After canvassing the members, the committee decided to organise a trip to the Bluebell Railway in East Sussex. A list was posted on the notice board and, due to the number of names, it was decided to book a fifteen seat minibus. The date set was 14th September, a Sunday and although he couldn’t make it on the day, our Secretary, Roger managed to book the transport and keep everyone informed of the arrangements.
Eleven of us met at around 8.15 a.m. on a bright, fairly sunny morning and settled down to wait for the coach. We had planned to depart at 8.30 and were getting a little worried when there was no sign of it some ten minutes after the planned departure time. Just before a decision to phone the coach company was made, one of the group spotted a large white coach coming in from the Anstey Lane direction. It pulled up by the scout hut , the driver got out and introduced himself. He said something about the minibus not having a tachograph and he much preferred the bigger vehicle as it was what he usually drove. So, we went from four spare seats to forty-five!
We had already decided that the scenic route was much more interesting than a motorway trip and aimed to travel the A272 for most of the way. It was not only the size of the coach that made it challenging but the satnav would insist on aiming us in the general direction of what appeared to be the motorway routes. Needless to say, in true bloke fashion we ignored the lady’s instructions and two hours later, as planned, we arrived at Sheffield Park station.
Everybody decided to take the first train and bought an all day rover ticket to enable them to visit all the most interesting stations on the line and ride the trains at will. Our train consisted of a couple of vintage Southern compartment coaches and a rake of teak four wheel and bogie coaches of 19th century Metropolitan Railway vintage. It was hauled by ‘Brighton; E2 0-6-2 radial tank in full Southern olive livery.
Arriving at the other end of the line few of us spent some time wandering the streets of East Grinstead and ended up having a sandwich lunch in the delightful Station Buffet. A converted railway carriage parked by the platform. The food and service were very good even though the view over the supermarket car park was somewhat bland.
The return train was hauled by S15 4-6-0 no. 847 and, although it looked quite plain in unlined Southern region green, we were happy to ride the coaches at the rear as they were Bullied types similar to BR Mk1, but with the distinctive oval toplights above the doors. A couple of us alighted at Horsted Keynes to have a look around the rolling stock stored there in the sidings and to visit the wagon and carriage works. This is a fascinating shed with all sorts of machinery, timber stocks and carriages in various states of preservation and conservation. However, what we weren’t prepared for was the shout that sounded like a call to evacuate the building. At which time the three of us sped out of the door as one of the most beautiful roaring sounds ever, built to a crescendo. We were just in time to see both airworthy Avro Lancasters buzz the station at around two or three hundred feet. It was over in seconds and as the sounds of the eight Rolls-Royce Merlin engines faded into the distance we agreed that we were lucky indeed.
Those of us who visited Horsted Keynes were fortunate enough to ride in the ‘Met ‘ four wheel coaches back to Sheffield Park on the last train of the day. Quite a different experience from the normal bogie corridor connected coaches you find almost everywhere else in the country.
Three trains were running and I think we all managed to ride two of them as the third one was the Pullman dining special with engines at front and rear. The locos were the gloriously liveried and polished H class 0-4-4 and P class 0-6-0 tank engines of the SECR. And the diners , who were all very well dressed, had obviously paid a premium to be served a full three or four course silver service meal whilst riding up and down the line. The staff were all decked out in Pullman company style uniforms and, as the passengers alighted they were already waiting on the platform to assist where necessary and to wish them a safe onward journey. The diners must have had a good time as we witnessed more than one of the waiters being tipped and thanked profusely.
Back on the coach for home we spread ourselves out again and chatted about our day. The trip there and back was quite eventful too as it was also Goodwood Revival weekend, so there were plenty of classic and vintage cars and motorbikes to spot. We all felt sorry for the couple who were having to push their 1960’s Ford Popular to a safe lay-by. Ah! The joys of simple motoring.
The only slightly worrying part of the day was when the coach driver tired to squeeze through a particularly narrow part of Petworth town. We made it with millimetres to spare, after which he proceeded to tell us that he had been driving coaches since Noah was a boy and that he was seventy-seven!! Not a statement designed to inspire confidence. Even so we had a whip round and presented him with a few quid to augment his pension.
Anyway we arrived back at the scout hut safe, sound and very happy and all agreed that we had had a delightful day out.