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Full Steam Ahead!
Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: T4imbo3107
Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Isle of Wight)
Date: 09/06/09, updated on 13/06/09 (189 review reads)
Advantages: Well preserved, clean and very informative railway!
Disadvantages: Can get very busy at times in the shop. Questionable stock lines.
To say that the rail infrastructure that the Isle of Wight used to have was huge is an understatement; from 1862 onwards a total of 54 miles of track virtually covering the whole island, giving residents a full service at their disposal. Unfortunately in 1952 the infrastructure and the various lines were cut back and were closed to what we have today with just the Island Line remaining that runs from Ryde Pier to the southern part of the island totalling just 8.5 miles in length. However there is still an opportunity to see the steam trains in action and have the opportunity to ride upon them between Wooton and Smallbrook Junction and although at just 5.5 miles in length this is definitely an attraction that is worth visiting.
This for me was the main event, I had high expectations of going here and what I would see. Firstly the main problem was finding the place itself!! We saw the signs from where we left the Premier Travel Inn on the road to Cowes and followed them as best we could. However to our dismay and somewhat panic the signs suddenly stopped and we were left heading down a country road not really knowing where we were going. So after a good 30 minutes of travelling we found ourselves at Brading on the East side of the island and made our way back following another set of signs to the railway itself. This was a bit annoying to say the least as it was now 11:00 and we had hoped to be there a bit earlier. Later on we found out that we had passed the sign, only it didn't actually signify the Railway at all, just the village it was located in called Havenstreet.
Upon arrival at Havenstreet there is a big car park, although it was only a quarter full there was plenty of space and we were easily able to park relatively close to the entrance. There were a number of coaches as well and a sudden thought had crossed my mind as to whether those pesky school kids from the Ferry and the Needles Park would be here as well. To get to the Ticket Office you have to walk past some houses, these caught my eye as these seemed to be related in some way to the line itself. One was up for sale at the remarkable price of £260,000, so we walked on.
The entrance price isn't that bad considering it is only a smallish sized heritage line, Adults were £9, and Children were £4.50, this depends on what timetable is running as well. Once paid your given your ticket and a very informative leaflet telling you about the history of the line and more importantly the timetable. As Havenstreet is in the middle of the line as the line only has three main stations (four if Racing is on at Ashey) then the whole line can be travelled in just under 21 minutes from end to end. Smallbrook junction links with the Island Line, allowing a direct link to Ryde and Shankiln.
We decided that after the extended amount of time in the car that a cup of coffee was necessary. Two coffees and a Kit Kat came to £4.20 and we sat outside watching the trains come in to the station. Hot food is available throughout the day and the prices were reasonable. As we were sitting drinking our coffee, there was a slight noise in the distance, this started to get louder and louder until the force of 30 school kids burst into the main area, on no I thought these are the same lot as before!!! Were they following us??? To put the icing on the cake, we couldn't get on a train as they had booked carriages in advance to ensure they all got seats. This meant we weren't allowed ion the train and had to get the next one which was at 11:51 to Smallbrook Junction that was coming from further up the line at Wooton.
Turning a negative into a positive, this meant that we could look round at the site without rushing as we had some time on our hands. The place is based on how it would've looked when the station was in service and was owned by Southern Railways. This would automatically place it in the late forties and early fifties. Naturally all the buildings are in Southern green and all staff are dressed accordingly in the uniforms of the era with all signage in the established Southern font and colours. The whole station complex is spotlessly clean to walk around as litter bins are placed in the correct places and can be seen to be emptied regularly as well. Lavatories are again spotless and are clean without the recognised smells that these usually come with as well. I was impressed top say the least.
The high point is the Museum that is located next to the shop. This tells the story of the line as well as the whole timeline of the infrastructure and contains a staggering amount of kit that was used on the line such as uniforms, lamps and line tokens that were used to ensure trains could run along a certain piece of single track. There are a number of interesting photos on the wall that shows where the lines ran and what they are now in comparison to the time that the trains ran, over 60 years ago. Some items are interactive, a good example being the signal bells that were used to send signals to the signal box to tell them that a train was approaching. This is something that I personally found fascinating as this was a time before red and green lighting being used and didn't realise that I spent over an hour in here looking at quite literally everything. Further examples in the cabinets showed the style of the tickets that could be bought as well as leaflets and the obligatory penalty fare slip. All looked so different from the things that we have today with the tickets showing whether the traveller was riding in the First, Second or Third classes of a train.
Out the back of the Museum are the yards that mange to perform minor miracles. By this I mean the servicing, restoration and the renovating of trains that the railway brings aboard by either purchase or requests from outside for renovation or in some cases left in a will to the place itself. I have to say that I really admire the people who do this task; they are attempting to fix issues with something that is pushing a hundred years old. From the Viewpoint you can see the rail stock in various states of repair, some stripped right down to the frame, while others are just awaiting a final lick of paint.
My other half was very subtle in pointing out that we had completely missed the 11.51 and now had to wait until 12.20 for the next train, mainly due to me spending time in the Museum. So we got out tickets clipped and made our way to the single island platform that the tracks go either side off.
I wasn't expecting anything big to turn up as I knew they run the smaller type of locomotives on the line, but to my surprise the train that did arrive looked brand new and pulled a staggering 11 carriages behind it that took up the whole length of the platform. The loco itself was called Ajaz and was painted in Southern colours befitti8ng a loco of the time. It looked magnificent and was a sight to see when entering the station for the first time over the passenger crossing.
On board the train we were seated in the third standard carriage. What a different experience it was, no side corridor, just enough seating for eight people, in two rows of four seating opposite each other. Roughly each train held over 250 passengers! The only way out was the door at either side of the compartment. A plaque above the headboard said the carriage first went into service in 1986, and has been fully restored by volunteers. It even went so far as to say where the carriage had served on what lines. In fact all carriages have this inside them and goes to show just how much detail is given.
The ride can be a little bumpy at times on the way to Smallbrook Junction; I wasn't complaining at all as the ride was through some beautiful countryside next to farms and houses for the minute journey. We are at the front on the way there and with the engine being moved to the other end for the return journey was at the back. The smell of stem and the noise really does tell you how different it is travelling on a train some 60 years ago when compared to the rather emotionless trains we have today.
Overall I would definitely recommend this as a place to visit; the only downside for me was the business in the shop, as not everything that is sold is related to the place or to the trains as the items on sale could be considered stuff you would find on the Pier or a beachside shop. However there is enough in here to keep you occupied looking as they sell a large of amount of British Rail memorabilia such as badges and caps, so eventually you will find something that you would be willing to spend money on. I did, and found a book about the history of trains on the Island that I wouldn't have normally found elsewhere.
We left after being here for over four hours and were impressed with what there is to see and what there is to do. It is smaller than the Bluebell Railway; however the level of commitment from volunteers showed me that the competition is welcomed and gives the line its very own identity and I have to say a uniqueness that allows the line to blow its own trumpet with what it has achieved since it opened in 1971.
Bottom line is that my expectations were not only met, but very much exceeded. Just be sure to check that they are open on the day you plan to visit.
Summary: This is a true gem of an attraction to visit!
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