“ Sheffield Park Station, East Sussex, TN22 3QL. information : 01825 722370 - 24 hour. „
I cannot speak too highly of the Bluebell Railway on the incredible job they have done restoring the line, infrastructure and rolling stock to create a fascinating step back in time for those who visit. The trains and stations look just as they used to when they were brand new. I especially enjoyed my journey in a Metropolitan Railway four wheeler coach. I visited with a friend on 29.12.2010. We had a wonderful reception at picturesque Kingscote Station from the friendly, helpful station staff who had a traditional coal fire keeping the waiting room toasty warm on that cold day when the snow was still hanging around and one of the gentlemen so kindly called a local taxi out when we had to bridge the gap to East Grinstead. Unfortunately the Bessemer Arms catering was a complete let down at the Sheffield Park end. We got there at 2.50pm and all they had left was a portion of overpriced chips and those in the queue behind us got nothing and were grumbling their disappointment and surprise. Never again will I use the expression cheap as chips but rather as expensive as Bluebell chips. Appeals to knock us something up because we were hungry after a long journey just produced a blank expression. They'd had macaroni cheese and chips on their menu board. How much time and effort would it have taken to microwave some frozen chips and open a tin of macaroni cheese and heat it? About three minutes: I do it often at home. The only other food I could buy was two tea cakes and two teas for the rip-off price of £6 and the staff so busy chatting to each other forgot to tell me when they were heated so they were cold when I chased them up. I emailed feedback to customer services who couldn't get a reply from catering and were not interested in looking into the matter and getting back to me. The philosophy there seems very much take it or leave it. Check very carefully whether the connecting bus from East Grinstead is running on the day you visit: we got caught out and the information was not posted at the East Grinstead end where we arrived by bus. Don't depend on their dinner or transport connection and you'll have a great day out.
Dr Richard Beeching has a lot to answer for these days, for back in late 1950' and early 1960's it was his report that changed the way the complete structure of a long lost business called British Rail. The Beeching Report was basically a feasibility study into how well the railways of the United Kingdom were being used and what it did was effectively named and shamed the most under used parts of the network that were causing financial losses. Unfortunately the cuts that were performed were more on a scale with massacres than reviews as the entire rail network shrunk by over 40%. This was mainly due to the motor car and the fact that driving was a more fashionable way of getting from A to B, and even today its hard to understand why some of the unwanted lines were taken away.
As is the world, someone always finds a means of balancing this out and from the closure a heritage line spanning nine miles was born. Pre-closure the line was commonly known as the Bluebell Line due to the fact it ran from East Grinstead to Lewes with the trackside covered in the mentioned flower, the line was part of the London and South Coast Railway and was closed in March 1958. That isn't by any means the end of the story, in fact this is just the beginning.....
In late 1959 a group called The Bluebell Railway Society was formed and started to bring the line back to life with just a few miles of track to today where there are three stations spread over the nine mile system, including sidings workshops and train sheds. The scale of the whole operation is massive to say the least, the traditional village station has been captured in many forms along the length of the Bluebell and each one has its own unique identity that captures the essence of steam trains and brings in a hugely nostalgic factor that makes you feel as if you've actually stepped back in time when you visit.
What I found is more astounding is that the whole thing is managed by volunteers, volunteers who drive the trains, mend and restore all the vehicles whilst you have a team manning the platform to ensure the trains leave on schedule, yes they even have a daily schedule to follow which coincidentally gives you enough time to look around each station before moving on to the next. At each station there is a plethora of things to see, do and visit. Having been here a number of times in the last few years I prefer to sit at one of the Coffee kiosks and watch the trains come in and out, on average there is one about every 30 minutes and to see peoples faces when a massive engine like a Battle Of Britain class pulls in really does give an edge of glamour and style. It also makes you realise that the golden age of transport now is well and truly gone compared to the South West Trains EMU units that I see coming out of Waterloo everyday out my office window!
