We join our train at Brynton station. Today as a special treat we have bought ourselves a First Class ticket. We head for the First Class carriage which is in the centre of the train and find the middle compartment of the three is unoccupied. We climb aboard and open the droplights on both sides of the compartment before taking our seat on the left hand side facing the direction of travel, as this seat affords us the best view of the scenery.
It?s a warm summer's day. High above a lone wispy cloud floats in a clear blue sea awash with the sound of birdsong whilst a butterfly flutters gently by with aimless and yet resolute intent. This tranquil scene is shattered by a shrill blast of the whistle and, with a sudden jolt, our journey begins.
Setting out from Brynton station in a westerly direction, the line immediately swings left through dense woodland that besieges the railway from both sides before our train emerges from the trees into an open landscape as we head south towards the Rockery Hills. If we look to our left we can see the reversing loop swinging in from the east and passing over the Brynton Road which dives under the railway before shadowing the reversing loop off into the distance.
Our train gently rocks as it rattles over the trailing points at Tunnel Junction before entering the first of two short tunnels which burrow beneath the Rockery Hills. We exit the first tunnel into a cutting; on our right is a sheer rock face while a glimpse of distance countryside is offered on our left. Our eyes have barely had time to adjust to the light before we enter the second tunnel from which we soon emerge to notice our train rounding a gentle bend to the left to head east. Woodland once again encroaches as we approach Quarry Junction, once the scene of a major derailment and near-head-on-collision between a runaway gypsum train and a passenger train. Here the branch line to the Jolley Gypsum Quarry heads off directly ahead.
The Quarry Branch is barred to passenger traffic, however if our journey were to take a detour along this line we would find ourselves crossing an old stone viaduct on a gentle incline through heavily wooded terrain before crossing a tributary of the Great Stour by way of steel girder bridge. The line passes briefly through a very short tunnel on the approach to the quarry and then splits. The line to our left takes us under the loading gantry while the line to our right leads to the quarry loco shed and a short siding.
Meanwhile our journey along the mainline continues as our train slows to negotiate the sharp left-hand curve beyond Quarry Junction from which a spectacular view of a four-arched viaduct over a tributary of the Great Stour can be seen, and over which our journey will take us. Having crossed the viaduct and taken in the splendid views afforded, we can see the other end of the reversing loop sweeping in from our left to join the mainline at Castle Junction. Beyond can be seen the old windmill atop Windmill Hill.
If we look out to our right as our train trundles over the points at Castle Junction we can see the ruins of an old castle from which the junction gets its name. Snaed Castle is a ruined Norman motte-and-bailey castle, however the original fortification dates from Saxon times. In 1066 William the conqueror granted the Manor of Snaed to his half-brother who started work on the castle, then a timber structure which replaced the Saxon fort. Extensive building work was undertaken during the reign of Henry II with the first stone buildings dating from 1155. The castle enjoyed a rich and varied history for over 300 years, and in 1469 Edward IV granted the castle to Lord Elpus who lived there for the remainder of his life. After his death the castle gradually fell into decay.
Keeping the castle ruins to our right our train takes a gently sweeping curve around the north of Castle Hill to head in a south easterly direction. Soon we hear the brakes being applied and feel the train begin to slow. There is a gentle lurch as we traverse a set of points which announce our approach to Snaed station, and with a half-hearted squeal of protest from the brakes we come to a stand in the platform. Ahead to our left several people can be seen setting off along the footpath to Snaed Pools while across the island platform on our right sits the train from which they have presumably just alighted.
In the early days Snaed station would have been a frenzy of activity as the train crew busied themselves running the engine round as this was then the terminus for passenger trains. Only the gypsum trains continued beyond here after the line was extended to Wobbly Wharf. Many years later the line was further extended through to Brynton to create a circular route. This negated the need to run round and Snaed became a convenient location for trains heading in opposite directions to pass each other.
The almost rhythmic clunking of doors closing ends with a shrill whistle and a short pause... and with a clink and a clank the train opposite begins to move off in the direction whence we came. For a few fleeting moments we submit to the sensation that it is we that are moving but the spell is quickly broken by the appearance at the window of a large moustache and sideburns wishing to see our ticket.
The sound of a whistle broadcasts our imminent departure from Snaed and the resumption of our jaunt along the BSLR. On leaving Snaed the line runs along the east bank of the Great Stour which can be seen on the left below us. We follow the course of the river for some distance before slowing to take a long sharp left hand curve over a viaduct towards the steel girder bridge that can be seen in the distance.
Soon our compartment is filled with a deafening rumble as our train clinks and clanks its way over the Great Stour, and our heart beat quickens as our fear does battle with logic over whether or not such an old and delicate looking bridge can support such a heavy train. Not to worry though as we are now safely across the bridge... But surely someone should do something about all those loose bits to stop it rattling so much, shouldn?t they?!
Our train again swings sharply left before clattering over Bridge Junction where the original extension to Wobbly Wharf heads off to our right. Like the quarry branch passenger traffic is prohibited on the wharf branch, but if we were to journey along this line we would find ourselves on a gentle incline. We soon reach Wharf Junction where the line splits; the line to our right heads on up the incline to the carriage sidings. Continuing along the wharf branch the line again splits at Engine Shed Junction with the access line to the engine shed going off to our left. This line runs to a turntable which feeds three shed roads and a siding.
From Engine Shed Junction our journey continues along the wharf branch which runs down between the engine shed on our left and the carriage siding line above us on our right. As we emerge on to the wharf we see a moored barge waiting at the rather battered and rusty loading chutes. To our immediate left is the wharf office from where a careful watch is kept on operations. At the end of the loading line is a traveser which allows the loco to run round the train for the return working.
We now return to Bridge Junction. The junction here was installed when the line was finally extended through to Brynton from the east, thereby completing a continuous circuit. From Bridge Junction our train picks up speed as it trundles along the home straight to Brynton station. Up ahead on the left we can make out the church tower through the trees. On approach to the station the line splits to provide a passing and run round loop on which stock can also be stabled. There is also a loco siding.
Our train takes the left hand line for the final run into the platform. We pass slowly over the level crossing and see the landlord of the Smugglers Inn opening for the evening. We come to a gentle stop in the platform. Stepping from the train on this warm summer's evening we look up and see a lone distant wispy cloud floating in a clear blue sea awash with the sound of birdsong whilst a butterfly gently flutters by with aimless and yet resolute intent. Our journey on the BSLR has come full circle.
We stroll along the platform, through the gate, down the ramp and into the main street where we see old Arkwright?s store open for business as usual; he seems to be open all hours. We make our way along the main street towards the Smugglers Inn passing a row of terraced cottages as we go. It?s a perfect evening for sitting in the beer garden. What better way to spend a fine summer's evening than sitting outside a fine pub supping fine beer and watching the sun set behind distant hills?! What?ll yours be?
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