All roads lead to London, and so do the railway lines. The one connecting Bristol with our capital has been around for over 150 years now. This line was constructed by the brilliant and indomitable Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Originally built in wide gauge it was described as his ‘billiard table as the alignment was almost completely level along the whole route. Attlee has been a regular traveller on the route for many years, but he has been fortunate to be appointed ‘writer on the Train’ with a pass for unlimited travel and a letter of authorisation allowing him to talk to anyone on the network.
His journey along the route begins at the architectural masterpiece that is Paddington Station. This is the first of many of the listed and significant tunnel portals, bridges and viaducts the enable the line to remain perfectly level. The chapters are titled, location, diversion and digression, and he uses those headings to good effect as he travels west. We learn about the history of the line as well as places of significance that stretch way back in time to the Neolithic. There are profiles of the famous and infamous people that line the route from royalty to the wild parties of Diana Dors. He meets the people that keep the railway moving, drivers, guards and ticket officers. The foundation of all of these stories is centred on Isambard Kingdom Brunel; his presence still permeates the route and the architecture all the way.
It is quite amazing the quantity of stories that can be drawn just from one point to point journey and Attlee’s book makes for entertaining reading. It is well researched, full of fascinating anecdotes, tales and facts about all manner of random details and well worth reading even if you’re not a train fan.