An 0830 start sent us travelling to the south east towards our first Heritage Railway. We were leaving London and would not return for 13 days as we will be moving around the country to visit a number of the Heritage Railway sites. It was a lovely day, not as hot as the last week and only reached 24C. The country is not as burnt looking as Lincolnshire or Yorkshire but still desperately needs some rain. With that the countryside we were passing through was typical English with its paddocks surrounded by the hedges and wildlife refuge barriers and then the villages that were dotted around the landscape, peaceful beautiful.
We were to visit the Mid Hants Railway, better known as the Watercress Line. The line opened in 1865 as the Mid Hants Railway Company with 4 passenger services each weekday. There were quite a few changes from then to the time British Rail stopped the service on 4 February 1973. However in 1975 a company and preservation society formed to purchase the railway, raising funds through share issue. Why British Rail removed the existing track and ballast in 1976 can only be surmised but in 1977 Mid Hants Railway reopened the line from Alresford to Ropley as a heritage railway. By 1985 the line had been extended to Alton, running 16 kilometres from Alresford to Alton and this was what we rode on today.
Besides riding on the steam Train we were able to enter the signal box and to receive a presentation as to how things work and how safety plays a big part. AS on part of the line is single line, there is a safety system which prevents any train going onto that part of the line without a specific large key. The key is picked up before the single phase of the line and is carried from there to Alresford where it is put into its special home in the signal box. Then we were taken through the carpentry shop, by on The Trustee of the Railway, David Ford, where the staff refurbish carriages and on to the boiler room. This is where all the work associated with the steam producing part of the train is carried out. Being in that room and to see how much work needs to be continually completed to keep these trains running is hard to believe. There are permanent staff working here but also an apprentice that we hope will remain with the Railway.
There were many people riding today but it was pleasing to see Rocky the Dog enjoying his ride which he does regularly and he loves his rides. Sarah made a friend of Rocky and he appreciated the cuddle.
We disembarked our train after a few hours there in and around the stations and started of to Tunbridge Wells where were to stay 3 nights. Lunch on the way at West Meon in a Marston Pub was a late lunch but enjoyed after that busy morning. We finally reached our hotel just 30 minutes before our reserved dinner time. A great wa y to start our tour, I hope tomorrow is just as good.