The three stations are all distinctive; at the southern end of the line is Sheffield Park. I always think this is the main station on the Bluebell, mainly due to the fact that it's the only one with a free Car Park and there is so much to do here. A massive station in its own terms that looks like its been stolen from a Hornby train set, it has the engine sidings and the workshops that you look into to see what is being done, when I was there it was a boiler being replaced and that was interesting to talk to the engineers who were working on it just to get a scope of the size of the job involved. The station also has a Museum about the line that contains enough kit to keep the train enthusiast happy for a good half hour showing the history and what people have donated to be placed on show. Also for the kids there is a model railway that really is quite relaxing to watch for the duration of the coin that is deposited. With Coffee kiosks and a Restaurant there is plenty to see and do here before you get on steam train to North to Horsted Keynes. One tip for Sheffield Park, when the trains come and go make sure you stand on the bridge, even though this links both the platforms this is a great place to see the engine go under you, the kids love it and seeing the joy on their faces when this happens is just brilliant. The gift shop that is the obligatory final stop is packed with some great books and souvenirs of the Bluebell. I was expecting it to be dear for low quality goods, but was very surprised to find that the goods were high quality at decent prices.
At Horsted Keynes, the station has a multitude of small shops selling books and bric-a -brac such as toy trains donated to the Bluebell. It's interesting to note that these shops have been converted from the platform waiting rooms and are simply items placed on a table to see. I spent nearly an hour rummaging through the piles of books and left with only one and that only cost me 20p!! As with Sheffield Park there are workshops and some sidings that the public can safely enter to see carriages being restored to their former glory, its only through acts of dedication from the volunteers that things like this actually get done and to say they have the patience of a god is an understatement with what they achieve as the end result. This station is also the junction where the Ardingly line joins the track and even though this is only being used to store vehicles it is hoped one day that this line will be re-opened.
The final station on the line is Kingscote at the northern end, an intersection to catch buses to nearby East Grinstead and beyond. To be honest there is nothing here but a small kiosk selling food and drink and even though the platforms are in excellent condition, it really is a nice and simple picnic area that on a hot summers day is tranquil and peaceful to sit and eat lunch in. At the moment this is the terminus and is as far as the Bluebell goes, however the extension to East Grinstead and the opportunity to link to the rail network is being taken and this is not too far away from happening now as almost £5million is being raised to make this happen. I find this quite exciting as it means steam trains can leave the Bluebell for the first time in nearly sixty years and seeing as this is what the project was about it does tend to stick two fingers up at those that decided the line was not a profit making area in the first place.
Nine miles may not seem like much when you are sitting in a carriage being pulled by a steam loco, but it very relaxing to do and is completely therapeutic as literally are taken away with the moment and hear the noise of the pistons and rods from the engine to give just a unique experience for a day out, it takes about 35 minutes to go from one to the other and is a pleasure. Along the side of the track you see the occasional Pheasant that is not afraid of the trains going by at all but tries to stare it out. Also there are some major houses that back onto the track as well, nice to see how the other half live. In fact jealousy has set in as I would love to have steam trains going by my back garden on a regular basis at the weekend!
What is nice to see the Bluebell do every now and then is a themed day, and while the trains operate throughout the year, it's good to see themed days such as a day about the Home Guard and World War II with exhibitions and specific military vehicles and rolling stock being bought in to run on that day for the occasion. There is also annual Toy Fair held that generates a lot of interest from all ages. This give children and adults a sense of what happened and what the experiences were of the people who were part of "Dads Army" as is all part of the educational experience that is why I think this heritage Line does so damn well. As you can imagine with a ready made film set available to use the opportunity to use it as a period back drop has been well and truly taken upon by filmmakers, scenes for The Dirty Dozen - The Next Mission were filmed here in the early eighties while more recently Poirot and the drama Mr Tom with John Thaw used Kingscote, also plenty of pop videos such as Robson and Jerome and Pet Shop Boys have utilised the line itself.
You do get what you pay for and the fact that the Bluebell offers different ticket prices for different train classes make the experience even richer. Obviously the cheapest is going to be Third Class and the dearest is First. The prices for these are £12.50 ranging to £18 for Adults respectively. Children from £6 to £9 respectively for Third and First Class. Dont forget there is a family ticket that can be bought that makes a saving straight away, again this depends on size of the group. On my trip I was like a kid in Winderland investigating everything and not stopping for anything and seeing as there is plenty to see and do at each station I found that there wasn't enough time in the day to do everything, hence I made a return journey without my patient other half a few weeks later to see what I missed on the first trip!
