This was our first day on the road intending to visit the two Heritage Railways that was planned, but, what a day! From the time we left the hotel at Heathrow it did not stop raining for even one minute. It poured most of the day and really created issues with our timings, however, we did have an interesting day full of surprises that were mostly good.
As well as the rain, the M25 was covered in running water and restricted movement on it, traffic slowed and at many times came to a halt for varying periods. Therefore at the end of the day we were not able to visit the Lavender Line and made our way to our hotel, arriving at 1640.
Now for the visit to the Epping Ongar Railway. This was a gem and fulfilled many of the perceived requirements we had when visiting a Heritage Railway. Steam, which we had was from a Pannier Engine as the Metropolitan 1 had developed an issue that needed to be worked on by the engineers. The Metropolitan 1 is the name given to the Steam Engine that was the first used on the London Underground and she is in the stable at Epping Ongar. She is 80 years old so we must expect that issues would arise!
We arrived just before 0945 to be greeted by Jeff Mesnard who was the Station Master for the day and after discarding his umbrella, he climbed aboard our coach to give us a briefing and to outline the history of the line. The line was originally constructed in 1865 and later was part of the London Underground system before being closed in 1994. A couple of volunteer groups tried to take on the job of running the line, but it was not until 2002 that the current volunteer group took over and have it running so well as it did today.
There are 600 members of the group and 300 are volunteers but only 100 put in the time that the line needs to continue. The Railway has a fleet of Steam and diesel mainline locomotives and a number of other heritage buildings as part of the line. Ongar Station itself is a grand 1865 Grade 11 listed Great Eastern Station and at the North Weald Station, restored to its 1940s splendour they have a fully restored signal box.
Our tickets were distributed and we were to board the train for Ongar at 1045. However, Helen and Graham boarded the wrong train earlier and we waved them goodbye but fortunately they returned prior to our official run. We had our own carriage and Ray, one of the hard working 100 travelled with us as our guide. Before we took off, Bill Ryan was hanging around the Pannier and was allowed to climb on to the footplate to assist with starting the engine, shovelling coal it seems comes naturally. Another shoveler was Margaret Smith who also was invited onto the footplate to add a hand.
Our return trip was excellent running through the open country and then into the Epping Forest where we saw a number of Deer feeding. A great visit to a very old historic site that has finally found a capable group who will look after the line and all that goes with it.
Lunch called so Michael found a pub around the corner and I went and enquired whether they could handle our group in their 14th Century Pub. A positive answer was all that was needed before we trooped into the pub, ducking our heads at the doorways, ordered and then enjoyed our lunch.
As we couldn't then make the Lavender Line on time, we found our hotel and settled in early. Reception was very quick and all found their rooms to prepare for dinner at 1900.