Time has flown by, and it is hard to believe that Fielding & Watts/ Pathfinder Tours – based near Stroud – started running railtours 50 years ago, writes Ian Thomas.
It all began on Sunday June 10th, 1973, when Tony Fielding and Peter Watts, trading as F&W Railtours ran their first excursion from Gloucester Eastgate to Pwhelli, called the Snowdonian. Unbeknown to them, this was the start of a career still operating 50 years later.
I travelled aboard the second tour that year from Gloucester to Torbay, running as a day excursion similar to the BR Merrymaker tours. Then on August 3rd, 1975, I travelled with Peter on his Cambrian Coast Express tour, once again from Eastgate station and furthermore diverted via the Honeybourne Line as a result of Sunday engineering work.
Our destination was Minnford to join the Ffestiniog Railway for a round trip. Others went on to Barmouth. It was during 1977 that Peter and Tony officially created F&W Railtours and went from strength to strength. However, Tony Fielding left F&W leaving Peter to go solo. With the help of friends, the company went forward and expanded their programme of tours. Motive power and traction for the tours has included just about every class of diesel locomotive and many steam hauled tours.
Further to this, the destinations have become very diverse, covering just about all points of the entire British railway network. Peter also ran many farewell tours for various classes of locomotive, including the mighty Class 52 Western diesel hydraulics and Class 55 Deltics. Perhaps the most memorable were the Skirl of the Pipes Scottish weekend tours, covering freight lines and unusual lines north of the border. This involved dossing out in a BR Mark 1 compartment with a sleeping bag overnight, starting Friday night and getting home Sunday afternoon, several cans of beer stacked on board and a laugh with friends.
In 1987, Peter changed the trading name to Pathfinder Tours, the name still carried today. In 1988, a new concept was introduced on certain trains, in the form of a full restaurant service, offering a complete dining experience. Peter has contacts within the railway industry and with help from the late Bernard Staite from the Steam Locomotive Operator Association, the first tours featuring steam traction were introduced.
The most magnificent and popular are tours featuring the Settle-Carlisle line over the high Pennines. Freight only lines are a popular brand as it gives the opportunity to travel over non-passenger routes. Indeed, Tytherington and Sharpness plus Gloucester Docks have been visited over the years.
Make no mistake about it, Pathfinder has been arguably one of the most successful tour operators in Britain and other operators seek advice from Pete. Now he is into his seventies and taking a step back as younger blood has joined the team.
With sort of semi-retirement, he plans to come and visit Retro Track and Air in Cam and meet the other Peter Watts, bringing the two together as he of the air and he from the rails. Here’s to the future of Pathfinder Tours.
Words and pictures by Ian Thomas