This year marks the start of the 50th Anniversary of the Bluebell Line and to mark the event, a number of special weekends will be laid on with the pinnacle being a visit by Tornado, the newly built steam train which it is hoped that the extension will be completed then the train just switched from Network Rail metals to Bluebell metals without a hitch. I wish them luck and I will certainly be going back to the Bluebell again and again and again. It really is a wonderful place to relax and learn about what trains use to mean to people and the part they played in bringing communities together.
The Bluebell Railway is a steam railway running along the border of West and East Sussex. I have visited it several times over the last few years and it has always provided a good afternoon out.
There are three working stations on the bluebell railway line: Sheffield Park, Horsted Keynes and Kingscote. If you are travelling by car, its best to head to the most southerly station, Shefield Park, where there is plentiful free parking in a dedicated car park just off the main East Grinstead-Lewes road, the A275. There are brown signs to the station from some distance away (for example, all the way from the A23 if approaching from the West) so you cant miss it. It is apparently also possible to park in a field at Horsted Keynes during the summer months, but Ive never tried this. Theres no parking at the other end of the line, Kingscote, although there is a connecting bus service from East Grinstead station and High Street; the timetable can be found on the Bluebell Railway website, www.bluebell-railway.co.uk.
The Bluebell, opened in 1960, is the oldest standard gauge preserved line in the UK and is managed and operated largely by volunteers. It runs steam hauled passenger trains daily from April to October, and on selected days during the winter months. The railway owns over 30 locomotives, the most famous possibly being the LBSCR Stroudley Terrier, No. 55 Stepney, immortalised by Rev. W. Awdry as a friend of Thomas the Tank Engine. They also have a good collection of carriages and wagons.
From the moment that you step out into the Sheffield Park car park, surrounded by a cute picket fence, you know that a lot of attention to detail has been lavished on the Bluebell Railway. It aims to recreate scenes from around 1880 to 1955 and Sheffield Park represents the Victorian Era, with Horsted Keynes and Kingscote stations being presented in 1930s and 1950s condition respectively. The entrance is through the red brick station house, and the ticket master and most of the platform staff dress in period costume which adds to the atmosphere.
The first time that we visited the Bluebell Railway was on a fairly chilly day, and we were pleased to find that the stylish waiting room in the station house had a welcome open fire, and that the toilets were in good (Victorian) order. Our two sons, both huge fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, were thrilled to see a steam engine pull into the station, and we climbed aboard for the nine mile trip to Kingscote. We travelled in Third Class which was actually roomier than modern day standard class, with sprung, leather-covered bench seats for two people facing each other. The journey takes around 30 minutes, and passes through Sharpthorne tunnel, which at 731 yards is the longest of any UK heritage railway. You can disembark at Kingscote for a few minutes before making the return leg. Its worth taking the time to stop off at Horsted Keynes as well, where the carriage display is located.
On most subsequent trips to Sheffield Park, we have not actually travelled on any of the trains, but just bought a platform ticket, at £2 for adults and £1 for children, as the main pleasure for the children is seeing the trains, and they become a little bored on the journey itself. There is enough to do at Sheffield Park to spend an enjoyable couple of hours even with small children. The platform ticket includes entrance to the locomotive sheds, which lie off to the left. Here you can walk up and down up between the locos and marvel at their size and the different designs. Its quite dark in the shed, and my children found it a little scary when they were very young. Its also understandably dirty, so be prepared for dirty fingers and faces afterwards. The path between the locos is laid from bricks, and slightly uneven so its hard work for a pushchair but manageable. The rear of the shed opens onto a workshop area where there is usually some restoration work going on, and the staff and volunteers are quite happy to tell you what they are doing.
In the siding outside you can also see the Golden Arrow Pullman Dining coaches, from the days when you could travel and eat in style, with chandeliers hanging from the ceiling and table-lamps with silk shades. Im fascinated by these, and keep hinting to my husband that I would like him to treat me to dinner onboard one of the special dinning trains that the Bluebell Railway run on Sat evenings and Sun lunchtimes.
There is a wooden footbridge across to platform 2 so if you are brave you can stand in the steam as the engines pass underneath. There is a ramped crossing available for disabled visitors, although you need to ask station staff for assistance to use this. Platform 2 boasts an under-cover model railway with several different lines including an alpine cable car and tramway. It costs 20p to make each train move, and although normally I dont approve of attractions charging extra for parts of their offering, at 20p I dont mind, and my sons look forward to choosing which train they will operate.
