The Kent and East Sussex Railway used to be my local railway when I was growing up. I used to regularly visit with my father. The railway was always in the background, even when at home, as the thunderous sound of steam engines climbing Tenterden bank echoed for miles around. When I heard that the railway was to celebrate it’s fortieth anniversary of preservation, I had to go and attend!
The line is a light railway. It was built by Holman Fred Stephens, who had a small empire of similar lines. Light railways were built on the cheap and were lightly lain so needed small locomotives. The stations were generally many miles from the settlements they claimed to serve. They had as little infrastructure as necessary, so went up steep hills rather than through them. The K&ESR captures these characteristics very well indeed!
The last time I took a ride on the line the K&ESR only ran as far as Northiam, but now runs 10.5 miles from Tenterden to Bodiam. Tenterden Town station is conveniently located close to the small town’s high street and Bodiam about 15 min walk from it’s beautiful castle. The railway runs through the rural weald, much of it across the flood plain of the River Rother. It’s a very pleasant ride for the passenger. On the return journey, the final section between Rolvenden and Tenterden Town is a fierce gradient. The little locomotives have to work very hard here. It’s rare that steam engines need to be pushed this hard, so it’s a real pleasure to watch and listen!
My wife and I attended on the Saturday of the three day event. Unfortunately for the hosts the weather could at best be described as variable, varying from heavy thunderstorms to warm sunshine. It seemed to have put people off, which is a pity, as the carriages were warm and dry inside!
We had two return trips, one in BR mk 1 carriages, the second in the “vintage train” consisting of pre-grouping types. We shared a compartment of a SECR birdcage carriage with two friendly chaps who had come all the way from Cambridge that made the journey all the more enjoyable.
On another note, we also had a great chat with volunteers from 4253 ltd. They were running a tombola and my wife was delighted to win a Corgi model car. Although I think she’d been happier with the shortbread! Their project to restore this giant GWR 2-8-0T is progressing well, but always could do with more help, so please check out their website below.
Despite the weather I really enjoyed my day on the railway. With an interesting fleet of locomotives running, very friendly volunteers and visitors, there wasn’t much to not like! A big thank you goes out to the railway for a great day out.
As usual we shall look at some of the locomotives, stock and other features in the coming days, so as ever, watch this space!
Linked blog posts:
Norwegian star of a rural English light railway (includes pictures from the archives)