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Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Blenheim Park Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         15"

Length:       1000 yd

Opened:      1975


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Date of visit: 7 April 2013


Key Facts

    • When opened in 1975 the line was a simple push/pull service with Pleasurerail, locomotives
    • The railway is now longer - in the shape of question mark, running from just outside the Palace to the Pleasure Gardens.
    • The railway continues the tradition of 15" gauge park railways developed originally by Sir Arthur Heywood
    • Trains are mainly now hauled by Sir Winston Churchill, an 0-6-2 steam outline diesel hydraulic loco built by Alan Keef in 1992.
    • Carriage stock comprises four bogie open toast-rack style coaches, also by Alan Keef.


    View Blenheim Park Railway in a larger map


    My Impressions

    The railway was directly opposite the car park when we arrived and so we were able to view the train as it passed us on several occasions while we ate our packed lunch.

     There are two caf├ęs at Blenheim, one at the Pleasure Gardens which specialises in food for children and their parents, and one in the Palace itself which is more focused on grown-ups. They both serve decent coffee and have a selection of hot and cold dishes available.

    While the rest of the family went to sample the delights of the Palace, I amused myself by exploring the railway. The line runs from just outside the Palace, where there is a platform and run-round loop ......
     .... for the line's principal locomotive, an 0-6-2 steam outline diesel hydraulic which was built by Alan Keef.

    Winding in an elongated S-shape,

    ....... the railway descends on a slight gradient towards the Pleasure Gardens .........

    ..... passing en route, the carriage and engine sheds.

    At the Pleasure Gardens, there is another small station with a run-round loop.......

    ...... which allows the loco to pull the train back up towards the Palace Station - something which it does at half hourly intervals.

    Considering the railway has been built to serve one purpose, the attention to detail is quite impressive, the track is in immaculate condition and the whole enterprise runs with a calm air of efficiency. It would be interesting to see some steam power on the line - but the Keef loco makes a fair representation of a steam engine and, of course, will require far less maintenance.


    Great Bush Railway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:        2'

    Length:       ¼ mile

    Opened:      1967


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    Date of visit: 6 April 2013


    Key Facts

    • The railway is located in Tinkers Park, as part of the Claude Jessett Collection
    • Claude Jessett began collecting steam engines in 1942 when he bought 'The Tinker', a traction engine which he used it on his farm.
    • By the early 1960's, his collection of steam engines had grown and he began collecting fairground organs, farming equipment and redundant narrow gauge railway equipment from a brickworks in Berwick and Crowborough..
    • Tinkers Park is now run by a band of volunteers which renovates, maintains and operates the collection for a series of Open Days and Steam Rallies held during the year
    • The railway is called Great Bush because it originally ran alongside a thick hedge on the edge of the estate - the line has since been extended to run along the other side of the estate.
    • The line includes a steep gradient of 1:27 around a sharp curve
    • The railway has an Orenstein and Koppel 0-6-0WT steam loco 'Sao Domingos', built in 1928, and there are also several i/c and electric industrial locomotives including a couple of Simplex Motor Rails and a Ruston. 


    View Great Bush Railway - Tinkers Park in a larger map

    My Impressions

    My visit to the railway was a special Open Day organised by the Narrow Gauge Railway Society. As a consequence, we were given the run of the site with special trains operating for our convenience.

    The site is fairly compact but hosts a range of interesting and fascinating artefacts. These range from former military equipment .....
    Bren gun carrier at Tinkers Park
    ....... to a collection of fairground organs .....
    Part of the fairground organ collection - Source:
     ...... traction engines ......
    One of the traction engines in the collection - Source:
     ...... and, of course, the narrow gauge railway equipment.
    Mild, a 20/28hp 4WDM Simplex Rail Motor at Tinkers Park
     For our visit, the volunteers had steam the railway's O&K locomotive and ran a passenger shuttle service with this and one of their Railmotors, Drusilla.
    Sao Domingos, 0-6-0WT Orenstein and Koppell about to couple on to the strain at the Lower Terminus
    Drusilla, a 30hp 4WDM Simplex about to depart from the line's lower terminus
     In addition, a Ruston and a Simplex loco ran a goods service up and down the line.
    20hp 4WDM Ruston and Wolf, a 20/2hp 4WDM Simplex Motor Rail handle the goods train

    There was plenty to see with plenty of good viewing-points around the site, including one on the curve which provided an opportunity to see the locos performing at their best.
    Sao Domingos storms the gradient
     I imagine that a Gala Day at the Park would be a really interesting affair, with plenty to see and do for the entire family. The volunteers are clearly very dedicated to developing the collection and deserve support for their efforts. Many thanks to all those involved.


    Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:        15"

    Length:    13½ miles

    Opened:   16 July 1927


    The location of the RHDR - Source:


    Date of visit: 6 April 2013 (preliminary visit)


    Key Facts

    • The railway was the brainchild of two friends, professional racing drivers and railway enthusiasts - Captain J. E. P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski
    • Having been impressed by developments of 15" miniature railways in the 1920s, their ambition was to create a double track mainline in miniature to provide an opportunity for the locomotives to show their mettle
    • Unfortunately, Count Zborowski was killed in the1924 Italian Grand Prix at Monza and so never saw his dream realised
    • Captain Howey pressed on with the venture, with assistance from miniature locomotive designer Henry Greenly
    • When the railway opened it had two locomotives and comprised an eight mile double track from Hythe to New Romney — the railway's main terminus. 
    • In 1928 the railway was extended to Dungeness.
    • By the end of the 1930s the line owned nine main-line express engines with high specification passenger coaches to handle the traffic
    • During the Second World War, the railway was requisitioned by the military and used to help support projects for the D-Day landings
    • An armoured train was built for the railway and the crew claimed to have shot down a German bomber aircraft. It is also thought that a German plane crashed when trying to shoot at the train, the pilot misjudging the height owing to the scale of the train.
    • After the war, the railway was in a sorry state, but with a tremendous effort principally from Howey, it was restored and opened to the public in 1947 by Laurel and Hardy
    • Following Howey's death in 1963, the railway faced an uncertain future, but was rescued at the last moment by Sir William MacAlpine
    • The railway is still open in its entirety with all ten of the line's original locomotives, thanks to the work of Sir William and many volunteers.



    The route of the RH&DR - Source:

    My Impressions

    My first (re)visit to the railway was as part of a family holiday in Kent (the county of my birth). I had seriously underestimated how much time I would need to take in the 13½ miles of the railway and so I had to satisfy myself with a quick tour around the station at New Romney and some lineside shots between New Romney and Dungeness.

    On the afternoon of my visit to New Romney, a wedding ceremony was in progress with a train drawn into the platform awaiting the happy couple and their entourage.
     Their locomotive was one of the original 1925 Pacifics, Green Goddess looking resplendent in her LNER Apple Green livery.

    A quick tour of the trainshed revealed another Davey Paxman Pacific, Typhoon, simmering quietly on the edge of the platform.

    On another road, the line's Simplex diesel was ticking-over, awaiting its next round of shunting duties.....

    ..... while the yard and track to Hythe  stretched off into the East.

    A quick look at the timetable informed me that a Down train was shortly expected from Dungeness and so a vantage point was found overlooking the Western approach to the station. The train hove into view hauled by diesel mechanical, John Southland.

    After pulling into the station, Typhoon took over John Southland's duties.........

    ...... to continue the train's passage to Hythe.

    Tracing the line to the West along the coast, another lineside vantage-point was found to watch another of the line's original 1925 Davey Paxman Pacific locos, Northern Chief, storming past on her way back towards New Romney.

    With some reluctance, I then parted company with the RH&DR - but I will return and this time will give the railway the time and attention it deserves as an important milestone in the history of miniature railways in the world.


    Monday, 8 April 2013

    Rye and Camber Tramway

    In a nutshell

    Gauge:        3'

    Length:      Approx. 1¾ miles

    Opened:     Saturday 13 July 1895
         1939 (Outbreak of WWII)


    View Narrow gauge railways Britain & Ireland (closed) in a larger map



     Dates of visit: 4 April and 6 April 2013

    Key Facts

    • The railway was engineered by Holman F Stephens (Lt. Colonel Stephens) who later became well known for being responsible for several Light Railways across the country - Including the Kent & East Sussex Railway which has a museum charting his exploits.
    • It was called a 'tramway' because it was built entirely on private land and so at the time did not need an Act of Parliament. The Light Railways Act came into force the year after it was opened and so, had it been built then it would have been called a Light Railway.
    • The railway was originally set up to transport golfers to the newly opened Camber golf club.
    • At first the railway terminated at what later became Golf Links Station. The line was extended in 1908 to Camber Sands to accommodate the increase in day tripper traffic - although the station was still about ½mile from Camber itself
    • The railway had two 2-4-0 steam locomotives - Camber and Victoria, both constructed by Bagnalls of Stafford.
    • The railway had two bogie passenger coaches and two open wagons which could be converted to carry passengers as needed
    • In 1925, the railway acquired an 0-4-0 Simplex petrol powered locomotive. Victoria was sold and Camber was used only on very rare occasions
    • In 1939 Camber Sands station was moved to a new location to permit improvements to the golf course. However, the railway closed to passenger transport shortly afterwards and, although the Admiralty made some use of the railway, including concreting over part of the trackbed near the Golf Links Station, but after the war the railway was in such poor condition it was closed completely.
    • Although much of the trackbed is still visible, the extraction of shingle between Broadwater Bridge and Halfway House has resulted in a large lagoon where this part of the railway once ran.



    The Route of the Rye & Camber Tramway - Source:

    My Impressions

    My first encounter with the railway was on a bitterly cold day in April when I parked the car beside the bridge over the River Rother in Rye and walked the footpath to the lagoon.

