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Thursday, 4 October 2018

Exbury Gardens Steam Railway

In a nutshell

Gauge:         12¼"

Length:       1½ miles

Opened:      2001


SO45 1AZ

Tel:           023 8089 1203

Date of visit:     25 September 2018

Key Facts

  • The railway was inspired by Leopold de Rothschild's passion for model railways which was spawned when, as a child, he was not allowed a train set.
  • After an initial planning application for a two foot gauge railway was rejected in 1994, a further submission in 2000 was successful with the proviso that railway travellers must be visitors to the gardens
  • The line took almost a year to construct, partly during one of the wettest winters on record, and officially opened in August 2001.
  • Part of the route was constructed through what was once a landfill site, specially landscaped for the railway. The rest of the railway meanders through the existing gardens.
  • The railway has three steam tender locomotives, two 0-6-2s and a larger 2-6-2, all constructed by the Exmoor Steam Railway Company. It also has an 0-4-0 diesel loco.
  • The queen is a regular visitor to the gardens and has ridden in the cab of one of the line's steam locomotives.
  • The coaches are wheelchair accessible and there is a well stocked restaurant where a good range of refreshments can be purchased.



My Impressions

After enjoying a good quality snack and cup of tea in the well appointed cafe, I made my way into the gardens. It's not possible to ride on the railway without visiting the gardens and so the combined price is a little more than I would expect to pay just to travel on the train. However, this requirement was a stipulation of the planning permission for the railway and so there is no alternative, though it is possible to view the station, sheds and workshops from the car park for free.

The train was almost ready for departure, but there was an opportunity to watch the loco (0-6-2 Naomi), joining the front of the train.

Within a couple of minutes we were off.

After initially climbing away from the station through the first bank of trees .......

..... we passed over the girder bridge which took us over the lower track.

The train then wound its way back on itself to pass beneath the girder bridge ......

...... and then back out into the open, heading back towards the main part of the gardens. This stretch of railway was constructed on what used to be a landfill tip.
Source: Exbury Gardens and Steam Railway
It has been landscaped beautifully with a lake and plenty of interesting plantlife.

The train now wound its way through more mature trees, passing by the largest artificial rock garden in Europe.

We then passed over the junction for the reverse loop .........

 ..... before looping around another lake .........

...... and passing Dragonfly Halt.

The line then passed through a rhododendron plantation, which gives the railway its name, .......

.... before reaching the half-way point, where we paused.

 Our guard gave us a short talk about the history of the gardens and shared some of her personal recollections, including those of visitations from royalty. We then resumed our journey.

Passing back over the junction for the reverse loop, we once more made our way through the mature woodland, .......

...... and passed over a double junction, leading to each arm of the section on the reclaimed refuse tip.

We then arrived back at the main station (Exbury Central).

 After disembarking, I was able to watch the loco refuelling and running around the train, ready for the next departure.

I then retraced the route of the railway and took a few lineside photos. Here, the train is passing the lake on the reclaimed section.

And here, the train is passing by the rockery.

The train has negotiated the reverse loop and is now heading back towards the station.

After arriving at the station, .......

...... the loco was detached ........

....... and turned, before being made ready for the shed.

In the meantime, the line's diesel loco was used ...........

....... to shunt the carriages into the shed.

I spent a short while in the carriage shed, reading up on the history of the railway and watching the video of its construction.

It's certainly an interesting little railway and it has clearly been well financed - a contrast to some enthusiast-run lines which struggle to raise funds for repairs and maintenance.

It was well worth the visit I made. During this part of the season, just one train was running, but at the height of the summer, two trains work in tandem to ferry passengers around the line. A lot of thought and planning has been put into the route, to ensure it is interesting and varied. It is very picturesque and I imagine the scenery will be stunning at the start of the summer when the rhododendrons are in flower.


[In preparation] 

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