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Memories of rail travel to Cheltenham Race Week


Mid-March has always been an important date in the horse racing calendar as this is when the race festival is staged at Cheltenham, culminating in the Gold Cup race on the final day, writes Ian Thomas.

Many punters travel from across Britain to attend the event and many come by train from London and north of England. The normal timetable is supplemented by additional services and charter trains. Over the years the British Pullman (Orient Express) has run from London to the event which has now become a four, rather than three-day meeting.

50039 Standish 1027 Padd Chelt 1Z12 GCup 17 3 83 | Memories of rail travel to Cheltenham Race Week
50039 Paddington-Cheltenham at Standish, March 1983. Picture: Ian Thomas.

Gold cup day was always on the Thursday when it was three days, but now it is on Friday. Until 1971, the trains ran to the racecourse station on the former GWR line to Honeybourne, but thereafter diverted to Lansdown station on the Midland line. It is exactly 40 years ago that the V.S.O.E. (British Pullman) train ran for the first time from London to Cheltenham and I was able to record the event at Standish junction after the train had travelled down the Stroud valley.

47500 Standish VSOE Pullman Padd to Chelt 17 3 83 | Memories of rail travel to Cheltenham Race Week
47500 VSOE Pullman at Standish, March 1983. Picture: Ian Thomas.

Other extras ran such as the Tote Special, with up to 14 coaches in tow. Travel tickets for the V.S.O.E. would set you back around £250 way back in 1983, but this is a special occasion. The pictures show the trains at Standish on March 17th, 1983, and March 19th, 1987, and one at Coaley showing the empty coaching stock of The Statesman charter train from Manchester running to Bristol for servicing on March 16th, 1995.

47835 Coaley Statesman ECS Chelt to Bris 16 3 95 2 | Memories of rail travel to Cheltenham Race Week
47835 Statesman ECS Cheltenham to Bristol, at Coaley, March 1995. Picture: Ian Thomas.

Note the snow still lying on Cam Peak and Long Down from an overnight fall in March 1987. Incidentally, further snowstorms that day delayed the Gold Cup race by 20 minutes. On March 16th, 1978, the racing was abandoned completely following heavy overnight snow. It was rescheduled to run in April that year.

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