Welcome to a trip round the new Southwold Railway (for a short and dry history of the original Southwold Railway, click here). The clever ones amongst you will point out that the SR closed in 1929. Well, in a far corner of Norfolk, England, the spirit of it lives on now, even as we speak.
After an evening spent quaffing one of the best ales in the world (Adnams - brewed in Southwold) let us quicken off to catch the morning train, feeling somewhat smaller than life. Southwold has a simple station, with a plywood and balsa building, engine shed of generous proportions and an uninspiring layout. We board the dim carriages (on bogies rather than the correct Clemenson's patent 6-wheel base) for the ride to Halesworth. Something looking like Halesworth is visible in the distance - must have been the beer! Number 4 "Wenhaston" bursts forth from the shed and runs round to pull the mixed train.
"Arnold", the rail bus the SR never got round to buying, crosses the swing bridge. Walberswick can be seen in the distance.
(Why Arnold? Son Chris and I were watching Wroxham vs Arnold Town in the FA Cup a few years ago, and were struck by the enthusiasm of the carload of away supporters shouting "Come on Arnold" at every opportunity. Sadly for them, they lost).
Immediately after the bridge we come into Walberswick, with its scanty white painted station building and two short sidings. After a short wait we are off again through heavy undergrowth, through a pleasant partly wooded area (known locally as the heronry), under the A12 road bridge and into Blythburgh. The station is a neat looking affair, with a building of brick and wood (the latter painted a rather unattractive green) and an outside gents loo. (I understand that the ladies toilet was inside and an E.C. rather than a W.C. No wonder the line closed!). The sidings have a shed and coaling/goods stage. Vegetation abounds and probably obscures the view of Blythburgh church (well worth a look if you're in the area).
After some shunting we're off again, passing a derelict church, over the River Blyth again, past Wenhaston Mill with its own siding, and on for the long run round to Wenhaston
After passing a farm siding, we pull in to Wenhaston. The building at Wenhaston is of the same design as Blythburgh, and stands amongst trees and it's sidings, which look well used. There is building work in the village and new rows of cottages are going up. The station building and cottages have had new-fangled electric lights installed, an attractive sight at night when viewed from a distance. After more interminable shunting off we go again, over the only level crossing on the line, over a bridge over a flowing stream, and under Corner Farm bridge.
Passengers at Wenhaston in mid-August 2005, waiting for the last train, while the gloom gathers. The EC in the station is a bit smelly so one enterprising passenger relieves himself behind the shed.
The engine driver's view approaching Wenhaston from the Halesworth direction.
Next comes the gravel pit siding. This appears disused, being well hidden by moss, but there appears to be an engine stored inside the shed.
Passing perilously close to some overhanging trees we go in through what looks like a hole in an enormous wall, over a bridge and into Halesworth, the other terminus.
The station connects with the standard gauge via some exchange siding and the station building has an overall roof, a tree growing on the platform and a couple of sheds. This is the end of the line but a track appears to go round behind a table to what appears to be Southwold in the distance. This is all too much and, after a cup of strong coffee, the whole experience feels as if it were a dream and the railway seems to shrink to look just like a model.
|Such is the Southwold Railway in its Norfolk reincarnation in 2007. As you will see from the track plan, the outside part of the line is a sausage shape (about 150ft long) in an area of about 40ft by 40ft at one end of our garden. Two spurs go into the barn where the termini are situated. There is also an internal circuit (see below), giving the choice of end-to-end or one of two circuits, or any combination of the three. If you've got the space you might as well use it! Incidentally, any guesses that the presence of a large barn was one of the reasons for buying this particular house are probably not far from the truth. Access to the "inside" of the line is via a sloping concrete path over some Mamod track set in cement. As all external stations and delicate structures are "over" the line I have been able to make a "not over the track" rule for our and visiting children. This allows access to the railway track but not the delicate structures that are "over" the track.|
As you cab see from the above, the two termini are inside the barn, and they take up a space 20' by 8'. Halesworth station is built on two doors (shop damaged stock - the top side is OK!) and Southwold station is built on a chipboard base, strengthened with angle-iron. I have been able to add (just!) a loop at each end to make an indoor circuit, albeit 2'6" radius in places, so it's a bit tight. The track exits the barn through two holes in the wall, joining the outdoor circuit just outside. Southwold was the SR's eastern terminus and headquarters. This is built using mostly SM32 track, and using the 1879-1900 layout. All the major buildings are included, all are lit inside, and are visually correct on the outside. The engine shed is made from a ply and wood frame, with balsa for the external featherboard. It features the complex roof structure, which looks lovely but is very delicate. The slightest downward pressure and it collapses inwards - ask my son Christopher! The original fell down in a gale in 1942, so it's in good company. The roof is hand cut plastic sheet for the slates. Southwold station building is again a ply and wood frame, with balsa and embossed brick plastic sheet. The original was extended many times, and the modelled version is one of the middle structures. The inside is fully lit, with internal detail, including the W.H. Smith newsagent, waiting room, ticket office and parcels office. The interiors are not as visible as I thought they would be, so present a pleasant surprise for anyone falling over between the stations. Failing that, visitors are encouraged to get down on to their hands and knees to admire the interiors. At the far end of the station is found the goods office, a perspex box with balsa glued on the outside, again lit inside. The original was turned 90o in about 1914, and existed up until 1997 at the allotments on the original station site, but I guess it finally disintegrated because it disappeared recently. SR stations were open plan, and the SR had a habit of ballasting up to rail bottom, presumably to make walking across the goods yard easier. Much budgie grit was used reproducing this eccentric characteristic.
