Sunday, 19 July 2009

Spa Valley Railway



I've been out and about again today, trying to persuade outlets to take our new pub guide. I must say I'm glad I don't earn my living as a salesman as I'm not naturally a pushy person.

This morning I visited the Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells, as our CAMRA committee thought this prime tourist attraction might be interested in stocking the guide in their shop. They are, in principle, but it has to be done through the right channels. This means a formal written approach through their commercial director. OK I can understand where they're coming from, but why does everything have to be so dam complicated these days?

Speaking of which, I was talking to a couple of the staff in the railway's well-stocked shop, and asked them how the extension of the line down to Eridge was progressing. Well, nearly everything's in place now they told me; the infrastructure's all there, but because their newly-laid section of track runs alongside that of Network Rail. and because they are leasing one of the bay platforms at Eridge station from said organisation, the bureaucracy and red-tape is seriously delaying things. The railway had hoped to be running trains from Tunbridge Wells right through to Eridge, thereby connecting with the national rail network, by spring this year. It now looks as though this will not happen until October, just when things are starting to run down at the end of the tourist season and we head into winter. I really felt for the people who run this attraction. Like most heritage railways they rely almost exclusively on an army of unpaid volunteers. Despite all their hard work, it now looks like they will miss the all-important summer season, through no fault of their own. I wish them well; I don't want to sound like an anorak but if I ever win the lottery and can afford to retire early, I will go down and volunteer myself, as projects like this one really do deserve to succeed!

As a bit of background, the line from Tunbridge Wells West to Eridge only closed in 1985; a victim of the Thatcher government's obsession of trying to make British Rail turn in a profit. Although the West Station was originally constructed as a terminus, a short length of line was laid in the late 19th Century linking it with the town's other station, which used to be called Tunbridge Wells Central. When the line from Tonbridge down to Hastings was electrified in the early 1980's, BR used this as an excuse to sever the connection to the West Station and proposed closing the rest of the line. A severe backlog of maintenance on the Eridge line didn't exactly help either, but many cynics, myself included, believed that the main reason for closure was the substantial area of land occupied by the West Station. Sure enough this land was sold to developers following the line's closure, and a large Sainsbury Superstore now occupies much of the site.

As is so often the case, there was strong local opposition to the closure, but this counted for nothing so far as the then Transport Secretary, Nicholas Ridley was concerned, and he duly approved the closure order. Now, after a gap of over twenty years, trains will soon be running again all the way down to Eridge. This means that local CAMRA members will once again be able to travel by train to the Huntsman pub, next to the station. This former King & Barnes is well worth a visit, especially as Badger Beers are quite rare in this part of the country. It is also worth noting that the Spa Valley run special "real ale" trains, similar to those on the Keighly and Worth Valley Railway, alongside their "fish and chip" specials. The Crown at Groombridge is another fine pub, that is well worth travelling to by train, as is the High Rocks, set in its own spectacular location just outside Tunbridge Wells.

If you are in the area then, it is well worth checking out the Spa Valley Railway.

1 comment:

Ale Fan said...

There is something about real ale and railways (particularly steam ones) that seem to sit together so well. Or am I just a sad old geezer?