Kent & East Sussex Railway

Originally uploaded by fred pipes.

The joy of being semi-retired is that you can take your Bank Holiday any old time! On Monday, I went against the flow cycling out of Brighton to go foraging for blackberries and sloes in Patcham. I'd wanted to visit the Kent and East Sussex Railway Open Day but discovered the country buses didn't run on Sundays and Bank Holidays. So, it was Bank Holiday Tuesday then. Once upon a time you'd make for the busiest interchanges, like Crewe, to spot trains, now you have to get to the deepest countryside. I used to be sniffy about light railways (and still am a bit about narrow gauge railways) but this is a delightful 11-mile track from leafy Tenterden to Bodiam Castle, through the Rother valley. I got the train to Hastings and planned to get the two-hourly 349 to Bodiam (trying to find bus info on the web is a nightmare - sites like Traveline take you all round the houses!). When I arrived at Hastings station, however, I noticed a 340 already in heading for Tenterden, so hopped on and my bus pass took me into Kent! The route took me twice past the railway - at Northiam and Rolvenden - and eventually at tenterden it was a short walk down Station Road to the ticket office. I'd just missed the 13.15 (pulled by a WD 'Bucket' saddle tank) so went for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake and caught the 14.20 pulled by a little Wainwright P class tank no. 753, in the livery of the S E & C R. I had a 3rd class compartment to myself and was able to enjoy the sulphurous fumes and cinders in my face, jumping from side to side of the non-corridor compartment with each bend! Oh what joy! I decided not to get off at the shed at Rolvenden as the logistics of catching my last bus were too tight. Spotted 2 other WD saddle tanks and an ugly USA class loco in grey with WD1960 painted on the tank. [Full list of locos can be found on the Wikipedia page.] The other train passed us (without stopping, as we did on the way back) at Wittersham Road. Then it was on to Bodiam and a fine view of a proper castle, ie one with battlements and a moat! On the way back I was joined by a family of mum, two kids, and 'Steve', who'd been to visit it. Back at Tenterden I had an hour to kill so visited the Colonel Stephens museum (an extra £1.50!). Therein I discovered a fascinating coincidence. Holman Fred Stephens, who built this and other light railways, was the son of Pre-Raphaelite Frederic George Stephens, and godson of William Holman Hunt! Inside the museum was another loco - Gazelle, an 0-4-2 from the Shropshire and Montgomeryshire Railway, described as the smallest preserved [standard gauge] locomotive in the world. Great day out: I'd seen three castles (we passed Pevensey Castle and Hastings Castle on the train), lots of wildlife, including a fox by the tracks just outside Hastings station, and seen a beautiful old loco built in 1909 still in steam. Bliss.

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