The other terminus, Halesworth, was the junction with the GER/LNER standard gauge main line. The site is now modern housing estate. I have used the 1900 track layout, on space considerations. Again, all major structures are modelled, with the exception of the footbridge - I have the wood but haven't built it yet, nor researched it enough yet. The station building is a perspex box, with balsa outside. I have modelled the later extended version, with its canopy roof in horizontal mode (rather than the final warped mode). The simple goods shed and exchange siding (heavily used) are included at the back. I have found space to include a little standard gauge track, using Brandbright G3 track and a Brandbright LNER truck. As with Southwold, all buildings are lit inside, using two sets of Christmas tree lights. One set would normally be 24 lights, but I've included a few more in the "chain", as this doesn't look too bright and makes them last longer. Each building has between 3 and 8 lights.
The line is now built as a 32mm gauge at about 15mm/ft. No prizes for commenting that since the S.R. was 3ft gauge, this is diabolical modelling! Well, you're probably right, as 45mm would be better. When I started, however, the Mamod was the only steamer I could afford and once I started it was too late to stop. The Association of 16mm Narrow Gauge Railway Modellers are also good fun bunch so I don't want to change. The track is now nearly all Peco SM32, with about three foot of Mamod (where the footpath crosses).
Outside, the track is laid on the top of 6" (4" is too narrow) concrete blocks, about 6-12" above ground level. This method has been the cause of much interest recently and one has to admit that at £1 a foot to construct (in 1987), it wasn't the cheapest method, although buying in bulk from a real builders merchants makes it much cheaper. Expensive and elaborate it may be, but it is also very stable and needs virtually no maintenance. Height is maintained at a level either by shuttering and filling with concrete before laying the blocks or by taking the top surface off the soil, getting the block level and piling a bit of concrete on either side to hold it up and fill the gaps. A grass bank can be piled up on one or both sides, or a flower bed. The result is a sturdy, human, weather and animal proof trackbed. The track is laid on top, adjusted to be flat if necessary and mortared in (using a 2:2:1 grit:sand:cement mix). This again is fairly heavy engineering but as far as I'm concerned, it means the track is always runnable and, when railway time is unpredictable, and maybe months apart, debris removal is the only preparatory work necessary. The station areas are block edged (mostly chipped blocks free from our local Jewsons), in-filled with rubble or debris and topped with a concrete surface to give a large, flat sturdy area. The track in the barn is either laid upon chipboard or, in the case of Halesworth, two shop-soiled doors (£4 the pair).
Buildings are of a robust structure - usually a perspex box covered with balsa and corrugated plastic. I use copious amounts of Cuprinol in construction and find "Ranch" paint very long lasting (at least five years so far without deterioration). Wenhaston has a village made from the British Outline Building kits, heavily adapted, and with a better tiled roof. Outside buildings are lit with the cheap outside lights in three circuits; one is permanently on (stations and pub), and the other two are on random timers, giving the impression of activity as lights go off and on unexpectedly. Coaches are of the same perspex box structure and have stood up to twenty years of use without failing. There are currently built 18 items of rolling stock, including two of the six-wheeled Clemenson wheelbase trucks. There are three live steam Southwold engines. 0-6-2T No 4 "Wenhaston" is an adapted Merlin Midas (gas fired, radio control, circa 1982), 0-4-0T No 2 "Blyth" is Mike Chaney "Hero" class (meths fired, manual control, circa 1993) and No 3 "Halesworth" is a old Mamod (meths fired, radio control, circa 1981). In 2003 the line invested in a Locomotion railbus, which with the aid of electric gadgets seems happy trundling from one terminus to the other and back, stopping at the intermediate stations. In 2006 the line took delivery of Number 1 "Southwold", a 2-4-2T battery-poweredengine, based on a freelance brass model supplied by GRS and rebuilt. It is now the main motive power for the line, mainly because it looks right, goes slowly and keeps on the rails. Battery power is completed with a "Thomas", Brandbright "Cricket" and something else which works but not sure what it is! With lighting inside the buildings, one coach and in the railbus, this is wonderful to observe from the conservatory late on a summer's evening.
In August 2004 the line received a little publicity, being featured on an Anglia television news special on Southwold (August being the quiet news month of course). Thomas gamely struggled around while I was interviewed and about 90 seconds went out at peak time. What wasn't apparent was that I was sat on an ant's nest at the time, distracted only by the ample charms of the delightful interviewer. In July 2007, Mark Found from the Railway Channel filmed the line on a Sunday (a date held as TBC until England got knocked out of the World Cup, otherwise we might have been otherwise distracted). The link to this is below - there is a short taster, or you can watch the whole thing for a small fee (and it is extremely well done, worth it, and I get no money for any viewings). In fact I never even got a copy of the film - had to buy my own! (It's OK Mark, only teasing, it was worth it just for the film of my line at its peak!).
A film of the above garden railway version of the Southwold Railway,
click here and look at "Hidden Treasures" or edition 10 or click here for the direct review.
That concludes our little web page on the Southwold Railway.