Wednesday 6 April 2016

Change at East Grinstead for Sheffield Park

Station stop at Riddlesdown: tunnel beckons!
We were staying with friends in Croydon (I really must write sometime about getting there!) when the idea of visiting the nearby preserved Bluebell Railway came up in conversation. An extension had recently been completed which connected the line to the national rail network at East Grinstead and so it had become another of the preserved, steam-operated lines that could be visited by rail, or even used for travel, if you happen to be visiting the places on its route (we had done this with the Dartmouth Steam Railway when travelling to Dartmouth via Paignton).

We began with the tram from their home to East Croydon station, using our Oyster cards for the fare payment, then bought a group day-return ticket for the four of us to East Grinstead and back - I had not known of this ticket and was advised of it by the clerk: it cheaper than buying four separate tickets even though two of us had a Two Together railcard.

Train loco running round at East Grinstead platform 3
The journey through arcadian Surrey into Sussex was very pleasant, along the east side of a valley in the bottom of which ran the A23 Brighton road and along the other side the branch line through Kenley to Caterham. East Grinstead main line station has a new building, and out of this station we turned right and walked the short distance to the adjacent steam railway station ticket office and bought our tickets and collected a timetable for our day on the preserved railway. These were rover tickets enabling us to travel back and forth between the stations as we wished. Our train was waiting at the platform and its locomotive running round, ready to haul it back to Sheffield Park.

The train was soon on its way along the newly-reopened northern section of this intensely rural branch line and paused at Kingscote station, restored in 1959 British Railways style, but we stayed on here and travelled through here and the next station at Horsted Keynes, restored as in the 1920s in Southern Railway style. It is here that the restoration of the line's carriages takes place, and they have a fine collection of coaches from various eras. The Bluebell Railway is licensed for civil marriage ceremonies and a wedding was taking place on the other platform at Horsted Keynes as we passed through. This station has an odd layout where the track between two of the platforms is single, with access to the train from both sides. And the platforms are numbered towards the entrance and not away from it as usual. A very quirky place, which we visited later in the day.

The current terminus at Sheffield Park: train of BR Mk1
coaches just arrived at platform and passengers making
their way to lunch
A northbound train came in from the other direction and our train moved on towards Sheffield Park, the end of the preserved line. None of these stations ever saw much traffic when in service but are very attractive and are now busy all summer with visitors enjoying the line which really goes nowhere much at all! Sheffield Park station was built really for the nearby stately home from which it takes its name, the home of Lord Sheffield,  and has been restored as it would have been in the 1880s, as originally decorated by the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway which built it. It was lunchtime and we repaired to the Bessemer Arms for beer and sandwiches, and then spent some time looking around the locomotive collection in the nearby loco shed and the museum on the other platform.
Carriage restoration at Horsted Keynes

Our next train back as far as Horsted Keynes was hauled by an ancient LBSCR locomotive and was composed of wooden-bodied Metropolitan Railway coaches, very much older than the British Railways Mk1 standard coaches on which we had arrived. At Horsted Keynes we looked around the workshops in which further examples of wooden-bodied coaches were being restored, original components being used as much as possible, with new timber used where the original was beyond re-use. A very great deal of work is needed on each vehicle, mostly by volunteers.

And so back to East Grinstead and the next Southern Trains electric to East Croydon and the tram back to where we were staying.

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