Robert Hampton

Another visitor! Stay a while… stay forever!

29th August 2010

Bluebell of the Ball

On Saturday we were up early (well, lunchtime) and en route to the Bluebell Railway‘s terminus at Sheffield Park, which is less than an hour’s drive away from Brighton.

Sheffield Park station

The Bluebell was one of the first preserved railways in the UK, with services commencing in May 1960. This means that it retains possibly the most authentic steam age atmosphere of any preserved line — because it was preserved while steam was still extant on British Rail!

The plan, as Mark explained to me, was simple: ride the train to the current terminus at Kingscote, then back to the mid-point at Horsted Keynes, where various attractions are available, before heading back to Sheffield Park and home.

Our train was hauled by a BR Standard Class 4 Tank Engine and an authentic rake of Southern Region rolling stock (a mixture of BR Mark 1 and Southern Railway coaches) was provided for us.

Before we climbed aboard though, there was time to check out the area around Sheffield Park station, where there was a traction engine parked in the car park, SE&CR locomotive no. 65 stabled in the station, and a War Department loco stored in the yard.

Traction Engine South Eastern and Chatham Railway No. 65 War Department Locomotive

Soon we were on board and on our way to Kingscote. The train wasn’t too heavily loaded, which surprised us considering it was a summer Saturday. The weather wasn’t too brilliant, which may explain why people had stayed away.

At Kingscote there isn’t too much to see, except to watch the train running round and stare into the distance to see where the line will eventually be extended to East Grinstead. We didn’t hang around and headed back on the same train to Horsted Keynes.

Horsted Keynes

Horsted Keynes was originally a junction where the Bluebell Line joined a second branch to Haywards Heath. Even in preservation it retains some of the busy junction air, with five platforms and some impressive station buildings. It’s not hard to see why Dr Beeching singled out the line for closure though — this station, like the others on the line, is quite distant from the village it purports to serve.

Like many preserved railways, the staff here have taken care to preserve the original metal advertisement boards. To modern eyes, these ultra-serious marketing messages look slightly hilarious.

Superfine Shag poster

Royal Navy advert The Sentinel advert Camp advert

There’s also a small yard where more preserved locomotives are on display, including Southern Railway West Country class locomotive no. 21C123.


Mark, meanwhile, stopped to admire British Rail Class 9F No. 92240.

Class 9F No. 92240

Giving brake van rides around the station area was SE&CR P Class loco no. 178. I was tempted, but at £4 a go? Forget it (yes I’m cheap).

SECR P Class No. 178

There was also a chance to look round the carriage restoration shed, where various projects were in full swing. This building housed various coaches, some of which were virtually destroyed after extended periods of use as sheds etc. Gradually, however, they are being restored to their former glory by an expert team of volunteers.

Bluebell Carriage Works

With Horsted Keynes successfully explored, we grabbed a sandwich from the cafe on the station platform, then sat back to wait for our train back to Sheffield Park. This arrived right on time, with SECR C Class no. 592 at the head of a train of vintage rolling stock.

After a bumpy ride back to Sheffield Park (Victorian trains were luxurious in many ways, but ride quality wasn’t their strong point) there was just time for a quick trip to the gift shop. As a thank you to Mark, I bought him a Bluebell bear to add to his collection of cuddly toys:

Mark and Bluebell Bear

As you can see, he was thrilled to receive it.

We returned to Brighton where, after a meal in town, we headed to the Marine Tavern, where some of Mark’s friends and colleagues from the railway regaled me with tales of some of the weird and wonderful people they’d encountered on the trains. There was also a running joke about a toilet brush which I didn’t quite understand.

It was a second great day — could Sunday possibly match it?

Tags: , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.