100 years ago, England was criss crossed with railway lines. Small towns and villages were all connected with quaint single track upon which steam trains chuffed their merry way about, ferrying passengers in their wooden well appointed carriages. Sadly, the second world war meant that the upkeep of a lot of the track and rolling stock fell far behind, and budget cuts meant that a lot of the smaller branch lines were uneconomic to operate.
In the 1950’s, a huge amount of these little branch lines, the ones to smaller towns and villages, were closed due to the lack of funding, the rolling stock mothballed and the tracks ripped up – the old trackways often ending up overgrown or as foot or bike paths. Modern diesel electric trains required less maintenance and staff and the die was cast for the demise of the English steam railway era.
Some enthusiasts rallied round to buy up what they could and restore certain stations (or stop them falling into terminal decline) and preserve the steam engines and glorious carriages that went with them,
One such example is the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex. It runs almost a full timetable between Sheffield Park and Kingscote at weekends and summer holidays and is staffed entirely by volunteers. They’re even working on joining the track back up to the mainline rail network and looking to restore more trains.
Its a beautiful idea that evokes the spirit of the bygone era. I love it – it’s something definitely worth preserving. The craftsmanship, the idea that gentlemen could travel in comfort, the railways could operate without mindless vandalism that blights the modern train network and rolling stock. Its a wonderful thing which sadly brings the stark reality of modern times into focus.
Anyway – took the kids, it was a long way to drive, but they loved it. The English summer even performed for us, the early rain clearing away to reveal a glorious balmy afternoon.
The kids were well impressed that the train carriage looked just like Harry Potter’s one on the Hogwarts Express. Henry wanted to know where the dementors were..
The journey took 30 minutes and went through pristine English countryside, smoke billowing out from the locomotive. We got off at Kingscote and decided to wait for the next train rather than just staying on the same train back, even though it was an hour long wait. There was a small snack bar and the sun was shining – I thought we should make the most of it and take a look around the station that was so beautifully preserved, plus we could watch the train pulling out of the station, smoke billowing out and everything.
Pretty soon the next train came in (a very different engine and much older carriages to the one we came in on) and the hoards disembarked, eager for coffee and ice creams, so we duly snarfed their seats and waited the 20 minutes for the train to depart
We messed about with cameras to put other people off coming into the compartment with us. Just as well really, Henry was letting rip. *parp*
We got back into Sheffield Park station and poked around the museum for a bit before watching the train depart again, chuffing its black smoke out as it went. Awesome!
Then on the way home, we stopped off for a quick run around on the edge of Ashdown Forest. Henry sat on a thistle and wasn’t very impressed. Ella and I thought it was very funny though!
Then it started raining and we drove home.
Steam trains got a massive thumbs (and everything else) up from myself and Henry and even Ella was forced to admit that it was pretty cool and she scored the day an 8/10.