2012 - Richard's Tale
The aim of this year’s trip was to visit some of the railways of Kent. To maintain the concept of the ‘Sleeper Trip’ we first travelled to Edinburgh where in terrible rain we traversed Scotland three times. Our first trip to Glasgow was via Airdrie and Bathgate, returning to Edinburgh via Falkirk. Back in Edinburgh we took the opportunity to see how the tram line was doing – still work in progress.
We then had our final trip back to Glasgow via Shotts where we caught the sleeper. Arriving 'refreshed' in London we set off for our hotel in Chatham via local trains. After checking in, we walked down to the Historic Dockyards at Chatham where we viewed not only the boats but the old railway, and partook in rope making, with our chairman taking a supervisory role.
Saturday morning and we took another local train to Canterbury. After 'doing' the cathedral it was felt necessary to traverse the original Canterbury – Whitstable line (now mainly a road so we took the bus!). The line, fondly known as the Crab and Winkle Line, opened in 1830, and can lay claim to being the first railway in Britain. Unfortunately not much remains but we did find a plaque which had a representation of the Invicta locomotive used on the line in the 1830's.
After a pleasant evening in Canterbury we retired, relaxed, thinking that on Sunday morning we would be able to take our time and leave late to continue our trip south to the East Kent Railway at Shepherdswell. We were therefore somewhat put out when at breakfast Hilary showed us a leaflet for the Hornby Visitor Centre at Margate. Although only 15 miles away the lack of public transport meant it was impossible to get there and back in time.
Rather annoyed that we had missed this at the planning stage we ordered taxis to take us to Canterbury station to pick up the Folkestone train to Shepherdswell. We expected two taxis but when a minibus arrived an alternative presented itself. Could we taxi it to Margate and back and still get to Shepherdswell? Apparently we could, and with luggage safely stowed in the minibus we set off to Margate and the 'Mother Ship'. Obviously it goes without saying that the Hornby Centre was well worth the visit but note, it is only representative of the company as it exists now - so doesn't cover all the old Hornby products such as Meccano.
A couple of hours later we were back in Canterbury to catch the Folkestone train. Alighting at Sherpherdswell we found the East Kent Railway is only 50 yards from the mainline station. This Col. Stephens line was constructed between 1911 and 1917 to serve several local coal mines. We travelled to Eythorne on a 101 DMU, but as its gearbox had been removed it was hauled by English Electric 0‑6‑0DH! At Eythorne there is a small exhibition in the signal box so we chose to make an exhibition of ourselves! Things were very relaxed and they delayed the return trip so we could pose for a photo. At Shepherdswell we discovered the railway has a number of other attractions including a rather nice cafe and picnic area and a 12” miniature line.
The railway is also home to the Walmer Model Railway Club, which has a carriage provided free by the railway as long as they run their layout when the railway is open. We were invited to explore the MRC carriage and were taken into the social area. An impressive OO layout was running, complete with this low level viewing area for small people.
The EKR and the Walmer MRC made us most welcome, a small operation but well worth the visit. After refreshments we wandered back to the main line to pick up our train to Folkestone for our overnight stay. Locating our B&B, very close to the station, we settled in and an advance party was sent to find suitable refreshment options for the evening. The oldest pub in Folkestone was located, inspected and found to be 5* on both beer and food. Directions were sent to the remainder of the party who then proceeded to get completely lost. Nevertheless, they eventually arrived and a very pleasant evening ensued.
After breakfast on Monday we took the short walk to the bus station (via SAGA HQ – how apt!) to find our bus for the short ride to Hythe where we took a trip on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway to Dungeness. Opening in 1927 this 13.5 mile line was always intended as a passenger line. Its title is 'The Smallest Public Railway in the World'. The founders, Captain J.E.P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski had originally had their eyes on the 'Ratty' but in the end settled on Romney Marsh for their railway project. An impressive array of steam locomotives were waiting for us at Hythe including No10 Dr. Syn and Hercules.
Dr. Syn hauled us effortlessly the 13.5 miles to Dungeness where we wandered around its barren landscape, home to a lighthouse, nuclear power station and a small bohemian community of locals, living in converted railway wagons.
After lunch we began the return journey, breaking it at New Romney to take further refreshments and take in the Toy and Model Museum including a rather impressive computer controlled OO layout. We returned to Hythe and our bus to Folkestone. There we discovered that there was a Folkestone Cliff Railway. We were directed to a bus which took us along the cliff but not to the railway! In the end we had to abort our efforts to find it, although Derek did locate it later, very close to the town centre!
Unfortunately the large amount of pollen on the RH&D line had brought on my hay fever so I was consigned to bed. The remaining members of the party apparently had an enjoyable evening at the Chinese Buffet.
Tuesday morning after booking out we walked the short distance back to the main line station to collect our Train to Ashford and on to our final preserved line, the Kent and East Sussex Railway. Alighting at Ashford we quickly boarded a bus to Tenterden to join the railway. A kindly station master allowed us to leave our luggage in a station storage office. And so we boarded a DMU Class 108 for the trip along Col. Stephens’s metals to Bodiam.
Hilary flashed the cash and we were upgraded to First Class, the excitement being too much for some of our members.
At Bodiam those who hadn't seen the medieval castle set off to explore it, whilst the remainder adjourned to the pub. However, soon all were gathered in the pub garden enjoying a very pleasant lunch. Time was, however, pressing for those who needed to get back to Ashford to meet the party of WAGS who were joining us there. The party split therefore up, the early leavers returning on the No.22 Maunsell (WD No.1968) with the later leavers on the DMU.
The advance party arrived at Ashford to be greeted by the WAGS and were very soon located in a local Travelodge, eventually to be joined by the others. A very pleasant evening was passed in a local steak house. This was the technical end of the sleeper trip, except for those who had chosen the 'add on' extension to Paris.
Early on Tuesday we set off for St Pancras to join our EuroStar to Paris, where we were to join up with Hilary's John. Derek left us temporarily at this point to visit his mother in Deal. Arriving in Paris mid afternoon and after some difficult manoeuvrings on the Paris Metro we finally checked in at our hotel, with a view of the Eiffel Tower (just!) and conveniently located next to an elevated section of the Metro Line.
This section of the metro uses rubber tyre technology (to reduce noise) developed by Michelin, who provided the tyres and guidance system, in collaboration with Renault, who provided the vehicles.
The technology, introduced in 1951, according to Wikipedia works as follows: 'The vehicles have wheels with rubber tyres which run on rolling pads inside guide bars for traction, as well as traditional railway steel wheels with deep flanges on steel tracks for guidance through conventional switches as well as guidance in case a tyre fails.'
After freshening up we took the short walk to the Eiffel Tower and then had a pleasant evening at a local restaurant.
On Thursday the group split, with some picking up the main sites, others determined to find Paris model shops, meeting up again in the evening. Friday was a last chance to catch the sites missed on Thursday before we headed to the Gare Du Nord (this time sending our cases by taxi) for our return to London in time for tea at the Doric Arms, where we were joined by Derek. There, we encountered our first hiccup of the trip as bad weather had led to our train being cancelled. Thanks to the Tony's magic we were given the heads up on the next train and more importantly the platform number, so were able to get seats on a very crowded train north. Changing again at Wigan we connected with the local train to Southport and home.