Nice scenery, a bit of history, much needed exercise and of course good company - these were the ingredients of Ralph's fine 12 mile walk and steam train ride this "Bank Holiday" Sunday. It was a nice idea to combine some brisk walking with a trip down "Memory Lane". Ralph's navigation skills got us there and back through the pleasant but intricate tapestry of woods, hills and lakes which characterises the landscape between East Grinstead and Horsted Keynes. A tad muddy maybe, and a few spots of rain - it was a Bank Holiday weekend after all - but what's that to seasoned Cloggies?!
We steamed back in time on the Bluebell Line.
As I may have mentioned on other occasions, I felt that some of our experiences should be held pictorially together with a modest dose of accompanying narrative. So here you will see some of the snaps that I took. Since the emphasis was on the walking - and train riding - and not the photography, please make allowances for the technical and artistic imperfections! Scroll on and enjoy!
The way to Kingscote Station took us along the old railway track bed to Crawley and then across some nice rural ups and downs. We accomplished the three miles in a bit over an hour - in other words, at the normal pace of 2.5 to 3 miles an hour. Kingscote Station provided a welcome break - packed lunch and some tea and sandwiches at the railway buffet. Before we caught our train to Horsted Keynes, there was plenty of opportunity to garner some interesting shots of the goings-on, so reminiscent of the railways of old - but then, that's what the Bluebell Railway is all about.
These two tank engines date from 1910 and were built by the South Eastern and Chatham Railway. There is - as you might expect - a fair bit of history associated with these two veteran ladies. Number 325 was the first preserved engine on the Bluebell Railway. They were waiting for our four coach vintage train so that they could haul it back south, and were paired to provide suffcient tractive effort for the purpose.
Here the "two ladies" can be seen by the other platform, through the Victorian ironwork which graces Kingscote Station.
After some initial visual impressions we went back to the station entrance and ticket office to dutifuly buy our traditional format train tickets (each a piece of printed card measuring 2.25 by 1.20 inches). The welcoming blazing fire in the wrought iron grate in the ticket office could have featured in a Sherlock Holmes adventure. After all, Holmes often ventured into deepest Sussex in his quests to put the Victorian world to rights.
There's only one train ticket that I know of, that had all the rules and regulations printed on the back. That's the platform ticket for that Welsh Station with the long name - "LlanfairPG" in British Telecom speak.
The station buffet provided the hot tea and we provided the packed lunches. The paraphenalia that characterised railway stations of yesteryear was all around us.
Brrrhh! Getting cold! Let's repair to the warm Waiting Room, with a potted plant (an aspiring Aspidistra?) and more railway adverts of days gone by for company. How about a trip to Brighton and Hove? - By Southern Railway of course!
Meanwhile, things are happening outside. On the opposite platform, our train has arrived with three olive green Southern carriages (comfortable 3rd class from between the wars) and with an observation car in tow (1st class from the LNWR - the company that ran north from Euston Station). The tank engine has brought the train up north and will be uncoupled. At the moment the engine seems to be hiding shyly behind lots of steam; it's a relatively new boy after all - born in 1957.
This is what railway buffs (ferroequinologists) just love. Lots of ironmongery to get the steam working on those driving wheels.
Our two tank engines - after their patient wait - are ready to take us down south to Horsted Keynes.
We admired the splendidly varnished and upholstered opulence of the third class carriage as we waited for the Pullman Diner (and Dinner!) Train to arrive from the South. Eventually the whistle blew - in time honoured railway fashion - and we were off at a sedate pace to the deep south. The journey to Horsted Keynes varies with the seasons: we were able to appreciate the delicate green of the spring countryside, an appearance which would eventually turn to the lush green of summer, which in turn would give way to the rich reds and browns of autumn - a journey for all seasons, including Santa's season. To see this from a railway carriage with the varnished trappings of the 20s and 30s gives this journey a very special flavour which only a heritage line can do.
In the heritage era it's actually single track for most of the way to Horsted Keynes, and so the engine crew must wait for the incoming Pullman train to arrive before starting off.
