The Bluebell Line


Continuing a theme of stepping back in time, today’s post is about the Bluebell Railway which runs between East Grinstead & Sheffield Park in East Sussex.

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Bluebell Railway – Sheffield Park Station

This was another “wrinklies” trip, organised by the IBM Retired Employees Club. And what a fine day out it was.

A coach trip through some of the finest countryside that Hampshire and Sussex have to offer. You see so much more from the high vantage point that a coach provides. Seeing much that is missed, hidden behind hedgerows when sitting in a car.

On arrival at Sheffield Park, we had time to wander the station, the gift shop and cafe.

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Bluebell Line – Sheffield Park – Platform view with some rolling stock in the distance.

Over to the right you can just make out a brown locomotive. This is the Fenchurch, the oldest engine on the Bluebell Line.

Fenchurch was built in 1872 for the London Brighton and South Coast Railway.

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It was sold in 1898 to the Newhaven Harbour Company where it worked for many years. It finished its working life on the Hayling Island branch where the light weight, at 28 tons, was valuable due to the limits on the bridge over the estuary.

Whilst wandering the platforms, browsing the souvenir shop and raiding the restaurant for some chilled water, our train arrived.

The walls of the station buildings are adorned with the advertising posters of yesteryear, many stirring quite strong memories.

Before we could board, the existing passengers had to disembark, and then the engine had to be moved from the one end of the train to the other.

While the engine swapped ends the carriage for our group was also being prepared for our luncheon. We were to enjoy a ploughman’s lunch and fresh brewed tea.

Once our engine was re-attached to our train there was just time for a few more shots before boarding.

And then we were off. Not the smooth running of todays diesel/electric trains. Rather a gentle pulsing which comes from the steam-driven pistons driving our locomotives wheels. Then there was the aroma, coal fire mixed with steam. Once experienced, never forgotten.

The line passes through some beautiful countryside. We saw cows, sheep, quite a few pheasants. I even saw, what I assumed was an owl box, shaped like the gable end of barn, mounted in a tree close by the railway.

We were sat across our table from a nice couple of gents with whom we nattered about all manner of subjects. We all enjoyed our ploughman’s lunch although perhaps it would have been more appropriate to have had an engine drivers breakfast. Bacon, sausage, eggs and toast cooked on a shovel in the firebox. But I guess that would have been too much to ask for. Even the tea could have made using steam from the boiler.

Ah well, perhaps another time. All too soon our journey was over and we all left the train and headed back to our coach for the drive home.

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Journeys End – an almost deserted platform

And finally, when we had a nationalised railway system, we all moaned and wished we could go back to the days of the independent and local railway companies. Now we have a national rail network with franchised companies running the trains. With the current, recurring railway network chaos headlining our newspapers and television news, it seems we are all wishing we had our old nationalised system under British Railways ……

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