Did you know that the golden age of the steam train still lives on and is only an hour and a half drive from London? No, well read on to find out where it happens and the amazing day out you can have there.
The Bluebell Railway was once part of the Lewes to East Grinstead line of the old London Brighton & South Coast Railway which closed many years ago. Today it is one one of Sussex’s biggest tourist attractions. My Bluebell experience started at Sheffield Park Station, there’s a large, free car park from which you can walk up to the station and into a bygone era.
Sheffield Park Station was built by the London Brighton & South Coast Railway in 1882 to serve Lord Sheffield who owned the large house and estate which sits about a mile away from the station. This station has been restored to the Brighton era of the 1880’s. Entering the beautifully restored ticket office takes you back to another time, the fire was roaring and the staff were all dressed in old railway uniforms. With tickets issued we made our way onto the platform where our steam train was waiting, it felt like we were on a film set. Sheffield Park also has a museum but a little more about that later.
We had booked first class tickets and as the train was in we were able to board it, as with all the rolling stock on the railway the carriage had been restored and I have to say was surprisingly comfortable. Within a few minutes the guard blew his whistle and the train departed right on time.
With a cup of tea from the buffet car we settled in to enjoy the journey and the beautiful Sussex countryside. The journey takes approximately 40 minutes stopping at the two other stations on the line before finally arriving at East Grinstead.
Our first station stop was Horsted Keynes being also built in 1882. This station has been restored to the Southern Railway period from the mid 1920’s. Originally built as a junction station it had lines branching off to Haywards Heath via Ardingly. The station here has been featured in many films and TV shows, most recently being used as Downton Station in the ITV show Downton Abbey.
Next stop was Kingscote Station, again having been built in 1882. This station has been restored to the British Railways period of the mid 1950’s. In its time the station was known as being one of the quietest on the Brighton network serving only a few homes, with the nearest village being Turners Hill which is three miles away. Although passenger numbers were small the station boasted a large timber yard which resulted in a lot of goods traffic.
The final stop on the line is East Grinstead where we pull into platform 3. East Grinstead is still a full working station with Southern operating a service from there. As we’d chosen a round trip ticket we had a few minutes to wander around the station before our train departed back to Sheffield Park.
After arriving back into Sheffield Park we had the chance to have a proper look around the station and the museum attached to it. The museum is located on platform 2 of the station and gives an interesting insight into the history of the railway.
At the end of the platform is the Withyham Signal Box that was originally built for the opening of the line between East Grinstead and Tunbridge Wells in 1866.
Back across on platform 1 is the Locomotive Shed which has a fascinating collection of old working steam engines including the oldest one Bluebell has called Fenchurch which was built in 1872, his younger brother Stepney, who appears in the famous Thomas the Tank Engine books is also there.
The station also houses a gift shop and has its very own pub and restaurant where you can buy drinks and snacks as well as a full meal. The Bluebell Railway is a real little gem hidden in the heart of the Ashdown Forest in Sussex and I promise you it’s a day out you won’t forget, a fantastic experience.