a London banker, Jeremy Hoskins, who has helped to rebuild and restore it.”

Another enthusiast who came along to see the train was Nancy Hurley, 36, from Bradford on Avon, with her son Teddy, two. “He has never seen a steam train before and loved it,” she said.

Saphos spokeswoman Harriet Feilding said: "Saphos Trains were very proud to be able to welcome their first 2019 West Country steam train to Bradford on Avon this morning.

"It’s only the second time that a steam engine has stopped there to pick up passengers since 1964 and a good crowd turned out to welcome her despite the drizzle.

"A late switch of engine meant that it was West Country class 34046 Braunton leading the way. This was the engine’s first outing for three years with her correct name plates and number, as she has been running as 34052 'Lord Dowding' in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain - which is how she appeared at Bradford on Avon last summer.

"The trip down to Kingswear for Dartmouth is always a popular one as it races through gorgeous countryside down through Exeter and along the estuary towards Dawlish and its famous railway line along the sea wall.

"We have been lucky that the rain has held off and we’ve had some spectacular views. As ever we have been watched and photographed by lots of people on bridges and in fields waiting to see the train go by.

"We are really pleased to have been able to increase the number of trips stopping at Bradford on Avon this year and we are looking forward to the next three over the next few weeks. This is now a definite fixture in Saphos Trains’ summer schedule.

"Our 300-plus passengers will be travelling in style in a combination of beautifully restored Mark 1 and Mark 2 carriages."

Braunton was built in 1946. Two years later in 1948, under nationalisation, she became British Railways number 34046, and was officially named Braunton in January 1949.

The first 48 members of the class were named after places in the West Country served by its trains or close to its lines.

Braunton was then withdrawn from service in late 1965, two years before the end of steam on the Southern Region, after accumulating 779,210 miles.

In 1996 the engine was saved from further deterioration, and in July 2007, the locomotive was steamed for the first time since 1965.