01 APR 2019: Driving on a steam train is a dream shared by many, no matter what their age. This is time travel at its best. A steam locomotive train journey opens a window into the golden age of travel. It brings with it a sense of theatre - chuff-chuffing through the Sussex Weald and stopping at old-style stations, where British Rail train guards, dressed in black uniforms of the day, blow their whistles and signal the engine driver on, with people waving as you pass.

The 11-mile (17.7 km) track of the Bluebell Railway sees steam locomotives puff through East Grinstead to Sheffield Park, cutting through the beautiful Sussex Weald and stopping off at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote stations - all of which have been restored to show different periods of the railway's life, from the Victorian period through to the 1950s. The 22-mile (35.4 km) return journey takes 40 minutes with a half-hour wait in the middle, giving you just enough time for a cream tea at the Grinsteade Buffet Carriage at the East Grinstead station.

The Bluebell Railway is the first preserved passenger train line in the UK, resulting in one of the world’s finest collections of more than 30 steam locomotives - the largest collection in the UK after the National Railway Museum. They also have an assortment of near 150 carriages and wagons, most of which pre-date 1939. Several were used by a travelling circus to transport elephants and another as a coffin carrier. The Bluebell Railway has developed into one of the largest tourist attractions in Sussex and remains true to its objectives in preserving a piece of British history.

Since 1960 volunteer staff of the Bluebell Railway Preservation Society have brought the rail experience to life. In fact, many of the volunteers have appeared as extras in movies as the Bluebell has been a major location in numerous TV and movie productions. Downton Abbey, The Invisible Woman, The Woman in Black, John Carter, Wind in the Willows, The Railway Children, Station Jim, The Ruby in the Smoke and Miss Potter, to name just a few.

If you’ve ever wanted a turn in the train driver’s cab, this is it. The Bluebell offers a 1-hour hands-on Footplate Taster for anyone who’s ever dreamed of being an engine driver. Then there’s the Footplate Extra, which is a thrilling 3-hour experience that will have you firing and driving one of the historic steam locomotives; the Full Steam Ahead package is a whole-day affair with all the bells and whistles, so to speak.

The Bluebell Railway’s calendar is full of exciting things to do:

• The Bluebell Railway’s Golden Arrow dining train evokes the heady days of the 1920/30s with their unique wall panelling and plush seating. It’s the perfect setting for a silver service evening of style and panache.

• Their ‘Rail Ale’ evening promises a steam hauled dinner of sausage & mash, live Jazz, plus a good couple of pints of Real Ale.

• Their Steam & Vine event includes a morning tour of the Bluebell Vineyard, followed by a tutored sparkling wine tasting, then back on board for a traditional Ploughman’s lunch, whilst chuffing through the Sussex countryside.

• The Sussex Belle is a dedicated lunch train offering a two-course meal in one of three 1950s-styled lounge and restaurant carriages.

• There’s a Classic Vehicle Show at Horsted Keynes station on 9th June, and five days later they’re holding a ‘Road Meets Rail’ festival which promises to include traction engines, steam trains and a few Sussex ales. On 29/30 June it’s a Model Railway Weekend.

• Horsted Keynes station will be hosting the annual Toy & Rail Collectors Fair on 27th July. There will be an extensive layout of stalls on the platforms and in the marquee at the station car park, displaying railway artefacts, model railway equipment, die-cast models, as well as railway collectables and paraphernalia. It’s a one-day event worth linking to a steam-hauled train ride.

Throughout the year dining trains operate on selected dates and include services for Afternoon Tea on the Wealden Rambler, a pub lunch at the Bessemer Arms on the platform of Sheffield Park, Murder Mystery Evenings and Sunday Carveries. Of course, there’s loads of interesting events for kids - see the Bluebell website for further details www.bluebell-railway.com

Images by Cindy-Lou Dale

DREAMS OF STEAM
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Cindy-Lou Dale

Cindy-Lou Dale is a professional editor, writer and photographer, specializing in high-end travel, luxury motoring and affluent lifestyles. She also writes compellingly of current affairs, African politics and introduces her readers to new-age philanthropy.

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