Rail and Steam
Steam has had a large part to play in the development of Norfolk. Sleepy fishing villages were transformed to fashionable Victorian seaside resorts, and the work of men and horses on the farms was supplemented by the use of traction engines. Locally to Oaktree Cottage, the hamlets of Melton Constable and Briston grew to the villages that they are now, as Melton Constable become one of the major railway hubs for the east of England.
In the 1960s, when Beeching’s axe fell on the UK’s railway system, Norfolk was badly affected.
Today however, Beeching’s legacy has allowed four heritage railways to re-use lines which were once derelict.
The North Norfolk Railway – or Poppy Line 01263 820800
Running on former M&GN lines from Sheringham to Holt (the station is actually about 1.5 miles short of Holt town), the railway operates both steam and heritage diesel services from February half-term through to November (with very popular Santa Specials in December).
The service runs through the North Norfolk Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and offers great views over the coast. Sit on the left had side relative to the direction of travel when leaving Holt, or the right when leaving Sheringham for the best views.
The line has recently been extended across a level-crossing in Sheringham to connect it with the UK national rail network, making it much easier to feature ‘guest’ locomotives on the line.
The railway hosts a number of special events each year listed on their web site. A typical year includes:
Spring Steam Gala in March
“Thomas” family event in May
Diesel Gala in June
Beer Festival in July
Grand Steam Gala at the end of August
1940s Weekend in late September
Halloween Special – at Halloween(!)
Santa Specials – December weekends.
Mince Pie Specials – Boxing day to New Year.
Wells and Walsingham Light Railway 01328 711630
Running on former GE lines between the beach at Wells, and the historic town of Walsingham, this is a 10¼ inch narrow gauge line, pulled by a unique steam engine built especially for the purpose.
Once in Wells, there is a further narrow-gauge railway (diesel this time) which will take you from the harbour to the beach.
Services run from April to October.
Bure Valley Railway 01263 733858
This is another narrow-gauge line (15″) running on a former ENR line from Aylsham to Wroxham (on the Norfolk Broads).
Services run from February half-term through to December.
The railway also runs a “boat train” service, whereby you can travel from Aylsham to Wroxham on the railway, then enjoy an hour and a half cruise on the Norfolk Broads, before returning the same way.
For a special treat, driver experience days are available for over 18s, but you should book well in advance as places are very limited.
Typical annual events include
Teddy Bear Express February
Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day VIP specials
Easter Eggspress (with a free egg for all children)
Everything Goes – all locos in service in May
Strawberries & Steam – free strawberries & cream every weekend in July.
Mid Norfolk Railway 01362 690633
The Mid Norfolk is unusual in that it runs a predominantly heritage diesel fleet of locomotives on its line from Dereham to Wymondham.
Driver experience days are available with advanced booking.
The railway operates from February to October, with Santa Specials running in December.
Check in advance, as trains don’t run every day.
Thursford Collection 01328 878 477
The Thursford Collection houses a collection of steam engines, mechanical organs, and vintage fairground rides.
Robert Wolfe, the resident organist gives regular recitals on the museum’s Wurlitzer organ (complete with keyboard and organist rising theatrically through the stage).
The museum has now become famous for the Christmas Spectacular (running from 9th November to 23rd December), but you need to book early, as all 113,000 tickets are usually sold by August!
Bressingham Steam and Gardens 01379 686900
If you imagine a stately home and gardens, but with the house replaced with a steam collection, then you’ll get an idea of Bressingham. You can even explore the 20 acres of garden on the four steam railway lines (including one standard gauge line).
The steam collection also includes traction engines, steam trucks, and a steam-driven “Gallopers” (merry-go-round).
If you’re a Dad’s Army fan, then the you may recognise traction engines, a steam roller, or a fire engine which featured in the series, and will certainly appreciate the Dad’s Army collection.
Now also the subject of the Channel 5 series “Inside the Steam Train Museum”.