The Branch Line Society


The Colonel Stephens Explorer, Kent & East Sussex Railway (K&ESR)
Sunday 6th November 2016

Report by Darren Garnon

Special thanks to Mr MR, Peter Scott, for allowing publication of one of his famous track plans in BLN, as a one off, kindly adapted and marked up by Martyn Brailsford. It shows the detail in Peter's track plans such as his latest, Volume 4, which covers 95 minor railways in British Isles outside England and Wales and is only available directly from Peter (see BLN 1316.2424).


The breakfast rolls at the K&ESR were already legendary following experience gained by the organiser during his initial Society railtour of the railway on Sun11 Oct 2015. So by 08.30 the buffet area was crammed; approaching 100 BLS members and K&ESR staff enjoying a sumptuous start to the day.

By 09.00, the two car DMU (50971 & 51571) that was the main part of our booked traction for the day was loaded and ready for the 'off'. Leaving Tenterden Town we headed north east towards the cleared extremity of End Siding (the former running line to Headcorn) then No3 Siding where, for the first time in several decades, a stored Class 25 locomotive had been moved to allow us a few vital additional yards. The end of End Siding achieved, we progressed to the Loco Shed & Workshop where the two roads had been made available to us, the highlight being passage inside the shed on Road 2. It actually passes right through the shed to a siding the other side, an objective for a future tour here perhaps?

With three significant lines completed, it was time to progress down to Rolvenden where our first target was a reversal before the station to traverse the ultra-rare and specially cleared Orpins Siding. Once traversed to the stop blocks we reversed at signal R21 in Rolvenden loop. Our first aim here was the very short but very unusual loop neck ('NK' on the plan), naturally creating an exodus of railtourers from one end of the DMU to maximise coverage. 'NK' achieved, we reversed back to Up loop shunt signal (R11) to traverse the Loco Shed & Workshop roads. Here, our progress would be on a 'best endeavours' basis and to the credit of the K&ESR team we went inside the shed on both Roads 1 & 2.

Track plan
[© Mr Peter Scott, 2018]

It was now 10.50, and the DMU departed for our next track at Wittersham Road where on arrival we did the complete Through Line to reverse at signal W13. Here participants could see Norwegian steam locomotive '376' shunting engineer's stock ready for our planned movements over the P'Way Sidings. After completing the headshunt, a sleeper pile prevented us from traversing more than half of the Machine Siding, but the long Back Road into the car park (fortunately carless) was fully completed.

Participants were in need of a leg stretch so the DMU retraced its tracks before departing via the Through Road towards Northiam where a 30 minute break was booked and '376' appeared again. The tour re-commenced with a manoeuvre into Northiam Station Siding (to the blocks) via signal N4 then back into P1. Loco '376' returned rolling stock into that siding then proceeded to the front of our train and attached. Our next leg to Bodiam was steam hauled; provoking conversations on board the train questioning when our last steam hauled fixture had been (quite possibly the Wissington Wanderer of 13 Mar 2015). For some the excitement was too much... [Does it count if you are asleep? are there members with separate 'wakeage' and 'sleepage' records for their track coverage‽]

For some the excitement was too much...
[© Darren Garnon 2016]

Bodiam would mark the limit of our operation (the K&ESR boundary, 3m 20ch from Robertsbridge) on the day, with passage onward to Junction Road not proving possible. The last train to progress further onto the Rother Valley Railway section had run on 25 May 2015 during a three day gala. The out of use section (still so in 2018), just a single track and requiring maintenance, extends to 2m 26ch. One day it is hoped the line will run through to the new Robertsbridge station.

At Bodiam was the important matter of a loop, siding and dock to consider and the DMU would not be doing the honours! It proceeded to the limit of operations and reversed into the Back Road Siding where participants alighted and passed to the platform, here '376' and brake van M360327 awaited.

Our tour was then propelled (via the limit of shunt) into the Cattle Dock Road reaching the buffer stops, before returning to the platform. This was repeated until all participants had scratched that very required track, after which '376' and the brake van re-coupled to the DMU for the run back to Rolvenden. Despite the cold, many participants took the opportunity to remain on the brake van for an unusual run and view of this lovely original light railway behind the steam loco.

It was now 16.00 and the light was fading fast but for the organiser one of the key highlights was still to come. At Rolvenden the tour reversed to the Carriage Shed where those of us on our Oct 2015 tour had unfinished business. That day Road 4 (only) at the then very newly opened shed had stored stock and there had been insufficient time to move it. We were back to put that right! Loco '376' was detached and Roads 4 and 1 were negotiated by the DMU. Then, at the request of your BLS stock list compiler, who had noted this loco as being particularly elusive, 1958 built Ruston 'Number 1' was attached to the front of the train to pilot us into Road 3. The K&ESR 'National Buffer Stop Collection' was also appreciated close up - each line has a deliberately distinctly different type! The Carriage Shed Reception Line, Run-round, Headshunt and the single slip were all fully covered - no slip ups here.

Back at Tenterden the loop was traversed to reach End Siding again. The 'permanently' stored stock on the Pullman Siding had been cleared for t he finale; it was traversed to the end and for an encore part of the S&T Siding, the limit being denied by a Mk1 coach. The tour had taken 8 hours and for many this had been the final fixture of our three day 2016 AGM weekend in the Southeast. Most had long journeys home ahead of them but everyone came away with the satisfaction of clearing much new track on each of the three railways we had visited and where nothing had been too much trouble. It is pleasing to record that £2,000 was contributed to the K&ESR as a result of our fixture. Many thanks to our local Kent member Darren Garnon, South West BLN Regional Editor, recently elevated to the Committee, for another meticulously planned and executed, comprehensive and most enjoyable day. We look forward to your next offering with great anticipation!

The end of Rolvenden carriage shed headshunt; a warning to over the top extremity gricers.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

Tenterden Town with a nice sunny day in prospect.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

Wittersham Road Machine Siding (after a double shunt), 'Back Road' is behind the ballast pile; the steam loco is in the platform.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

'Did you take a wrong turning? - That is the station car park not a train park...' The bemused signaller looks on. Wittersham Road (station platform left) on 'Back Road' extremity with no buffer stop even to hinder progress!
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

A series of late afternoon pictures at Bodiam station where the loop (no platform), 'Back Road' and Cattle Dock were all fully covered, partly steam-hauled. Gary Lonsdale at the end of the platform next to Kev Adlam is 'taking stock' of the situation.
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

The DMU is in 'Back Road' and the stock normally in the yard is in the loop (left)
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

The DMU in 'Back Road'
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

Steam-hauled.exploration of the Cattle Dock
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

Steam-hauled.exploration of the Cattle Dock passing the DMU in 'Back Road'
[© Ian Mortimer 2016]

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