A close up of the century old (actually 102 year old) motive power. That guy in the observation coach still can't find his first class seat!
We have time to admire the splendidly varnished interior of the carriage, as well as the maps and other pictorial incentives to travel to the furthest ends of the Southern Railway.
At Horsted Keynes we tarried a while to take in the host of impressions from the past, from the details of the station adverts and the carriage and locomotive emblems, to the might of the sturdy iron horses themselves, as they proudly steamed in and out of the station. In the station ticket hall (like in Kingscote), there was a roaring fire in the grate - a goodbye gesture, nicely warming us up at the start of our walk. Very attractive and cosy, these Victorian stations.
At Horsted Keynes there are a lot of things to attract our attention before we leave on our walk.
This is how to drive the engine. Lots of brass floggles, toggles and widgets and the all important red regulator. The latter day tea-urns are a vital part of the equipment.
The original Bluebell Line locomotive sports the line's Victorianesque crest together with the Latin inscription "Let steam flourish". Of course, steam power was already known in classical times - for example, the steam operated doors of the inner sanctum of the Parthenon and of course the steam engine of Hero of Alexandria. A visit to the Bluebell is always a steamy affair. It's meant to be. Indeed, on the Bluebell, all motive power is steam - apart from the odd diesel temporarily recruited to complete the northern extension.
The London North Western was actually somewhat out of the Bluebell Line's territory, being the line up (or should I say "down"?) from Euston to Scotland. However, the first class observation car which sports this fine emblem no doubt makes for an equally fine travel experience in these southern climes.
Our train was waiting to pass the "express" travelling north, headed by a powerful, vintage 1958, loco - of the last, but very successful, class of main line steam locomotives in Britain. The Bluebell Railway is a nice sort of big trainset, enjoyed by the (mainly voluntary) staff and visitors alike.
The tail end of this "express" featured a lovely teak LNER (King's X Line) "Directors' Car", which now does service on the Blubell Line as a First Class observation car.
And so to our main walk - a walk of many facets: hills and lakes and "lochs", huge statue-like boulders, historical houses, water mills and seemingly contented livestock. Everything seemed to exude a tranquil affluence, and all within a "stone's throw" of the Capital.
Horsted Keynes lies some way from the station - which was probably a factor in the original closure of the railway before its reopening by an army of dedicated enthusiasts.
On the way we pass a tranquil lake, ...
... stop to speak to a donkey ...
... and admire the timber-framed house, forgotten by time,
but still guarding the old water mill close by.
We tarry for a while near Horsted Keynes church with its characteristically local spire and its obligatory yew trees.
Broadhurst Manor - new age Tudor - is next on our route.
Here is a detail of the "twirly gates" at the manorial entrance. They could be the earthly equivalent of the "pearly gates", perhaps leading to some sort of terrestial paradise beyond.
This nice mock-Tudor edifice may have been the manorial lodge.
In Sharpthorne we cross the Bluebell Line. The Victorians used to put tunnel vents in the landscape as appropriate. On the old steam operated Inner Circle in London, the suitable location of steam vents was, understandably, quite a challenge - in the country it was easier.
We admire the carpets of bluebells and ...
... once more cross (this time at the level) the line of the same name. Here is a view of the straight towards Kingscote. The tracks are not too shiny, indicating tourist - as opposed to - commuter traffic.
The Stone Hill Rocks are our next major landmark. While some are used for rock climbing - as evidenced by the rings let into them - others are reminiscent of Easter Island statues. Is this the head of one of our Neanderthal forebears?
Weir Wood Reservoir is closeby and has the air of a quiet Scottish loch and guards the southern reaches of East Grinstead. From the reservoir we then head north through the estate of the famous National Trust property of Standen House.
With a final gusto we head through the delicate vernal landscape
almost "at the gates" of East Grinstead.
This walk was the result of Ralph's excellent idea to combine pleasant exercise - and company - with some gentle education in the history of our nation's recent past. The fruits of Ralph's navigation skills were also much appreciated.
We showed what Cloggies could achieve, even in challenging weather conditions! After an interesting day we all got back home safely.