Back on Platform 1 there is a licensed bar and restaurant, which includes a rather nice function room which can be hired for parties and weddings. There is also the ubiquitous gift shop, which unfortunately you have to exit through.
Overall, I would say that the Bluebell Railway is a particularly good example of a heritage railway and well worth a visit. Their unique feature is that they only operate steam engines, unlike other railways that operate a mixture of steam engines and vintage diesels, so you can be sure to see steam engines operating (as many as three or four different engines under steam at weekends). The large shed at Sheffield Park enables them to show off their locomotive collection to good effect, and the other displays and décor give a very good overall presentation. It is currently a very interesting time to visit, as work is underway to reinstate the remaining two miles of line from Kingscote to East Grinstead. Plus, of course they have Stepney. Hes my favourite tank engine.
To give you an idea of price, the current fares for a Third Class All Line (unlimited travel) return ticket is £9.80 for adults, and £4.90 for children, although there are also less expensive One Stop (half the line) fares or, as mentioned previously, platform tickets available.
theI have visited this interesting Railway ,affectionally known as *The Bluebell*,for years and had rides on different trains ,as a relative of mine works there on the permanent way team, I had the exhilerating experience of riding on the foot plate of a train backwards ,driven by Hiedi one of the permanent female staff.Yes where they shovel the coal,to fuel the train. This was one December,it would have been too hot for me in the summer. The atmosphere is pure nostalgia,there is something romantic about steam trains ,I suppose it reminds us of all those old movies,many films are still shot there,including , *Station Jim*,*Lucky Jim* and of course recently ,the remake of the *Railway Children*. Lucky Jim will be on TV in August. I love the sound of the trains ,and the sight of the steam ,not forgetting the smell of coal and steam . In the spring you have the famous bluebells growing on the banks ,also they have many wild flowers specially, and orchids growing on the banks ,Wakehurst Place Gardens came and collected some of their seeds recently. The Railway runs through fields from,Sheffield Park Station through to Horsted Keynes Station ,and on through a tunnel to Kingscote Station,there are no parking facilities at Kingscote,but there are plenty of parking facilities at the first two stations There is a cafe at Sheffield Park Station,and licenced Resturant.....the food is good ,meals are also served on the train,special at the moment, Cream Teas are served on 3-00 3-45 trains to pre-booked groups.The Bluebell also take bookings for special meals in the Evenings one of their phone numbers is :01825 790231. Some special events coming up:june23,24:A day out with Thomas.June 29 :Sixties music night.June 30 :An Evening with the Yetties.July 21 ,22,:Toy and collectors Fair.July 28,29 ,:Steam and country Fair.August4,11,18,25:Stephneys specials(childrens Train).August 29:1920s Evening.September15,16,:1940s weeken
d.October:27,28,:Giants of Steam October29,30,31 Stepney Specials .November1,2,3,4,Stepney Specials. Something forn everyone!!! What I also like about the Bluebell ,is it really is like stepping back to the Victorian Era.The waiting rooms have the original decor ,furniture ,clocks and trappings ,and in winter have roaring fires in all waiting rooms . The Station House is original at Sheffield Park station . The Station personnel all wear Victorian clothes also ,and you enter a Victorian time zone, no rush and tear ,relax in the atmosphere ,sometimes people that visit dont fall in with this ,but the majority do. Sheffield Park Station,and Kingscote hve facilities for *Wheelchairs*,not Horsted Keynes . Horsted Keynes 2nd Station down has ,a bar*Alchoholic Drinks*,and buffet on the station.This is my favorite Station ,no not because of the drinks I dont usually imbibe.Its because it is small and pretty and quiet ,I saw a Piorot episode being filmed here . Back at Sheffield Park Station there is a real ale bar and to the side of the station you can see the trains when not in use,and the volunteers working on the trains ,facinating ,you can walk up to and touch these steam giants. If you have a special train you want to see working please phone. 01825 790231. Last and not least there are driving and firing courses Tel:01273731873. PricesAdult 8-oo,children 4-00 Family 2 Adults and up to 3 children21-50 Senior Citizens:6-40. Sheffield Park Garden,is on the opposite side of Road.