On Saturday we took a trip back in time. Just a couple of stops on the tube from where we live, found us waiting for the bus in the Essex town of Epping, but it wasn’t just any old bus.
No this was the kind of bus that my grandfather used to drive in the 1950s and 60s, a classic London Transport double-decker, lovingly restored to its original condition by the volunteers of the Epping and Ongar Railway. We piled aboard, clambered up the stairs, sat ourselves down and waited for the conductor to sell us our tickets (£13 adult, £7 child, bus and train inclusive), before setting off towards North Weald Station.
OK time for a bit of history. In 1997 London Underground closed the Epping to Ongar extension of the tube’s Central Line. Bit of a short-sighted decision given the tremendous boom in commuter house building in the region since then, but we did have a Tory government at the time. Since then a couple of attempts have been made to operate trains on the line with varying degrees of failure, but this year the good folk at the Epping and Ongar Railway have reopened the track at weekends with a collection of heritage locomotives and carriages.
Disembarking at North Weald we legged over the level crossing to board the diesel carriage to Coopersale. Eventually the Epping and Ongar Railway volunteers hope to restore all the track back to Epping, but for now Coopersale is as far west as the railway can go. Nevertheless it gave those of us who are old enough to remember, the opportunity to revisit some of the railway carriages of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Fortunately the little grey cells were not taxed by any murdered Ameican industrialists and we returned to North Weald,
for the second leg of our adventure.
Where we had just about enough time to scramble back over the level crossing and board the eastbound train to Ongar.
Only this time the train was pushed by a steam locomotive, the 1929 built Pitchford Hall. So having pushed our train to Ongar, Pitchford Hall got to pull it back to North Weald.
We climbed onto the platform of North Weald’s Signal Box, watched her steam up
and waved her off. Whether it’s the smell of the coal firing up the boiler or the noise of the engine as it chuffs out of the station there is a real romance about steam that contemporary trains just can’t match. That being said the class 37 Diesel that pushed Pitchford Hall’s train out of the station, still brought back happy memories of the 1960s, when my father worked as a British Railways engineer.
This left us with about 40 minutes to explore Ongar Station and its small museum and shop and eat a delicious Hadley’s (an independent Essex manufacturer) ice cream before our return ride
to North Weald arrived for our bus back to Epping Station.
Congratulations to the volunteers at the Epping and Ongar Railway for making the railway live again and bringing so much happiness to so many people. The railway will operate services on weekends throughout the summer and every day during the 2012 Olympic Games.
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