Bluebell Railway

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Imagine you are sitting in a railway carriage, the Sussex countryside slowly slipping by your panoramic window, the smoke, steam and bits of cinder occasionally entering through your open window. Then you could be on the Bluebell Railway. We took Auntie Joan on such a ride recently, a 96 year old who was enraptured by the atmosphere, the clacking wheels, the huge steam engine pulling the old fashioned but mis-matched carriages on this ride that travels between Sheffield Park Station and East Grinstead. There is an extensive free car park at Sheffield Park, then a short meander to the station entrance, via a path with picket fence with genuine old metal adverts for soap that I have never heard of, and Westbourne Building Society prepared to lend money to buy a property. Whatever next, a financial institution prepared to hand over money. The station and platform staff are all volunteers, mainly mature gentlemen, dressed in black porters uniforms. On our visit there was no sign of a portly controller, but I suppose that’s because they don’t have Thomas. They don’t need him, because they have thirty trains to choose from in their sheds, ten of which are always ready to steam up and turn their giant wheels. Don’t expect the train to travel too fast, why should it, because you are only going to get off to wander around some shops, then get back on for the next train. Double track the majority of the way, and the end of each journey the train uncouples, shunts forward, doubles back on the parallel track, and then connects to the front all over again. What a faff, just to pull some old carriages for forth minutes, and then have to do the same all over again. But what an atmosphere. Lots of photographers (mainly men, strangely) taking photos of the engines, even some cameras on tripods so the ancient hands don’t shake the image too much, then back on the train again, shutting the door with such a distinctive sound that jars those sitting in the vicinity. No tea trolley here, but a buffet car. Okay, serving convenient foods on the usual return journeys during the days, but also providing sustenance for the special trips, such as Valentines, Santa, Supper Specials, Rail Ale, of the Sussex Food Festival. Have a look at their web site or ring 01825 720800 for more information. Meanwhile, back on my track (excuse the pun). The journey has been increased from the old just under half hour to an extra connection to East Grinstead, which in turn connects to the mainline British Rail station. That way, you can get your ticket from London Victoria to travel on the Bluebell Line. We didn’t get off at East Grinstead, as we just wanted to have the train journey, but the shops are a convenient stroll away. As the train came into the stations along the line it was fascinating to see the old rolling stock, waiting to be renovated. I didn’t ask where it originated from, assuming it had been purchased/donated from long defunct tracks decimated by the infamous Dr. Beeching in the 1960s. An ideal name for a railway villain, top hat, black suit with waistcoat, gold pocket watch, twirling his moustache as he crouches alongside a track, train speedily bearing down as he switches the points so the train falls off the cliff at the dead end of the rails. Evil evil, evil. No villains on this track however, just a soothing clackety clack as you relax in your upright seat. One end of the line at Sheffield Park is only a stroll away from the National Trust garden. So no excuses for not appreciating and enjoying a full day out at this superb top Sussex attraction.

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