A trip to see family allowed for a quick whistle-stop visit at the Kent and East Sussex Railway. I grew up with this railway on my doorstep and it was great to go back and see how the line is doing. Self-branded as “England’s finest rural light railway”, the K&ESR is a delightful railway running from Tenterden in Kent to Bodiam in East Sussex.
Tenterden is a very small town and is worth a visit. It is also home to the Colonel Stephens Railway museum. Colonel Holman F. Stephens was the father of light railways, with the Kent and East Sussex Railway (K&ESR) being his first. A light railway is pretty much as you’d expect – a standard gauge railway engineered to carry lighter loads and therefore cheaper to build. Although no longer as restricted by weight as in the past, the modern K&ESR keeps up the tradition by having a fleet of tank engines (and one small tender engine) running the line. It gives the line a distinctive charm.
The original K&ESR ran from Headcorn in the north to Robertsbridge via Tenterden town. The line north of Tenterden has had housing built on it and it is very unlikely that the Tenterden-Headcorn link will ever be rebuilt. The link to Robertsbridge is achievable and work is progressing from Bodiam in the East by the K&ESR and Robertsbridge in the west by the Rother Valley Railway. Once complete the line will again be connected to the national railway network.
The K&ESR was never a part of the Southern Railway and remained independent until nationalisation. It bought second-hand stock, as revenue from the small villages it served was very restricted. For that reason it had and still does have an interesting collection of older stock.
My visit on Saturday was very brief, but I was fortunate to see the pride of the fleet – 1872 built terrier 32670 Bodiam (see above). Although I have a model of this engine, I’d never seen the prototype in action before. I grew up nearby, but had moved away before the engine was overhauled.
Bodiam was double-heading with Manning Wardle tank 14 Charwelton (see above), painted in an attractive lined brown livery. The two looked good together and I watched them drift down Tenterden bank, as can be seen in the picture below and on this Video. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to watch the return trip – Tenterden bank is very steep and the little engines have to work very hard to haul trains back up the bank!
I then visited Rolvenden station engine shed. Here I spotted the boiler for the new GWR tank 5253 a 2-8-0 that; once restored, will look massive next to the terriers! This is a recent acquisition of the line. I also saw austerity saddle tank 23 Holman F Stephens (see below), named in honour of the man who built the railway.
Overall I really enjoyed my visit and thoroughly recommend a visit to the line. More pictures of my visit can be viewed on Steamtube.