East Grinstead by bus

U-class 1638 at Sheffield Park

Over Easter, the Bluebell Railway celebrated rejoining to the main line at East Grinstead. Back in the 1960s the council had used the cuttings between there and Kingscote as landfill tips and over the past few years, at great expense, the volunteers have been digging it all out! The Bluebell is notoriously difficult to get to from Brighton by public transport - in previous years I've been making use of the free vintage bus days to travel there via Lewes. This time I thought I'd try out the Metrobus route 270, via Haywards Heath. So, armed with a shareholder's voucher for a free round trip, I caught the bus from Preston Circus at 10.29.

Water tower progress

The bus ride would take an hour and half and was scheduled to get in to East Grinstead at 12.02. The trouble was there was only one train on and it was timetabled to leave East Grinstead at 12. Not to worry, heritage railways are always a little behind... but not this time! The bus journey was very pleasant, visiting lovely Sussex villages such as Lindfield with its picturesque pond, and Forest Row, even passing the National Cat Centre at Ashdown Forest! Indeed it passes through Horsted Keynes, a station on the Bluebell line, but only visits the way-out-of-town station on Saturdays!

Predictably I'd missed the train, so I popped into the Travel Centre to get my ticket (disappointingly, a hand-written paper one - I hadn't spotted the proper ticket office which would have the proper cardboard ones). The poor wee Edinburgh woman in the travel centre was contending with the world's most boring old man, so I went next door to the splendid Grinsteade Buffet in an old coach for a cup of tea and a sandwich (egg mayo and cress). When I heard the boring man had followed me in and was interrogating the cafe woman, it was time to leave.

Buffet at East Grinstead

The plan was to get a bus back up the hill to the olde worlde High Street and kill time until the next train at  2.15. But the buses were few and far between, so I ended up hanging round the travel centre portacabin reading tourist brochures until the alloted time when I braved the howling wind to get a place on the platform. However, the train was delayed by half an hour, due to a failed brake in a carriage (grrr), so that meant more waiting, out of the wind.

Evacuees at Sheffield Park

Eventually Maunsell U-class 2-6-0 No. 1638, built in 1931, rolled into the station. I took some photos - it was windy but sunny - and got on board. Theoretically the round trip would bring me back to East Grinstead for 4.11 and my last bus to Brighton was 4.15. Hmmm, ah well, we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. At the travel centre I'd checked that there were no buses going anywhere nearby from any of the other stations during the week. I'd chosen to come on a weekday because I thought it'd be quieter - wrong! Weekdays are taken up by coach trips wanting cream teas, so the train (minus one coach) was crowded. At Sheffield Park I should have had half an hour to look round the shed, but when we got there, the platform was crammed with millions of hungry pensioners, and with a party of 'evacuees' that got on at Horsted Keynes, it was going to be crowded going back. I did mange a whirlwind tour of the new museum, where I saw London Jack, died 1931, who used to be on Woking station (I think) collecting for the Southern Railway Orphanage.

London Jack in the museum

I did get a seat on the way back, opposite a moaning life member and wife who thought they should have used more carriages, despite the waitresses frantically putting Reserved signs on every available table for the cream teas, and I got back to East Grinstead in time for the 5.15 270 bus, which only goes as far as Burgess Hill. I alighted at Haywards Heath and got the train back to Brighton (bumped into Ross Gurney-Randall), grabbing a cheese and mushroom pasty at the station and a pint of Revelation at the Evening Star, ready for Dave Suit's situationist film '50 shades of suit' in the 5 pound fringe at the Caxton Arms. Then it was back to the station and because of a potentially long wait for a London Road train, I hopped on to a 7 to North Street and then a long wait (grrr) for a no. 5 home to nod off to Question Time.

And yes, I did see some bluebells (and deer and pheasants), but they were better from the bus!

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