    The site of the station beside the Monkbretton bridge is indistinct but the line of the railway across the meadow from the station towards Camber is clearly visible.
    Rye Station with the abutments of Monkbretton Bridge in the background - Source
    The site of Rye Station
    The Rye & Camber Tramway track across the meadow

    A brisk walk across the meadow along the footpath/cycle track and we reached the Broadwater Stream which was crossed by the railway on a simple girder bridge.
    Broadwater Bridge with a train bound for Rye - Source:
    Broadwater Bridge today

    Looking back towards Rye, it is possible to make out the embankment leading up to the bridge and the route of the railway across the field.
    Broadwater Bridge looking back towards Rye
    At this point the route of the railway is interrupted by a lagoon formed by flooding the shingle workings at Northpoint Beach - it is now used for windsurfing.
    The flooded shingle workings covering the old trackbed of the railway.
    Although it would be possible to walk beside the lagoon towards Camber, we re-traced our steps hopped in the car to Camber, where we attempted to trace the route of the railway from the opposite direction.
    The trackbed as it emerges from beside Gorse Cottage.
    With the lagoon and Rye in the background the railway emerges once more by Gorse Cottage. It is now embedded in concrete which was laid by the Admiralty during the Second World War. On the right of this picture would have been Golf View which was demolished in 1983.
    Golf View (aka Beachlands and Squatters' Right) with a Rye Bound train - Source:
    Turning around to look towards Camber, the trackbed now forms the roadway to Rye Harbour - but in places the rails are still visible.
    The trackbed looking towards the site of Golf View - Golf Links station in the distance
    The trackbed beside the site of Golf View - looking towards Golf Links Station
    At the end of the road lies the slightly extended and modified station building and platform for Golf Links station which is presently in use by the golf club as a store room.
    Golf Links Station building and platform with the concreted trackbed.
    Golf Links Station in its days as the Camber terminus - Source:
    The track is very much in evidence preserved in the Admiralty's concrete. Looking back towards Rye it's possible to imagine the train snaking its way beside the golf course to the station.
    The trackbed looking back towards Rye from just outside Golf Links Station
    The Simplex Railmotor hauls a packed train between Rye and Golf Links in 1931 - Source:
    Golf Links Station building from the jetty. The Golf Club buildings in the background
    Although the course of the river has changed slightly and the golf course has been extended beyond the railway into what was once salt marshes, the station building is still quite close the the harbour and the newly built harbour master's house.
    Golf Links Station during WWII when the Admiralty built a siding to a jetty - Source:

    On the day we were there, builders had taken over part of the former station yard and so not all was accessible - however, this looked to be a temporary intrusion.

    The golf course has commandeered the trackbed immediately after the station but within a short distance there is a gateway to a permissive footpath across the golf course on the trackbed of the railway. This photo was taken looking back towards the Golf Links station, the harbour master's house is quite an impressive structure in the middle distance, dwarfing the old station building to its right.
    Looking back towards Golf Links Station. The Harbour Master's house dwarfing the station building to its right
    Looking the opposite way, towards Camber Sands Station, after curving to the left the track strikes out in a straight line on a low embankment. On the right would have been saltmarshes in the days of the railway, the embankment being washed by high tides. To the right in the middle distance the original trackbed branches off towards the pre 1939 terminus.
    Looking towards the second Camber Sands Station - the original trackbed veered off to the left in the middle distance.
    An early train with all coaching stock pressed into service among the marram grass near Camber Sands Station - Source:
    The footpath follows the 1939 deviation to the second, short-lived Camber Sands Station. There is very little to show nowadays, apart from a widening of the trackbed to accommodate the wooden platform and shelter.
    The site of the second Camber Sands Station

    The original Camber Sands Station with the tea rooms in the background - Source:
    Camber Sands Station looking towards Golf View and Rye - Source:
    Camber Sands - Source:

     There is very little in evidence now of the original structure but searching among the 'rough' beside the trackbed unearthed the remains of a wooden post - which might well have been one of the supports for the wooden platform.
    Camber Sands Station (1939 site) looking back towards Golf View and Rye. The remains of a wooden post just visible in the foreground.


    Most of the railway trackbed is still accessible. There is a small parking area beside the Monkbretton Bridge on the way out of Rye towards Camber. The footpath starts here beside the site of the station.
    Site of Rye Station beside the bridge

    View from the bridge - the trackbed is just discernible stretching out across the field from beside the Pumping Station.

    It is possible to walk or cycle from here to Camber following the trackbed for much of the way.

    Another access point is on the Camber Road, just where it takes a sharp left turn to run beside the lagoon. There is a parking area on the bend where the cycle track crosses the road. A short walk down the cycle track will take you to the remains of the Broadwater Bridge.
    The remains of the Broadwater Bridge snapped from the footpath.
    The best approach to the railway from Camber is to park in the Camber West car park and take the footpath to beach from the Westernmost end  of the car park (near to a row of cottages). The permissive footpath across the golf course on the trackbed can be accessed about half way along this path on the right hand side. The car park fee is quite pricey but you can walk the remaining section of the railway to the lagoon and back again in two hours.

    Alternatively, you can park on the main beach car park and walk along the sands. Take the path into the dunes beside the 'Red Zone B' signboard and you will come to the start of the permissive path across the golf course (this time on the left hand side about half way along).