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.


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.


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.


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.


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 ……




The Inn On The Beach

Today I had lunch at The Inn On The Beach , Hayling Island.

The Inn On The Beach, Hayling Island

Along with my wife, grandson and a longtime friend over from Australia we spent an enjoyable few hours reminiscing and catching up.

The “Inn” provides good food in nice surroundings with a beautiful views across the Solent to the Isle Wight and along the coast from Portsmouth to the West to Selsey in the East. This a great venue regardless of the season.

When we arrived the weather was cold and quite breezy. By the time we had finished eating the wind had dropped and the clouds had rolled away. The sun was dropping rapidly and illuminating the shoreline beautifully.

The following view is to the west and in the distance you can see the Portsmouth skyline including the Spinnaker Tower, the floodlights at Fratton Park and it is just possible to make out St Marys church.

Hayling Beach Huts in the Autumnal Sunshine

This view is to the east and when viewed full size you can just see the Selsey shoreline merging with the horizon.

Hayling Shore view towards Selsey

I believe that, when the conditions are right, the south coast and especially Hayling is as good as any mediterranean location.

Hayling Billy Trail

The line was opened by the LBSCR for goods on January 19th 1865, and for passengers on July 16th 1897. Over the winter of 1962 it was decided to close the branch line, the reason being the old timber bridge that crossed Langstone Harbour needed expensive repairs. The company could not afford the repairs and thus the line took its final fare paying customers on November 3 1963.

Many years on and the route of the Hayling Billy Line has been opened as a combined footpath, bridleway and cycleway and passes down the west side of the island. It is part of route 2 of the National Cycle Network.

Over the years I must have driven on and off Hayling Island many hundreds of times and  was aware of the Hayling Billy Trail but until now had never visited.

So there we were on a very chilly Tuesday afternoon, with the sunshine coming and going, but spending most of the time hidden behind the clouds. At least it wasn’t raining. We parked up in the car park at the northern end of the trail.

Looking north from the trail toward the road bridge.

As you follow the trail you can see many clues linking back to parts of the old railway . Some are a little more obvious than others. The most obvious are the remains of the old railway bridge.

Hayling Billy Railway Bridge

Remains of Hayling Billy Signal

As you head south down the trail to your right are the remains of the oyster beds. These are now home to many sea birds and attract many “twitchers”.


Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)


The trail is very popular and we met many folks out walking their dogs, whole family’s cycle riding and even a couple of ladies on horseback. We spent an enjoyable couple of hours strolling along taking in the scenery while the fresh air blew away the cobwebs.

Late afternoon – Hayling Billy Trail

After we got back to the car we headed up to the top of Portsdown Hill for a cup of tea courtesy of Mick’s Burger Bar. There we were treated to a beautiful sunset.

Sunset – Portsdown Hill