Bidding farewell to the GWR HSTs on Saturday, 18 May, I decided to avoid the crowds at Paddington for the four evening departures. Instead, I opted to witness last day operations on the two routes that I know best, the Cotswold Line from Oxford to Worcester and the Golden Valley route from Swindon to Cheltenham Spa.
First up was a trip to Moreton-in-Marsh, a place I featured last month with its current IET Class 80x series-operated services. My aim was to get there early enough to photograph the 11.22 ex-Paddington from a good vantage point I had discovered south of the station then photograph its 15.29 return departure, as the last-ever up HST service from Moreton.
Starting the day at Reading there was a chance to see the set I was to photograph, and later travel on, when 43172 Harry Patch and 43162 Exeter Panel Signal Box 21st Anniversary 2009 made a slightly delayed arrival with the 07.29 from Exeter St. David’s.
Heading then to Moreton, signalling problems south of Oxford meant services being delayed by around half an hour, with 43162/172 finally bringing in the 11.22 Paddington to Great Malvern at 13.30.
Given its significant delay, the service was terminated at Worcester Shrub Hill, so that it was able to make a punctual departure from Moreton-in-Marsh at 15.48 on its up journey, and would be at Paddington in time to form the service I would later be travelling on.
Returning to Reading on the next departure from Moreton (16.42) I was in time to see the first of the four evening farewell services, the 18.03 Paddington-Plymouth, as it stopped in Reading at 18.27 and was formed of 43188/093.
And so to my last ever GWR long-distance HST trip, aboard the second of the four farewell departures, the 18.15 Paddington–Cheltenham Spa. This left Reading at 18.42 and was formed of the set powered by 43162/172 which I had earlier seen and photographed at Moreton-in-Marsh.
Mindful of sunset and the need to get home that evening, I had booked a bargain price advanced purchase ticket to Kemble, the most photogenic and best preserved station on the Golden Valley route. A Kemble arrival at 19.29 would mean enough time to get a departing shot before a return to Reading at 19.51.
The 47-minute journey also meant time enough for a farewell visit to the buffet and a chance to enjoy a can of Tribute Ale, to mark not only the end of the GWR HSTs, but also the unforgivable end of fixed counter buffet services on the GWR network.
So not the last HST from Paddington (that honour going to the 18.30 Paddington- Exeter) but at least it was the very last one bound for my boyhood home of Cheltenham Spa and seeing an HST head away from Kemble for the last time was a very poignant moment.
Echoing what others have already said, my sincere thanks to all those who have maintained and operated these marvellous machines for the past four decades, and also to all the GWR staff who made Saturday a day for so many to remember.