Saturday, 26 August 2017

It's 1963 Again!

When I was very young, a trip to the seaside usually involved a journey to Hayling Island. Living on the south coast, it was just a short bus ride away, or, if very lucky, a ride on the "Hayling Billy", a short branch line from Havant to the Island, crossing over the weak and rather rickety bridge that was to be official reason for the line's closure. Personally, I think the huge traffic jams that built up at Langstone crossing played a part in the decision, even though the cost of rebuilding the bridge to take anything heavier than the life expired class A1X locos would have been ruinous.

This week, I managed to get myself an "official pass" to spend a couple of days out doing some photography at a preserved line that I had not previously visited - the Kent and East Sussex Railway. As it was on the way, I fitted in a trip to the Bluebell Railway, but it is to the K&ESR that we shall go to first in these rambling thoughts.

Because of memories of the Hayling line, I have always liked the A1X engines and an opportunity to see one running is always worth the effort. It so happened that 32678, one of the final locos to have run on the line was rostered for my visit.

32678 running around its train at Bodiam
Looking at the timetable, and having all day to waste spend on the line, I was able to wander back and forth and get the full value from my ticket. First train of the day is a rake of British Railways Mark One coaches, hauled by a GWR "pannier tank", or "Duck" as anyone who has ever read or watched Thomas the Tank Engine will call them.

"Duck" arrives to collect the first train of the day
This took me to the end of the line at Bodiam and then back again to Northiam where a 20 minute wait later, the A1X arrived complete with a train of proper coaches

Second train arrives. Notice how small the loco is when compared with the carriages

Formed as part of the train is an exquisitely restored former Metropolitan Railway First Class carriage. There's a surcharge of £2.50 for this, so any seat back to Bodiam and then travel in appropriate style all the way back to Tenterden.

You can just imaging John Betjamin travelling in here

I asked for a single to Verney Junction when paying my supplement. It took a few minutes to sink in... (Verney Junction being the furthest extreme of the Metropolitan Railway in rural Buckinghamshire). As the picture shows, you can see the quality of the restoration work.

Now back at Tenterden, I had intended to take another return trip, but missed the train while wandering around the museum. for those who prefer those strange diesel things, here is an oddity:

Designed and built at Swindon in 1964, where they had a reputation for doing their own thing, I suppose this is what happens when a bunch of steam engine designers are told to build a diesel. You'll notice the "proper" wheels joined by steam engine style connecting rods and driven from a jack shaft. Power came from a diesel engine via a hydraulic transmission. The idea was to replace the by then ancient locomotives used on short trip working, but this was a service that was dying in any case and so the entire fleet of these and other class 1 locos had ridiculously short lives with British Railways with some being sold for industrial use, mostly in coal mining.

Now it was back to Northiam by car to intercept the vintage train.

32678 arrives at Northiam heading back to Tenterden
Now leaving Northiam
Having processed the images, I had this idea: a quick repaint of the first coach in the picture above would re-create a scene reminiscent of the Hayling line. So, with the aid of Photoshop, here we are:

One final picture from this trip - the pannier tank leaving Northiam on the last round-trip service to Bodiam.

Picking Bluebells.

En-route to Tenterden, I spent the day at the Bluebell Railway, famous for being the pioneer standard gauge preserved railway and home to many former Southern Railway locomotives and carriages. On my visit, I was lucky enough to have two such locos in service:

Starting at Sheffield Park, the first train was going to be hauled by 30541, a small loco originally built for freight, but perfectly able to haul passenger trains as well. Here it is sitting while the tender is filled with water. My carriage for this trip was a 1930s express coach; as I was only going one stop, I slummed it in 3rd class

First stop: Horsted Keynes - a former junction, home to the motive power workshops and a location that will be very familiar as it is the "go to" location for film makers searching for a period railway station.

A trip to the loco depot is required. Much of the stock is held out of service awaiting overhaul, but rather than being stuck outside under tarpaulin, most of it is displayed in a shed. Lighting is poor and access is tight - but at least it can be seen.

Another class A1X, this time "Stepney" made famous by the Rev W Awdry in his "Thomas" books as "Stepney - the Bluebell Engine". A 10mm lens is the only way to get a picture, I'm afraid...

Sitting outside in gentle steam was class O1 number 65 of similar age to "Stepney" and one that survived in service until the early 1960s. Again, it was the lightweight of this engine that led to its longevity.

And a little newer is this U class 2-6-0 loco, designed by Richard Maunsell and built by the Southern Railway, although the design follows many of the elements of his earlier N and S classes built for the South Eastern Railway.

The sound of a whistle announced the arrival of a train - 541 arrives from East Grinstead while, from the south, another train was approaching from Sheffield Park:

847 is an example of class S15. The history is a little complicated, being originally designed by Robert Urie for the London & South Western railway primarily for express freight. They are closely related to class N15, better known as the "King Arthur" class. Following the "grouping" which brought the Southern Railway into existence, Maunsell became Chief Mechanical Engineer and set about improving the locomotive stock. 847 is an example from a later, improved batch. Although designed as freight locos, they were quiet capable of running relief passenger services and did so regularly.

Having made a quick run through the station to the right platform, this train took me to East Grinstead and eventually back to Sheffield Park.

Just arrived at Sheffield Park. I've jumped off the train and crossed the bridge to the other platform to take this picture. In the background, you can see a set of vintage coaches

Leaving Sheffield Park with the return service to Horsted Keynes.

A thoroughly enjoyable two days!

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