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New owner Keith steps up to the plate at miniature steam railway

By WMNCBarnes  |  Posted: April 17, 2014

  • Chuffed: New owner Keith Southwell takes a ride at the Lappa Valley Steam Railway. Picture: Dean Woods

  • A miniature engine builds up a head of steam at Lappa Valley near Newquay

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A family-friendly steam railway attraction is set to embark upon the holiday season in new hands, after being sold by the family that established it 40 years ago.

Keith and Sara Southwell have acquired the Lappa Valley Steam Railway near Newquay, which was established by Eric Booth, who still lives nearby and since 1992 had been run by his children.

The business was put on the market at the end of the summer season, with 16 parties expressing an interest in buying the attraction from the Booth family.

The couple’s acquisition comes as they sadly face calling time on another Westcountry attraction they own, at the end of this summer season.

At the end of the year, their lease will run out on council-owned land which has been home to the Exmouth Model Railway for more than 40 years.

The site will make way for the proposed ‘Exmouth Splash’ redevelopment of the seafront, as part of plans approved by East Devon District Council.

Mr Southwell, who initially worked at the attraction on Saturdays as a teenager, said that the 140 by 40 foot model railway would have to be demolished at the end of the holiday season, as there was no way of dismantling it and relocating it to the Lappa Valley site.

“I’m absolutely gutted,” he said. “I was told that there was no room for a model railway. It’s not as sexy as a sealife centre.”

However, the Southwell’s Railway Carriage Café, which is also located at the site, will be saved and moved to Cornwall when the lease runs out.

Mr and Mrs Southwell began in business by establishing an Exeter-based intruder alarms business, Tamar Security, which employs 17 staff and which Sara oversees the day-to-day running of.

Lappa Valley employs 15 staff, of whom five are employed year-round. They will be continue to work alongside the attraction’s general manager David Milne under the new ownership.

The attraction has three narrow-gauge railway tracks, one of which is a Victorian-built line which originally served to move minerals from the East Wheal Rose mine and became part of the Great Western Railway in 1896.

Steam buff Mr Southwell, who is delighted with his acquisition – undisclosed, although offers over £500,000 were sought – is set to undertake an ‘apprenticeship’ to drive and stoke the attraction’s miniature trains; saying it could take at least six months until he qualifies.

He added: “We are looking forward to working with all the staff at Lappa Valley and carrying on the excellent work that Mr Booth started.”

“We will not be making any immediate changes – just adding our touches, although we hope to build an all-weather play area in the near future.”

Lappa Valley was sold via Exeter-based business transfer specialist Beardsley Theobalds.

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