Picture special: James May’s Tarka train race

16:26 19 April 2011

James May celebrates his train's arrival at Bideford Station. Picture by Graham Hobbs

James May celebrates his train's arrival at Bideford Station. Picture by Graham Hobbs

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Star’s tiny train has a big adventure on the Tarka Trail

TRAINS have been running between railway stations in Barnstaple and Bideford for the first time in nearly half a century – thanks to Top Gear presenter James May.

The star of the BBC2 show drew huge crowds on Saturday as he made a second attempt at traversing the former rail line with his miniature 1972 Flying Scotsman Hornby original.

May was joined by wine expert Oz Clarke in the head-to-head race with a team of German miniature railway enthusiasts, being filmed for a special spin-off to the 2009 BBC2 series James May’s Toy Stories.

The show, which currently has the working title James May’s Toy Stories: The Great Train Race, saw each team racing three trains, with the English starting from Barnstaple Station and the Germans beginning at Bideford.

Problems with vandalism and bad weather foiled the first failed attempt two years ago and a team of 20 security guards was hired to keep watch of the 9.1-mile section of toy rail track on Friday night.

As the film crew returned for an early start at 7am on Saturday there was no sign of the track damage or the wet weather of 2009. The only problem facing the challenge was a drop in temperature that caused same sections of the track to contract overnight.

At Bideford, Gerrit Braun and half-brother Sebastian Drechsler, from the Miniatur Wunderland model railway attraction, in Hamburg, said they were confident that their German engineering would see them to the finish ahead of May and co.

But as the countdown to the race eventually got underway some two-and-half-hours later, there were a few red faces when a battery malfunction sent their train hurtling along the track – in the wrong direction!

At Barnstaple things went a bit smoother as May’s Flying Scotsman was blessed on its way by local priest the Reverend Alan Glover.

As the weather and the race hotted up, the German team – out in front and confident of victory – stopped to cool down with an ice cream at Fremington Quay.

There was no such luxury for May, who could only get hotter under the collar when forced to stop and make running repairs to his train at Yelland Power Station.

Of May’s three trains, his trusty Flying Scotsman was the last to arrive at Bideford Station at around 8.20pm, although the production crew is remaining tight-lipped about which team won the race as the programme will be aired on television later this year.

For lots more pictures taken on the day, click on the multimedia link on the top right of this page.

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