COVENTRY-BASED writer Chris Arnot’s new book is an off-beat adventure to remote parts in celebration of our small island – from the perspective of narrow-gauge railways.
The respected Earlsdon-based scribe has for decades delivered insightful and entertaining prose from his garden shed-come-office, and latterly from his converted loft – for his idiosyncratic books, national broadsheet newspapers including The Guardian, and local titles.
Following gems include Britain’s Lost Cricket Grounds, Britain’s Lost Breweries and Beers and Britain’s Lost Mines, he this month launched his new tome, ‘Small Island by Little Train: a narrow-gauge adventure’, published by the AA, at £16.99 (hardback).
And it is already causing a stir – with write-ups and glowing reviews in national newspapers.
Narrow-gauge steam locomotives and other trains trundled on terrain which mainlines could not reach – from sharp bends to steep gradients. Often built by the owners of slate mines, quarries or dairies, today they carry passengers around some stunning landscapes.
Chris told us: “I was approached by my former publisher who is unofficially my agent who asked: ‘How do you fancy writing a travel book for the AA?’
“First of all, I wondered if it was a bit anorakish. He replied: ‘Don’t write it for the railway buffs. Write what you see from both sides from the windows.’
“I wondered in my 68th year whether I was too old for adventures,” joked Chris. “It became an adventure around a country that is incredibly varied.”
Far from his Coventry converted loft, Chris while researching found himself tumbling down a steep railway embankment in the wilds of Scotland, en route to visit Santa Claus down a disused lead mine. Next, he was groping his way across a treacherous track in pitch darkness in coastal Cumbria.
The AA says ‘Small Island by Little Train’ is packed with unusual stories, from a miniature Kent coast railway once used for Home Guard military trains during World War II and now for the local school commute; to the UK’s only Alpine-style rack-and-pinion railway, scaling one of Britain’s highest mountains.
The AA continues: “Then there are the five different gauges of railway circling one man’s landscaped garden, and the team building their own trains to run on it.
“Chris also discovers the legendary Peak District railway closed and never reopened – what, if anything remains of it?
“Far more than mere relics of the nation’s industrial past, or battered veterans of wartime Britain, these are stories of epic feats of preservation, volunteerism, tourism, and local history.
“They are an exploration of idiosyncrasy, enthusiasm and eccentricity. Or, to put it another way, a tale of Britishness.”
The Guardian writes: “Chris Arnot’s heady romantic hymn to a variety of once famous fields is a coffee-table classic for and of posterity.”
‘Small Island by Little Train: a narrow-gauge adventure’ is available from Waterstones and other bookstores, and online via Amazon and other distributors.