Hitchin Branch

Branch Visit to the Bure Valley Railway

A round dozen of members and friends met at Norwich soon after 12.30 on Tuesday 30th August for the branch's annual 'awayday'. We boarded Crown Point's 'Super Sprinter' 156412 which formed 'National Express East Anglia''s 12.45 Sheringham service. At 13.00 we alighted at 'Hoveton and Wroxham' station, 'Capital of the Norfolk Broads' and walked down the short connecting footpath, past the redundant but beautifully preserved junction signal box, to Wroxham station, Bure Valley Railway, the venue for this year's visit. Our BVR train did not leave until 14.00 so we had ample time to view the eastern, Broads terminus of this smart and modern narrow gauge heritage railway.

   At 13.00 on August 30th just half of the branch's visitors arrive on 156412 at Hoveton and Wroxham   Norman Hill
   The 'Bittern Line' runs to the right of the BVR's Wroxham station which is overlooked by the magnificent Wroxham Junction 'box.   Norman Hill

The 9 mile 15 inch gauge BVR runs on the trackbed of the standard gauge Wroxham to Aylsham branch originally opened in 1880 for the East Norfolk Railway, subsequently becoming GER and BR(ER) until closure in 1982. The BVR's western terminus and headquarters is now at Aylsham but the original GE line went on to a junction with the GER's Wells to Wymondham line, the southern dozen or so miles of which incorporate today's Mid Norfolk Railway. The BVR company was formed initially out of a partnership between Broadland District Council and the BR Property Board. The line was built during 1989-90 with brand new red-brick station buildings at Wroxham and Aylsham, built in a style reminiscent of the old M&GNR whose North Walsham to Fakenham line ran just to the north of Aylsham. Wroxham BVR has just one platform accessed from a combined shop and ticket office with toilets. Trains from Aylsham arrive and depart from the covered platform, arriving locomotives detaching and moving forward onto a sturdy turntable which turns the loco and switches it out onto the run-round road; there are turntables at both Wroxham and Aylsham and cab layouts dictate that even the tank engines must always run smokebox first.

   Both Wroxham and Aylsham are pleasing 1989-90 built red-brick; this is Wroxham   Norman Hill
   Wroxham BVR station with the complete Hitchin Branch Party   Steve Lacey

BVR trains are mainly steam hauled by a stud of five locos which are said to be the most powerful 15 inch gauge engines in the world. On Tuesday the 13.25 arrived behind BVR's No.1 2-6-4t Wroxham Broad. No1 was built as a 2-6-2t by Guest Engineering in 1964 - powered by a diesel engine ! - and rebuilt into its present, more genuine, configuration by Winson Engineering in 1992; Winson's were involved in the building of the other BVR locomotives as we shall see next month. We watched as the bluff blue tank was turned and then ran round the train.

   The handsom four road station at Aylsham is enhanced by the presence of David Cole, our Vice-chairman and Society Vice-president.   Norman Hill
   Ex Fisons, Somerset, Lister 0-4-0 diesel hydraulic is BVR No.5 but still shows signs of being No.7 - Rev. Awdry's 'Toby' tram 30th August 2011   Norman Hill

At 14.00 sharp No.1 took us powerfully away from Wroxham, with the 'Bure Valley Walk', foot and cycle path, built at the same time as the BVR line, running parallel to us on the west (left) side. There are stations at Coltishall, Buxton Lamas and Brampton; Coltishall has a passing loop but the Hautbois loop, beyond, is the main, half-way point, passing place, after which the Bure is crossed on a 105 foot long girder bridge and the old ENR station building is now a substantial private house on the west side just before Buxton BVR is entered. Brampton is also a passing station and on Tuesday we passed Midland maroon 2-6-2 No. 6 Blickling Hall there, heading the 14.20 from Aylsham. No. 6 displayed a 'Bure Valley Boat Train' headboard, although this proud description really applied to No 6's return working, the 15.30 from Wroxham which would make the return connection from 'Broads Tours' 1-1/2hour Broads boat tour. After Brampton, No 1 made music up the 1 in 76 to the tunnel which replaced an original level crossing on the approach to Aylsham, where we arrived promptly at 14.45, noticing, as we ran in, the diminutive and anonymous Lister powered tram engine(numbered 5 in the BVR stock list) which serves as Aylsham station pilot, and the somewhat larger, orange liveried Peugeot diesel-engined shunter No. 4, while Vale of Reidol look-alike, 2-6-2t No. 8 Thunder in BR black, stood outside the depot. We were amused by a coach in a stabled 'boat train' which carried GWR 'Ocean Mails' branding with the admonition below 'not to be worked north of Thurso'

   In the compact and well equipped Aylsham works 2-6-2 No.7 'Spitfire' has just completed a major overhaul and is ready to return to work   Norman Hill
   Sister of 'Spitfire', ZB outline 2-6-2 No.6 'Blickling Hall' comes through Hautbois passing loop with a BVR 'Boat Train' 30th August 2011   Norman Hill

We had until 15.30 to lunch and look round the BVR headquarters at Aylsham. The attractive station is covered by a substantial train shed over four platforms and offers clean and tidy passenger amenities which are entered through the main entrance from the car park and comprise a smart Tourist Information Centre, toilets, booking office and shop. Across the concourse at the head of the platforms stands the 80 seat 'Whistlestop' restaurant where we lunched, after which we looked into the small but compact works where the main occupant was immaculate Brunswick green No.7 Spitfire, sister 2-6-2 to No. 6, soon to return to traffic after a major overhaul.

No1 took us back to Wroxham and we again passed Blickling Hall (Blickling Hall is a National Trust property just two miles north of Aylsford) but this time at Hautbois, No 6's 'Bure Valley Boat Train' headboard now valid. We arrived back at Wroxham just in time to join 156402, right time on the 'Bittern Line' as the 16.27 back to Norwich.

   BVR 2-6-4T No.1 'Wroxham Broad' on the turntable at Wroxham. 30th August 2011   Norman Hill
   No 1 runs round at Wroxham, proving that she is now all steam!   Norman Hill

   Back to the 'Bittern Line', Hoveton and Wroxham seen from the footpath from Wroxham BVR   Norman Hill
At Norwich, after an excellent day with fair weather, we went our separate ways; three of us finishing the day by boarding the 17.00 Liverpool Street behind 90013 - named The Evening Star PRIDE OF IPSWICH 1885-2010 125 YEARS OF SERVING SUFFOLK (the Evening Star is Ipswich's local newspaper) - as far as Ipswich where we were all newcomers to the famous locomotive sidings situated on the down side of the station. Four 'Freightliner' 66s were stood off together with 90046 and 70008, the first time that we three had seen one of these latest 'British' diesel freight engines close-to. 70008 and 90046 came 'off-shed' in turn and posed briefly in the station through road before moving across into the up yard to attach to their trains. 'Turbostar' 170270 made the 18.16 to Cambridge where we arrived at 19.40, completing our journey with 'Networker' 365508 forming the 19.55 from Cambridge.

   Three of the BVR party went on to Ipswich and on the way back to Cambridge Steve Lacey was caught inside with Bury St. Edmunds station's remarkable tower outside.   Norman Hill
The Bure Valley Railway is a most interesting line, it's interest not diminished by it's size. While the locomotives are in the main modelled on larger counterparts, several were built specifically for the Bure Valley and are worthy of more detailed attention - which they will receive next month.

last updated: 06/10/11