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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Hastings / Bodiam


Saturday Afternoon

A weekend in Hastings to celebrate my sister’s birthday was never going to be quiet but we had a cracking time.

Saturday was not  very nice weather wise, grey and cool. It didn’t matter much since we spent some time wandering down George Street browsing the shop windows  until we met up with my sisters friends. Then we whiled away some time loafing in  Ye Olde Pump House, a pub which looks much older than it really is.

 That’s if the old gent who harangued us outside can be believed. Anyway, it’s old enough and was very popular even when I used to visit back in the late 60’s. Had a couple of pints of Early Bird, a really tasty brew from Shepherd Neame.

A pale golden beer, with floral aroma, Early Bird is full-bodied and takes its name from the Early Bird variety of East Kent Goldings hops, grown in hop gardens near the brewery.

It gets my vote and certainly seemed to live up to the brewers description which I have quoted above.

Due to much gassing with my sisters friends, time passed rapidly by and we ended up spending more time in the pub than we had intended. This is what happens when you are having a good time. We were supposed to be having a meal before going on to a show. In the end we had to by-pass the meal and  sprint to make the show.

We were going to see Chas Hodges, you can read my post on that HERE

Sunday – Wow ! What a day out !!!

For Sunday we had chosen to get together with my other sister and had arranged to meet up at Bodiam Castle. The weather was fabulous, blue cloud free skies and beautiful spring sunshine.

Bodiam Castle is in a wonderful setting, sat as it is on an island reached only by the bridge across the moat.

We meandered around the perimeter of the moat enjoying the warmth of the sun and the attentions of the many ducks. Sis decided that she would become the Birdwoman of Bodiam and broke out the butties. She was immediately surrounded.

Once they knew that she was a buttie free zone they abandoned her. Cupboard love I believe it is called.

We continued to tour the castle surrounds before heading inside. Here are a few facts that I have dredged up. Bodiam is a 14th Century construction. It was built in 1385 by Sir Edward Dalyngrigge who apparently was one of Edward IIIs knights. It was intended to defend the area against those nefarious French during the Hundred Years War.

Those pesky ducks get every where, especially when they think there is food to be had. You only have to dangle your arm over the bridge railing and a collective shout of “incoming” goes up.

Of course, what goes up must eventually come down…..

Once we were across the bridge we were met by a most unusual couple. We were accused of using the devils machinery and of stealing their spirits but they were quite friendly really and welcomed us into the castle courtyard

While we were there the locals were telling of the castles history hence the unusual attire. This fellow was the main orator.

Bodiam is a “pretty” castle now and it doesn’t take much imagination to see what it would have been like when it was first built.

It is possible to get many different perspectives of the castle.

After much strolling and climbing we found ourselves to be a bit peckish. So we took ourselves across the road to the nearby pub. Strangely enough it is called the Castle Inn

We were surprised to find that there were outside tables available and sat ourselves down for a spot of lunch. Considering this was 1st April, to be sitting outside to eat was a rare treat. The food was good and we didn’t have to wait too long and it was hot when it arrived. By a happy coincidence this pub was also serving Early Bird which was a suitable lubricant for the meal.

While we were having lunch we were treated to the spectacle of a helicopter coming into land on the pub lawns.

After lunch we walked up to the railway station. All day we had been seeing the smoke and hearing the whistles of the steam trains.

When we arrived at the station we determined that the next train would be arriving within a few minutes and duly positioned ourselves across the road and the level crossing ready for the steamer we knew was coming. Imagine the big disappointment when we were presented with this…..

Yup. A diesel loco. OK it is a piece of vintage rolling stock but it wasn’t what we wanted. Never mind, as they say, there is always next time. After taking a look at some of the old goods wagons at the station we headed back to our cars.

Drove back to my sister’s house for a cup of tea and some superb lemon drizzle cake. All taken while sitting outside in the sunshine. I still have to remind myself that this was the first day of April.

A fitting close to a fantastic day. All that was left was for us to drive the 90 or so miles home. I didn’t need any rocking when I hit my pit.