The Avocet line rail link between Exmouth and Exeter marks its 150th birthday on May 1 with celebrations lasting several weeks. A highlight will be a special train from Exeter to Exmouth carrying a party of VIPs to mirror the opening celebrations on the same day back in 1861.

The line was opened on May 1, 1861 when, at 10.45, a train headed for Exmouth with a large group of civic and railway dignitaries. At about the same time on Sunday May 1, 2011 a train will again convey a VIP party to a reception hosted by in Exmouth Town Council in the Town Hall. There will also be a Sustainable Transport Fayre in the town’s central Strand Gardens.

Other events on May 1 will include an open day in the former Topsham signal box, performances by Exmouth Town Band, Exmouth Shanty Men and Great Western Morris, plus a beer festival at Lympstone.

ALRUG, the Avocet Line Rail Users Group, has been planning the birthday party for almost two years, and set up an Avocet 150 Steering Group involving local councils and voluntary organisations from communities along the 11 mile line. Chair Tony Day said “I think we have something for everyone, on the day itself and in the weeks before and afterwards. Our line is the busiest commuter line in the South West, with nearly 1.2 million passenger journeys a year. The way local people have responded shows just how much they appreciate their local railway.”

Topsham Museum is mounting a special exhibition of the history of the line throughout the summer, with an oral history feature “Railway Memories: Topsham to the Quay” from the second half of May. Exmouth Museum also has a railway exhibition and will open specially on May 1, when there will also be a display of old photos of the line at Lympstone Sailing Club. ALRUG member and former railwayman Stephen Derek’s large personal collection “the Evolution of the Avocet Line” will be on display at National Trust property A la Ronde, Exmouth from April 23.

An illustrated talk “By Train to Exmouth – a journey of 150 years” will be given by ALRUG member Richard Giles at Exeter Library on April 13. Richard will address several historical and other groups during April and May. Amyas Crump will give a talk “Trains Around Topsham” at Matthews Hall on April 26 and the following afternoon the first of two guided walks to find memories of steam in the small riverside town will take place.

On April 30, the evening before the special train, dancers will enjoy the Avocet 150 Ceilidh in Lympstone Village Hall, and at the same venue Lympstone Film Society will host a railway evening on May 6, which will include short films made for the occasion by Film Society members, as well as historical footage.

Theatre buffs have two treats in store, with an evening of music hall frolics at Exmouth’s Blackmore Theatre on May 7, and a production of “Still Life” at Lympstone in June. “Still Life”, set in a railway buffet, is the Noel Coward play on which the film “Brief Encounter” was based. Poetry boards around the village of Lympstone will feature verse about railways.

ALRUG will be distributing 10,000 copies of a programme leaflet giving details of all events, which can also be found at www.avocet150.co.uk.
Also some old photos of the railway in Lympstone ALRUG will be distributing 10,000 copies of a programme leaflet giving details of all events, which can also be found at www.avocet150.co.uk/gallery/lympstone