Bluebell Giants of Steam 2009

Observation car
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
The Bluebell Railway's Giants of Steam event has the added bonus of free vintage bus rides from Brighton on the Sunday, so I cycled along to St Peter's church and soon along came a lovely green and cream Southdown bus (Leyland PD3 Queen Mary BUF 277C, doors at the front). The group of bus enthusiasts upstairs were discusing the previous evening's White Night celebrations (I'd failed to get to see Foster and Gilvan's Penny Arcade cos of the huge queues). Apparently there had been sightseeing bus rides, with entertainment provided by Count Adriano Fettucini on ukulele (I recognised him from the photo taken by one of the bus spotters), but considered inappropriate by the rather conservative crowd - 'literally, toilet humour' said one, I wish I'd been there!

At the Bluebell I jumped onto the first train out, pulled by 80151 (BR 4MT 2-6-4T, built at Brighton in 1957). As we pulled out I saw Dukedog 9017 Earl of Berkeley (GWR 4-4-0 in BR Black) arrive with a set of Metropolitan Railway coaches. The train was quite full, and there was a bit of argy-bargy as the guard came round to clip tickets, when a woman accused a young chap with family across the aisle of unscrewing and stealing a chrome ashtray! The guard said he was powerless to conduct a search, so nothing was done, except black looks for the rest of the journey.

I alighted at Horsted Keynes, where the Bluebell's oldest loco 672 Fenchurch (built in Brighton in 1872) was giving brakevan rides down a very short stretch of the Ardingly branch for an extra £3 (see video here). I had to wait a while for my turn, so looked in at the Brighton Belle Pullman car Doris and the various other exhibits and stalls around the station, including a static 2-10-0 92240 and 2-6-0 75027.

'Giants' were thin on the ground, however - the only one being 34059 Sir Archibald Sinclair (Bulleid Battle of Britain Pacific) - the guest loco 30777 Sir Lamiel unable to make it due to a mechanical fault. Sir Archie pulled in from Kingscote as I was waiting to board the Fenchurch special, so had missed a chance to ride behind it. The other loco on duty was 1638 (SR U-class 2-6-0), a lovely green Maunsell loco with windshields, but no name!

As it was a busy day, the observation car on my original train was free to third-class ticket owners, so when it arrived back from Kingscote, I jumped in to the luxurious coach for a ride back to Sheffield Park and, after watching Sir Archie leaving for Kingscote (see video here), a walk round the sheds to see Stepney, Normandy, Stowe and Blackmoor Vale. By this time 80151 had changed ends and was hitched in front of the observation coach. I couldn't miss that opportunity, so travelled back to Horsted Keynes (see video here). A trip to the end of the line would have taken too long and I might have missed the last bus, so at Horsted Keynes I crossed the platform to get the 1638-hauled train back (see video here). The bus home was an older Southdown bus (Leyland PD2 RUF 186, built in 1955, door at back) beautifully upholstered. As dawn was falling over the Sussex countryside, the bus had to slow down to let a deer cross the road before it drove back into the 21st century. Next vintage bus day is 15 November. Top day out: total cost £11 for members' rover ticket + £3 for the Fenchurch brakevan ride.
Bus Previous visits to the Bluebell:


Dungeness at last

Two locos at Hythe
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Well, I finally made it to Dungeness - one of life's little ambitions realised at last. It was a Gala Weekend at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and eight steam locos (plus two diesels) would be in service. I set off later than I should have, but after a train to Rye and 100/101 bus (it changes number at Lydd!) to Hythe was greeted by no. 7 Typhoon. At the other end of the train was no. 2 Northern Chief ready to leave for Dungeness, and in the sidings standing by was no. 3 Southern Maid - three locos in steam already! So I jumped on the 2.30 train and from then on it was tantalising glimpses of other engines at stations and double-headers flashing by on the other line. Between stations there were bushes of fat blackberries just out of reach and colourful pheasant families to see - and some grim back gardens at the Dungeness end. Finally, after passing Romney Sands I was in new territory.

Dungeness wasn't exactly as I'd imagined. I thought it'd be an enigmatic landscape comprising lots of shingle, a monolithic power station like Torness, a scattering of Derek Jarman type huts , our little railway - oh, and a lighthouse. It is much busier than that - the power station is a collection of buildings and there are all kinds of regular houses - and two lighthouses. The Light Railway Cafe had stop serving their noted fish and chips so I went for a mug of tea and a bag of pretty ordinary chips (salt and vinegar in plastic sachets). It was cold and windy and I was glad I'd packed that scarf! I then decided to jump on the 16.00 train back to Hythe (the one I came on) - in retrospect I should have waited, done some exploring and caught the double-header I spotted coming in on the other section of the loop once we were underway. On gala days like this it is always difficult to know where to put oneself to cop as many locos as possible.

Back at Hythe I filmed Southern Maid on the turntable, then travelled back to New Romney on the 17.40 to watch the last train of the day come in from Dungeness - which was to be a five-header! I'm no expert on RH&DR locos but looking at my film, I think it was Typhoon, Winston Churchill, Green Goddess, Black Prince and Hurricane. I didn't have time to check them out at the other end of the platform, as I had to leg it to catch my hourly bus to Lydd, thence to Rye and the train home. I didn't get to look round Dungeness and I didn't get to travel in Gladys the bar car, but nevertheless had a thoroughly good day out.

Previous visits to the RH&DR: