A Sunny Day at Leighton Buzzard

On the hottest day in April I visited the Leighton Buzzard Railway. At Page’s Park Station a train, headed by this charming O&K loco, was waiting to depart. She had a fine head of steam and the safety valves were venting off the excess.

These’s something attractive about polished brass plates.

The train was an eccelectic mix of carriages, in all shapes, styles and sizes.

I hopped aboard and we headed off.

The 2 foot gauge Leighton Buzzard Light Railway (LBLR) was opened in 1919 to serve sand quarries and brickworks and connect them to the standard gauge just south of Leighton Buzzard. Originally the line was very rural but the town developed and now the first part of the line runs through housing estates. This was fascinating. The line runs over ungated road crossings and the guards stop the road traffic with red flags to allow the train to pass. The train weaves past gardens, shops and even a school, then out into open countryside and past a sand quarry, to arrive at Stonehenge Works Station.

Stonehenge is the base for the railway’s internal combustion loco collection. The first loco I saw was this Baguley-Drewry, built in 1973.

I was struck by the simple, clean lines of the loco. Quite easy to model.

Nice ‘wasp stripes’ (or should I say ‘Shunter Chevrons’…).

The railway has a fine collection of Simplex locos. These were built by the Motor Rail & Tram Car Company, which set up its factory in 1916 in Bedford, around 20 miles from the LBLR. The original 20hp Simplexes were used to construct the line, and haul trains on the quarry branches. In 1921 the 40hp version replaced steam on the ‘main line’ of the LBLR. There are lots of examples to see at Stonehenge, here’s one being repaired.

There’s a fine collection of skip wagons.

This Ruston Hornsby was built for the West Kent Main Sewage Board in 1932. Apparently, it is the second oldest Ruston Hornsby locomotive in existence. Rather ugly, but strangely attractive at the same time!

Back in the station I found ‘Peter Wood’ a Hunslet built in 1994. I do like the ‘curved’ effect of the axle boxes.

The journey back to Page’s Park.

The railway has an impressive collection of steam locos. In the engine shed at Page’s Park there was another O&K loco.

And this very elegant Andrew Barclay 0-6-0 originally built in 1919.

Outside in the yard this very beautiful Baldwin Class D loco, built in 1917 for the War Department. After the war it worked in a sugar mill in India until the 1980s, before being restored and returned to service in 2007.

I love the unlined, black livery. Simple and elegant.

Finally, the oldest loco on the line, a lovely vertical boilered De Winton originally built in 1877.

Too small to haul regular passeger trains, she is steamed on gala days.

The Leighton Buzzard Narrow Gauge Railway Society have done a great job of keeping the line open and assembling a large, diverse collection of locomotives. It’s well worth a visit.


Three Narrow Gauge Lines in One Day

At Easter we visited Bressingham Steam and Gardens in Norfolk. I got the chance to ride on three narrow gauge railways, each one a different gauge, on the same day. If you like lovely gardens and railways I recommend a visit.

We started with the 10¼ inch gauge garden railway. Our loco was built at Bressingham and is modeled on a Hunslet quarry loco. She is named after the founder of the gardens, Alan Bloom.

The Garden Railway is around two thirds of a mile long (1.25 km) and runs around the beautifully landscaped garden with trees, flowers and the ‘island beds’ pioneered by Alan Bloom. The loco can pull up to 60 passengers in three coaches, and she made very light work of this when we visited.

After a walk around the gardens, we went to the 2 foot gauge Nursery Railway that runs for 2½ miles (4km) around the old plant nursery. This time we met a genuine Hunslet, Gwynedd, the first ‘Port’ class locomotive supplied to Penrhyn Quarries in North Wales in 1883. She worked the quarries there until 1954, and has recently been fully restored by the Bressingham Steam Society. She reentered service in 2016. She looks fantastic…

…and runs well too…

The second loco running on the 2 foot gauge was George Sholto another Hunslet loco that operated at Penrhyn. Built in 1909, she has been reboilered and overhauled and reentered service in 2011.

In the engine shed I found Bevan, a loco built at Bressingham in 2010 and based on the Kerr Stuart Wren design. I don’t think the originals had tenders and, to my eyes, it makes Bevan look more like a miniature railway loco that a 2 foot gauge one.

Just to show I can appreciate the subtle beauty of a diesel loco, here’s a diesel Hunslet built in 1980 (works number 8911).

I like the asymetrical bonnet…

.. and the very simple cab.

The Nursery Railway runs alongside the 15 inch gauge Waveney Valley Railway in a couple of places and it is great fun to see the two trains running so close together. Here’s a view of the 15 inch gauge from our 2 foot gauge carriage.

Obviously, we had to visit the Waveney Valley Railway. St Christopher is the main loco on the WVR. She was constructed by the Exmoor Steam Railway in 2001 and moved to Bressingham in 2011. She’s a good looking 2-6-2, well proportioned and sturdy, with outside frames and Walschaert’s gear.

Here’s the makers plate.

It’s interesting to compare the modern style of this plate with the Hunslet makers plate from 1909 on George Sholto – how styles have changed!

I was very pleased when I saw the carriages on the 15 inch line.

These very elegant carriages were built in 1937 for use in an exhibition in Dusseldorf, Germany. I first saw one in the engine shed on the Bure Valley Railway (see these photos) and I was so impressed I wanted to ride in it. Today, I was going to get the chance 🙂

Here’s the makers plate. The Waggonfabrik Uerdingen AG was founded in 1898, merged with the Düsseldorfer Waggonfabrik in 1935, and is owned by Siemens now. Interestingly, the carriage I saw on the Bure Valley Railway was Fabrik-Nr 11811…

The Waveney Valley Railway have this ‘brake’ coach, that combines passenger seating, a guard’s compartment and (what I assume) is a luggage space. I wonder if this is original or a later modification. I’d love to know a little more about the history and design of these coaches.

In the yard there was this bogie.

Perhaps it’s one of the original bogies for the Dusseldorf carriages.

At Bressingham there are two 4-6-2 pacifics built by Krupps of Essen in 1937. These were the locos that hauled the passenger coaches in the Dusseldorf exhibition park. Amazingly, both locos survived the war and, although Rosenkavalier was overhauled she was placed in storage and never used.

Alan Bloom purchased both locos, and several coaches, in 1972. He paid £10,000 (plus £1,750 transport costs) for the lot. Having acquired them, he built the 15 inch gauge line at Bressingham. It was completed in 1974.

These are large, imposing locos and it must have been an impressive sight to see them in steam. Sadly, both locos are out of service and will need to be overhauled before they can run again.

A third loco was built by Krupp to the same design, and this was purchased by the Romney, Hythe
& Dymchurch Railway in 1976 and is now known as ‘Black Prince’.  Additionaly, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway are currently restoring a very similar locomotive and there’s an interesting history here.

It’s good to look around for little details that are worth modelling. For example, these two point levers. One is boarded over to protect the point rodding…

… in the other the pull rod just disappears into the ground.

There is a standard gauge line at Bressingham too. I didn’t examine it in detail, but two things caught my eye. Look at this lovely, weathered coach.

And this diesel shunter made me smile. Do the side skirts hide a Kato 103 chassis…?

There is more to Bressingham than railways. We rode on the Gallopers, had a great time on the 1950’s Dodgems with Rock and Rock background music, and tried our luck on the penny slots.

Plus, best of all, we got to meet one of our heros… Peppa Pig…





A Busy Day at the Bure Valley Railway

Mark Timothy at Aylsham

Recently, I joined the Norfolk and Suffolk Narrow Gauge Modellers for a day out on the Bure Valley Railway. It was a busy and enjoyable day.

First, we went for a ride on the railway. In the picture above No. 9 ‘Mark Timothy’ is waiting to leave Aylsham station. We spent the whole journey to Wroxham having a good natter about all aspects of narrow gauge trains, which was great fun.

At Wroxham the driver and fireman turned Mark Timothy on the turntable and we all took photos.


Rebuilt to resemble a Kitson from the Leek and Manifold Railway she’s a really good looking loco. 003

Ready for the return journey.


Following an excellent ‘sausage, chips and beans’ in the Whistlestop Café at Aylsham station we got the chance to tour the workshops. Who could resist…

Andrew Barnes, the Managing Director of the BVR, conducted the tour. Here’s an overall view of the workshops. No. 6 ‘Blickling Hall’, a half size replica of an Indian Railway ‘ZB’ class of locomotive, is currently in the ‘shop undergoing a major overhaul. Work is progressing well and she is due to have her first steam test in November 2016.


Here’s a view of her cab interior.


‘Blickling Hall’ had her last overhaul from 2001 to 2004 when she was given new cylinders, smoke deflectors and a multi jet ‘Lempour exhaust’. The Bure Valley team have put her original cylinders on display in the workshop.


Also in the workshop at the time of our visit were a couple of coach bogies. The railway has adopted this design as the ‘standard’ for all their passenger vehicles. Note the air powered brake system (not vacuum).


There are no CAD operated machines – it’s ‘IT free’ engineering at the Bure Valley :-). Here’s the wheel lathe that is used for turning all wagon, passenger and loco wheels. It’s just big enough for the loco wheels.


It was great to see some of the detail behind the running of the railway. Here are the Carriage and Wagon Reports… a couple of pit inspections pending, I see.


Each loco in the roster has a blackboard with a log of all key maintenance information.


From the workshop we went to the engine shed. Most of the locos were under dust sheets.

Here’s No. 7 ‘Spitfire’. Like her sister ‘Blickling Hall’ she’s loosely based on the Indian Railway ‘ZB’ class of locomotive. These are substantial locos, 28 feet (8.5m) long, 4 feet 3 inches (1.3m) wide and 5 feet 7 inches (1.7m) high with a working weight of 12.5 tons. That is a massive 15 inch (38cm) gauge loco. I’d love to ride on the footplate!


Although she was originally built in 1994, ‘Spitfire’ carries a plate dated 2001.


No. 1 ‘Wroxham Broad’ originally built as a steam-outline petrol-hydraulic she was converted to steam in 1992. She’s finished in the very attractive ‘Caledonian Sky Blue’.  (Unfortunately my photo hasn’t captured the colour very well).


Below is No 8, ‘John of Gaunt’. She is named after a Lord of the Manor of Aylsham who was the son of King Richard III and father of Henry IV. Under the covers she resembles the ‘Vale of Rheidol Railway’ locos and is just over 18 feet (5.5m) long.

The Bure Valley Railway isn’t a place for small locos. They like their locos to be able to pull a train of 12 coaches, with up to 240 passengers, and a generator coach, up a 1 in 100 gradient and have power to spare (!).


Having said that, here’s the smallest loco in the shed, a very well restored Lister.


Originally 2ft gauge she was used on the peat railways in Somerset. When the railway acquired her she was already converted to 15 inch gauge but had a wooden ‘tram’ style body. The BVR team are converting her back to her original appearance.


Nice work.


Also, in the shed coach 31 one of 6 wheelchair accessible coaches undergoing renovation.


This lovely open coach has a classic continental feel. Built in Dusseldorf in 1937, I wonder if the railway use her on regular services. I’d love a ride in this.


Original makers plate.


From the old to the new. The BVR are making a new generator wagon. A work in progress.


The tour continued out in the yard. A nice hopper wagon.


The inspection pit.


The permanent way coach, complete with it’s own toilet.


A very attractive Hunslet. No. 4 is used as the Aylsham Station shunter and to operate the railway’s flail machine. Built in 1954 for a 2 foot gauge line, she has been converted to 15 inch gauge and substantially refurbished. Now, she is powered by a Peugeot 205 car engine and has a hydraulic drive. I do like the colour of this loco.


Inside the cab.


If you are partial to a permanent way ‘scooter’ you will love this. Unfortunately, I know nothing about it. It looks great though.


The Bure Valley Railway track was originally laid with shingle as ballast. This isn’t ideal as it is not particularly stable. The railway has started a program to replace the shingle with granite ballast. The first section to be replaced was at Wroxham station, which was reopened in April 2016. Another quarter of a mile of track will be relaid in February 2017. I will take the railway around 15 years to lift and relay all the track and replace all the shingle ballast.


The final part of the day was the opportunity to discuss and play with model trains. The BVR let us use a meeting room on one of the platforms and the Norfolk and Suffolk Narrow Gauge members brought along locos, stock and layouts for a ‘modelling afternoon’.

Graham Watling brought his latest 009 layout ‘Ellerbank’. It has a river side station and goods yard, with a simple bridge over a stream.  Jolly nice it is too.


Andrew Barnes, MD of the railway, is also a railway modeller. Here’s the Lynton and Barnstable inspired layout he is building. I was impressed by the track plan, design and the build quality. It’s going to be a nice layout.


This is Richard Doe’s ‘Lester Tin Mine Engine House’ layout that he built for the 2016 ExpoNG Challenge. Very nice. I like the simple design, the sense of space, the mill, the curved backscene and the painted sky.


There were lots of other interesting things: a japanese battery operated, snap together mini layout in HO9; a Gn15 Heywood style open coach made from laser cut card; and a 1/16th scale diesel loco.

Many thanks to Richard Doe for suggesting and organising such a great day and to Andrew Barnes for being an excellent host.

Ashdon Halt

ashdon-halt-1In contrast to my previous post on the elaborate and beautiful Gare du Nord in Paris… This is the very simple, and derelict, Ashdon Halt.

Situated on the Great Eastern Railway Audley End to Batlow line, Ashdon Halt was opened in 1911.

Ashdon Halt in 2016

Ashdon Halt got a major upgrade in 1916 when the GER added an old carriage body to act as a waiting room. Remarkably, the carriage is still there 100 years later (these photos are from July 2016).


The platform was built of earth, topped with clinker and edged with sleepers. The sleeper edging was very characteristic on many of the local GER stations, including Thaxted.



If you are interested in some historical photos of Ashdon Halt, visit the Disused Stations website.

Paris: Power and Pinball

paris_gare_du_nord_4_bisOn a recent business trip to Paris I stayed opposite the Gare du Nord. Built from 1861 to 1865 for the Chemins de Fer du Nord company, the building is imposing and impressive. It illustrates the power the railway companies had at that time and how they liked to demonstrate their power…

I took the RER Bleu to the airport. Well organised, clean, quiet and smooth – the London Underground should take note. However, the thing that I liked the most was the route indicator board inside the train. It was illuminated to indicate the route the train was taking and the next stop was shown by a flashing light. Very clear and informative with a rather retro style, it reminded me of a pin ball machine.


Then I arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport which was total chaos. Perhaps trains are still better than planes…

Photo of Gare Du Nord By Velvet (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons


A Day Out With Doctor Syn


On the last sunny day in September I was lucky enough to spend the day with Doctor Syn.

Doctor Syn was a fictional smuggling hero on the Kent marshes. Don’t worry, I wasn’t smuggling contraband into the country. My family brought me a driver experience on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway and this Doctor Syn is RH&DR Number 10, a lovely Canadian Pacific style loco build in 1931.

I drove No. 10 as a ‘light loco’ (loco only) for four miles. Then I rode on the footplate for a 28 mile round trip over the whole line with a scheduled passenger service. It was a fantastic experience. The unforgettable feeling of travelling at 20 mph in a gently swaying 15 inch gauge loco with the heat of the fire, the smell of smoke and the hiss of steam.

Simon, who was driving No. 10 that day, taught me a huge amount. He’s been driving since he was 18 and he knows the line like the back of his hand. Many thanks Simon.


Apparently, I didn’t stop smiling all day!


Here are some photos.

Waiting for the signal at New Romney.Waiting for the Signal

Arriving at Hythe.Arriving at Hythe

A quick spin on the turntable.A Quick Spin at Hythe

Oiling and watering.Oiling and Watering.

Cylinder oil.Cylinder Oil

The ‘ashpit’ at Hythe.The 'Ashpit' at Hythe

A couple of pics of Doctor Syn. On the RH&DR the drivers have different stars to identify who’s driving the loco. Simon’s star is on the front of the loco. Apparently it came from Caledonian Railway practice.Doctor Syn

Makers Plate

Out onto the shingle banks, one of my favourite parts of the line.Out on to the Shingle Banks

Dungeness Station.Dungeness Station

Cleaning the loco and I’m still smiling…Pledge and Polish

The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway

Arriving at Walsingham

In August we had a short holiday in north Norfolk and I got the chance to visit the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway. The WWLR is the longest 10 1/4 inch (260mm) railway in the world. It was opened in 1982 and runs on the old standard gauge Wymondham to Wells branch line that closed in 1969.

The station at Wells has a lovely light railway atmosphere. Surrounded by countryside, with wooden buildings and the sleepers buried in a mixture of cinders and grass.

Wells-on-Sea Station

I’m told, the railway cannot construct permanent buildings on the site, hence the wooden buildings. The signal box was moved from Swainsthorpe to Wells without being dismantled, a distance of around 40 miles! It has been converted into a shop and tearoom.

Enough talk, let’s have a look at what’s in the yard.

The first loco to catch my eye was Pilgrim an 0-6-0 built in 1981. Look at the ‘oversized’ cab to enable the driver to fit in.


Here’s the cab interior.

Pilgrim's Cab

Next, Norfolk Harvester, a Bo-Bo diesel powered by a Perkins marine engine. She sounds great!

Norfolk Harvester

Very simple cab…

Norfolk Harvester Cab

… and an unusual, but comfortable, drivers seat.

Norfolk Harvester Driver's Seat

Also in the yard was this eight seater Leek and Manifold ‘replica’ executive saloon. I love the livery.

Luxury Saloon

Finally, I met Weasel an 0-6-0 diesel hydraulic, again powered by a Perkins diesel engine. Boxy, but a great loco to model.


Our train arrived…

Our Train Arrives

Norfolk Hero, named in honour of Nelson, is a 10 1/4 inch gauge 2-6-0 + 0-6-2 Garratt. Yes, really! I’m searching for a word that means both incredible and wonderful at the same time (perhaps the Germans have a word for it…)

Norfolk Hero

Norfolk Hero’s cab…

Norfolk Hero's Cab

… and valve gear.

Norfolk Hero Detail

Before we set off I looked into the guard’s compartment. Note the essential kit: flags, shovel and garden shears.

Guards Compartment

Then we were off to Walsingham. The first part of the line runs through shallow cuttings full of wild flowers. It may be an old standard gauge line but the bushes grow quite close to the train in places. Now I know why the guard had those garden shears!

Later, the line opens out to give great views of open fields, houses and churches nestling between the trees.

Norfolk Countryside

There are no steep gradients, I think the steepest I saw was 1 in 66. There are several ungated crossings. The driver slows, sounds the whistle and proceeds slowly. The best of the crossings was near a house with free range chickens. Obviously, the chickens think it is quite normal to roam across the line. The driver proceeded at very slow speed with lots of whistling until the chickens made their way home and it was great fun watching them strut around.

Walsingham station is about as simple as it gets, a passing loop and a buffer. Again, I love the light railway feel.

Walsingham Station

After a snack in town, we headed back to Wells – “All Aboard!”

Departure from Walsingham

Back at Wells I decided to act like I owned Norfolk Hero (yeah, in my dreams..)

Acting Like I Own the Loco

After the WWLR the deal was that we headed to the beach. My family didn’t realise that the best way to get there is to take the Wells Harbour Railway (Ha, Ha).

At Wells Harbour station we met The Duke, looking great in her purple livery. The WHR is a 10 1/4 inch line established in 1976 by Roy Francis, who went on to create the WWLR.

The Duke

The Duke took us to the end of the line, 1200 yards further on, at Pinewoods.

Arriving at Pinewoods

The WWLR doesn’t have a turntable, but the WHR has two!

Turning The Duke

The Duke was turned by hand…

Turning The Duke 2

…and the running round was easily completed.

Running Around at Pinewood

Pinewoods is the most complicated station on the line.

Pinewoods Station

The turntable serves the passing loop and the two lines into the engine shed.

Pinewoods Station Turntable

The engine shed was closed – I’d have loved to have had a nose around there.

Pinewoods Engine Shed

Swaffham is half way between the North Norfolk coast and where we live. We always stop at Ceres Bookshop and Tea Room. The owner really knows her books and she bakes delicious cakes. We left with a pile of books for my daughter, one book on the L&B for me (which has many pictures that I haven’t seen before). Oh, and our stomachs were full of delicious Almond and Orange cake.

The Lynton and Barnstable Railway by L T Catchpole

What a successful trip!