Wednesday, 10 October 2012

North Norfolk Railway

Monday 1 October. We'd seen aeroplanes, we'd seen trolleybuses. We had even seen trams. So in the midst of the Norfolk Broads, what form of transport have we still to see? Right! Steam trains!

We drove to Sheringham along the Norfolk coast and by the time we got to the lovely little station we were a bit late to catch the train we wanted to catch. However by lucky chance they had been having a small technical hitch and we arrived in time to dash onto the train literally seconds before it went!

We wandered through a couple of carriages and came to an old one with compartments and a corridor - very Harry Potter! We settled ourselves down and waited patiently for the witch with the sweets trolley. When she came she looked just like a male ticket inspector who, when asked where the chocolate frogs were, obviously thought he had misheard and ignored the question altogether... Not an HP fan then...

This was another place where the area's retired folks were having the time of their lives! Why are they all in Norfolk, these places? Pensioners really have it made down there! I think I'm going to have to move there. They were driving steam trains for Heaven's sake!!! One was selling souvenir booklets and popped his head into our compartment every ten minutes to say "Have I seen you before?" On receiving the nod, he'd say cheerfully, "Ah well, I'll leave you alone next time then!" Ten minutes later he'd pop his head round the door and say "Have I seen you before?"

The track runs ten miles from Sheringham to Holt with a stop at Weybourne along the way. At either end the locomotive has to be decoupled and then runs to some points and then trundles past the train of coaches to couple onto the other end to draw the train back again.

At these points we all jump off and take lots of photos of superheated water shooting out of safety valves and generally get in each other's way before jumping back onto the train once the locomotive is ready.

A group of children dressed as wartime refugees with little square boxes for a gas mask have got off at Holt and lined up. The teacher is dividing them up into three groups. "In line I want you to count to three," he says. Dutifully the first child shouts "One!", the second shouts "Two!", the third shouts "Three!" and the fourth shouts "One!" to start the sequence again. By the time it gets to child twenty the system has fallen down and another teacher is saying crossly to him "You haven't the foggiest idea of what you are supposed to be doing have you?" Upon which he turns a bewildered face to his equally bewildered neighbours who all shrug their shoulders and look mutinous along with him.

It takes around 40 minutes to do the ten miles and switch the locomotive to the other end so a full return journey takes an hour and a half. Back at Sheringham we get off the train and decide to go and find something to eat in the town. Sheringham looks extremely pretty so we decide that we will have another ride on the train (as our ticket lasts all day) and then will have a walk through the town later in the day.

We find a cafe at the end of the street and have a toastie and a coke (the drink that is... I was never a one for chemical pleasures... I did get confused once and snort a line of Pepsi...)

When we got back to the station a huge chunk of locomotive called Ayrshire Yeomanry (No.45156 for the enthusiasts) was swapping ends of a single coach which was filled with excited men and somewhat resigned but determined women.

The men had all paid around £400 for a day's footplate experience. Each of them got to drive the locomotive for the full ten mile stretch of track under the close supervision of a Norfolk pensioner who knew what he was doing. And more importantly knew what they might do before they actually did it, so that he could warn them about it before they smashed through the level crossing gates and gouged two deep lines across the main road...

The journey was remarkably similar to the one we did in the morning, but was no less enjoyable for that. We sat in the very same compartment and found a packet of tissues that must have fallen out of my pocket in the morning's excitement. Whilst we had lunch those tissues went on a 20 mile journey without us but now we were happily reunited!

We waved to the old chap in his conservatory at the back of his house, jutting into a garden that bordered the railway line. We watched as the windmill went by on the horizon and at Holt when we got off the train I looked at the small museum and the model railway for ten minutes whilst the locomotive did its swap-ends thing.

Then we sat in our compartment again and watched the crocodile of wartime refugees make their way back to the train. I think most of them had survived the war...

The sweets trolley never came round though...

Large versions of the photos: all the photos from this holiday are in this set at Flickr.

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