My Journey in becoming a Steam Enthusiast, Part 6 – The Watercress Line (up to and including 1996)

Regular readers of this blog will no doubt be very familiar with the Watercress Line!  It is a railway I visit regularly now, but when growing up one that I visited relatively infrequently.  However, these early visits nevertheless were regular and enjoyable enough to go a long way in sowing the seeds of becoming a steam enthusiast!

Going back to my first post on my early steam experiences, my local railway was, at the time the Kent & East Sussex Railway – a light railway.  The saying that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” was true in the sense that whenever I saw big steam locomotives they left a lasting impression.  At the heavily graded Watercress Line, big locomotives are in regular service and so it was always an exciting place to visit!

Locomotives spotted at these early visits illustrated are: standard classes 4MT 2-6-0 76017 (top) and 5MT 4-6-0 73096 (third from bottom), USATC 2-8-0 S160 class number 701/3278 Franklin D Roosevelt (both pictures above), S15 class 30506 (below), unrebuilt Bulleid Pacifics 34051 Winston Churchill (fourth from bottom) and 34105 Swanage (second from bottom) plus visiting ex-LNER class 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley (bottom.)  76017 30506 and 34105 are all currently out of service and under overhaul at Ropley, 73096 is awaiting overhaul whereas the S160 class and 34051 have since departed the line.  34051 Winston Churchill is part of the National Collection and 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley is based on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Ropley engine shed always has been worth a visit as there is usually something happening there!  It is working depot and has the grime, coal, oil and water you’d expect.  It does not have an area for static displays as does Sheffield Park, so it has a different atmosphere.  Visits to the line were often en-route from Kent to Devon (or vice versa) and Ropley was the usual place we parked at for these visits.

One defining feature of the line during the 1990’s that also gave it a distinct character from the Bluebell line; was that most of the time, locomotives were painted in BR colours.  The Bluebell line was more colourful as pre-grouping or grouping liveries were usually chosen for their locomotives.  This combination of experiences is another reason, I believe, for me liking having models locomotives in different liveries; as I had experiences of seeing the real thing in the various different colours of different eras.

If you wish to learn more about the line, I published an enthusiasts guide earlier in the year.  This gives some details about the stations and gradients along the line.

Another defining feature of the Watercress Line are its link to the Railway network at Alton, which allows it to be an easy place for other locomotives to visit.  One example of this was in 1996, when I saw 60007 Sir Nigel Gresley in Ropley yard (below.)  I saw it again in 1997, alongside another powerful visitor… but that will be the subject of a future blog post!… click here to see this post.

Note, this post is a continuation from this previous article on the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway.