Didcot, with a population of around 25,000, is the largest town in south Oxfordshire. Didcot seems to exist solely to act as the home of two stations: one, a mainline railway station1; the other, a coal-fired power station.
There are many who would argue that that is the end of the story as far as Didcot is concerned, but is there more to the place than simply being somewhere for trains to stop and rest on their way into or out of London's Paddington station?
Evidence of the oldest known settlement of Didcot exists in the form of Iron Age remains. The Romans are also known to have visited the area and attempted to drain the marshes that were once prevalent in the area.
Growth of Didcot from the tiny village it had become by the 13th Century was almost entirely the result of the railway. When Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the Great Western Railway (GWR), he planned to use Didcot, located near the half-way point of the line, as a major junction with other lines running north-to-south. With the creation of competing railway companies, Brunel's plans never quite came to fruition, although some of the other companies did build their lines through Didcot. As different railway companies at that time often used different gauges2, the station became an important interchange for passengers changing between services.
During the Second World War, Didcot's importance increased as the Ministry of Defence used it as an ammunition store. After the war, the Ministry's land was sold and a power station built - the railway providing a convenient means of supplying coal.
Getting To or From Didcot
By Train (obviously)
Trains to Didcot run frequently throughout the day from London Paddington, some non-stop or stopping only at Reading, others making many stops along the way. The time taken is around 40 - 60 minutes, depending on the number of intermediate stops.
After passing through Didcot, trains proceed to south Wales (Swansea and Cardiff), the Welsh 'borders' region (Worcester, Cheltenham, Hereford) and the south-west of England, including Bristol. There are also regular local trains to Oxford and the surrounding area.
Didcot is 3 miles east of the A34, a major north-south route connecting the M40, M4 and M3 motorways, via Oxford and Newbury4. To the east of Didcot, the A4130 is a minor route that winds its way through Henley-on-Thames to Maidenhead.
Buses from Didcot run to Oxford and Newbury, and also serve the surrounding villages. As the buses generally have long routes and pick up passengers in many places, their use is probably limited to journeys when there is plenty of time to spare, or when there is no other option5.
Things To Do In Didcot
Didcot Railway Centre
Given that the town owes its existence to the GWR, it is not surprising that it should have a dedicated museum. Didcot Railway Centre is attached to Didcot Parkway station. The Centre has a collection of original steam engines, coaches and buildings from GWR's history. On special 'railway experience' days, enthusiasts can ride on a steam locomotive, acting as driver, engineer and guard. Companies or individuals looking for alternative venues for meetings, conferences, weddings and the like can hire one or more original GWR coaches. For young children, the centre organises 'Thomas the Tank Engine' days.
Didcot Power Station
If you've ever wanted to know how a coal power station works, guided tours are available at Didcot Power Station. At the time of writing, these tours are free to schools and other educational or community groups.
Catch a Train
Didcot is a typical, small British town with a few shops, a cinema, a couple of non-descript leisure centres, the 'standard' takeaways - Chinese, Indian, pizza, chips, kebab - and little else of interest to the casual visitor. Eating out is just about possible in Didcot, but the choice is very limited. Perhaps the best thing to do in Didcot, therefore is to catch a train to London, Oxford or anywhere else that takes your fancy...