22 September 2012
Heights Walk to
Bodiam Train to
Town Train to
Bodiam Walk to
The Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) at present operates between Tenterden Town and Bodiam. However there is a reasonably good (usually hourly) mainline connection from London to Robertsbridge, from where the K&ESR originally started. It was a nice autumn day and I figured that it would be possible to get to, and back from, Robertsbridge from Essex in one day; at the same time it would also be possible to do a nice circular walk from Robertsbridge to Bodiam and back, and indeed, to combine this with a trip on the present full extent of the K&ESR. My plan worked well, albeit with a tight schedule, for I got back to Robertsbridge just as dusk was casting its cloak over what had turned out to be a very nice day - in terms of the weather and in terms of new impressions and experiences.
Please feel free to delve into the pictures and narrative which I have presented here. I hope you will find what you see here interesting. Indeed, it may perhaps encourage you to explore this part of the world, especially if this opportunity has not yet come your way. As so often on my other travels, I have tried to combine a good walk with the chance to learn a bit more about the many facets of our island on which we live. In this case, there was some some fascinating history from the Victorian era and indeed from even more distant times. Of course, the trip also gave me an excuse to practice a bit more the challenging art of photography. As you will see, I have arranged the presentation in chronological order. Enjoy your virtual visit!
As you will have already have gathered, my visit today was in two parts. It consisted of a circular walk centred on Robertsbridge, and a long stop-off point at Bodiam, to ride the Kent & East Sussex Railway and to visit Tenterden, part of the "Confederation of Cinque Ports". This section sets the scene and describes the general context, in terms of maps, heights and some interesting facts and figures. However, if you wish to speed on to the pictures and narrative, please click here.
The Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) was built to a budget by the indefatigable Colonel Holman Stephens, about whom more later. The railway was opened in 1900 from Robertsbridge, on the main line to Hastings, to Rolvenden (formerly called Tenterden) in 1900, and extended to Tenterden Town in 1903. It was extended in 1905 to Headcorn on the main line to Ashford. Tenterden had not, hitherto, been reached by any of the main railway companies, and the K&ESR was built to rectify this omission. The K&ESR was closed to passengers in 1954 and freight in 1961. In 1973, enthusiasts took over the section from Tenterden to Bodiam. The section between Bodiam and Robertsbridge is in the domain of the Rother Valley Railway who are actively pursuing the goal of providing the missing link between the K&ESR and the Hastings line. The completion of this link - hopefully in the next few years - is expected to enhance enormously the tourist potential of this Sussex-Kent border area.
The initial idea of the walk was to get to the Kent & East Sussex Railway, which is presently isolated from the rest of the rail network. However, with a circular distance of about nine miles, it was good exercise, both before and after my visit to the heritage railway. Of course, as walks so often do, it also enabled me to appreciate close at hand the countryside in this part of the world.
My "circular" walk of about 9 miles was in the anti-clockwise direction, with of, course a longer stop at Bodiam to explore the Kent & East Sussex Railway. The start of the walk was of course in Robertsbridge, with its pleasant time-honoured buildings. The outward "leg" of the walk was the more direct part of the walk, passing the site of the old Salehurst Abbey, the site of the old Junction Road Station, and the western-most extremity of the the K&ESR in its present form. The return "leg" took in Bodiam Castle and Salehurst church before rejoining the first part of the walk through Robertsbridge for the final approach to Robertsbridge Station.
Parts of the walk were close to sea level, while the paths kept below 70 metres. Not unduly heavy going for most walkers, leaving time to enjoy the landscape.
It was a nice relaxing way to approach Tenterden, allowing me to soak up the wide open expanse of the landscape carved out by the River Rother over millenia, and at the some time, enjoying some railway history from a more recent era. Definitely to be recommended!
A museum, dedicated to Colonel Stephens, the Victorian and Edwardian promoter of light railways, is housed in a listed corrugated iron building on the north side of Tenterden Station. The museum contains a number of interesting displays and artifacts. Outside, in the station area, some of the K&ESR's collection of splendid vintage and Pullman carriages can be seen.
Tenterden Town is a bustling community which still has strong traces of its distinguished trading past. Its church certainly reflects this and - as expected - contained some interesting monuments reflecting the town's history. I had a short time to catch some glimpses of this before getting the last train back to Bodiam.
Returning by train was not just a question of retracing the journey. One could see things in a different light - or so the saying goes. There were some more aspects of the landscape to be appreciated, and with this, some more photographic opportunities.
On the return "leg" of my walk I espoused the higher ground. Time constraints meant I had to defer a visit to Bodiam's moated castle to another occasion. However, my route took in a nice converted oast house as well as Salehurst Church with its interesting monuments from the past. One of these monuments related to how the life of the young Princess Victoria may well have been saved in 1832.
With the unresolved mystery of the strange conveyance in Salehurst Church in mind, I cross the path of the - perhaps soon to be reopened - section of the K&ESR, at the spot where the vicar had once arranged for the now long gone halt for one of his flock to be built. Shortly afterwards I rejoin the path to Robertsbridge.
It had been an interesting day, although the journey home was not unduly eventful - after all, night had already fallen. However, if you can make allowances for my amateur approach to the poetic art, I thought I might close with some impromptu verse about the Kent & East Sussex Railway, verse which, in my humble way, tries to draw together some of my experiences of the day.
The Kent and East Sussex is a railway called "light",
built on a budget ever so tight.
And so through the Weald it proudly wends,
its tracks making many sharp bends.
It's built by Colonel Stephens's enterprising hand,
like a number of small railways in the land.
The main lines said "Tenterden is really off-course",
and left it to the Colonel to bring the iron horse.
In the Fifties, when the car was the "thing",
it was thought the railway had had its last fling.
In the Seventies, enthusiasts came along
and started to sing the reopening song!
Now 'tween Tenterden and Bodiam the visitor rides,
seeing the delights Rother's Valley provides.
Also from Robertsbridge to Bodiam you might soon steam,
for this useful link now's more than just a pipe dream.
To whet your appetite, here are some links to further information. These should be useful for your visit. The order of the place links is alphabetic, visiting priorities are your choice! Of course, your search engine will, no doubt, also give you some helpful links.
Kent & East Sussex Railway
Rother Valley Railway
Colonel Stephens Railway Museum
Colonel Stephens Society
Places of Interest
Robertsbridge and Salehurst Village