Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Railway Light


A shrill whistle pierces the dazzling air, and a skein of smoke drifts between the bungalows and telephone wires stretched between weatherboarded shacks. Into view comes an express steam locomotive pulling a long rake of timber carriages between the clumps of sea kale and viper's bugloss. This is the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Light Railway, a 15" gauge mainline running over thirteen miles from Hythe to the Dungeness lighthouses. But this is not just another miniature seaside attraction, this is a living railway that runs a school special and was armoured during the last war, carrying supplies for the Pluto pipeline that transported fuel over to Northern France. The railway was the ambitious dream of two men: Captain Howey, millionaire landowner, and Count Louis Zborowski, the famous racing driver who drove the Mercedes 'Chitty Bang Bangs'. After an unsuccessful attempt to buy the Ravenglass & Eskdale railway they ordered two Pacific locomotives - Green Goddess and Northern Chief (seen here), but before they were delivered Zborowski was killed when he burrowed his Merc into a tree during the Italian Grand Prix. The locomotives' engineer Henry Greenly then came up with the Romney Marsh as a location, and the line, albeit at first just to New Romney, was opened on the 16th July 1927. There are fewer such delightful pleasures than travelling on the train for its three hour return trip from the Hythe terminus out to the end of the peninsular, particularly if you can get snuggled into the upholstered comforts of 'Clara', the licensed carriage named after Howey's wife. Steam, oil, beer and lighthouses. Does it really get much better?



8 comments:

Jon Dudley said...

Heavenly. The picture you paint of the refreshment car alone makes me want to down tools and ride over to New Romney immediately. I love the way the railway vouchsafes glimpses into the back gardens and homes set closely by the line. Perfect for a photographic attempt at a miniature English version of an O.Winston Link railway shot. As an aside, and a perfectly useless piece of information, Count Zborowski also ran a converted Rolls Royce Silver Ghost as a sort of railcar on the line too. Love the his n' hers red oil cans!.

Toby Savage said...

With you all the way on the attractions of steam, but I always find it better to be standing on the platform watching from the outside as the engine goes past, picking up speed and belching steam, smoke and oil in equal measure. Pass me my boiler suit and denim cap. I'm gone.

Peter Ashley said...

With you all the way on that Toby, just as long as you don't surreptitiously make a note of the locomotive number in a stained Ian Allan book.

A F-A said...

Superb photos and great writing! It evokes memories of when British Engineers were world class. And by that I mean, not just the ability to wield a CAD keyboard or set some parameters on a computer-controlled three-axis machining centre, but knowing how to scrape a bearing, lap a valve housing, hone a cylinder. We may not 'need' steam engines any more but losing the skills may, I fear, eventually mean losing some of our heritage. I bet even the oil cans are made in China today! Every engineering course should visit somewhere like the RHDLR - and all budding engineers should get oily!

Fred Fibonacci said...
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Fred Fibonacci said...
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Peter Ashley said...

Brilliant Alois, and thankyou. Maybe a gathering of the Unmitigated is now in order, stuffed into 'Clara' and all the delights that only she can give. Now, where's my Castrol Dispensing Jug...

Fred Fibonacci said...

Now you're talking. Oil jugs at dawn. See you there.