A few weeks ago, we celebrated Sharon’s father’s birthday with a trip to the railway. It was the first birthday since his passing so we wanted to do something special. Something that we know he would have enjoyed doing.
So far, we’ve been to several Steam Railways and Miniature Railways local to us, and whilst they’re lovely to re-visit, we wanted to go somewhere new in the hope that Sharon’s dad would be with us; exploring it for the first time too.
The Watercress Line
Although it’s one of the smaller railways – with the journey taking a modest 40 minutes to travel from one end to the other – The Watercress Line boasts four main stations across the 10 mile line with every station in pristine condition and celebrating lots of period properties and artwork.
Starting our journey in Alresford, we travelled from there to the furthest point on the line; Alton, where we stopped and had our picnic (we had arrived at Alresford around lunchtime after our journey from Brighton). Alton is probably one of the smaller stations – meaning we didn’t have much to look at this one in comparison to the others – however we wanted to prioritise other stations so we started with this one so we could have some lunch and relax. Despite being a lot smaller, T still had fun running across the bridge and chatting to staff who were all too happy to chat trains.
After getting back on the train, we then travelled to Medstead and Four Marks for a brief visit to grab a coffee and have a look at the restoration museum, before getting back on to travel to Ropley – which is one of the bigger stations and has a number of things to do at the station.
We probably spent the majority of our time at Ropley thanks to the Locomotive Shed viewing gallery, where they show you all the in-progress restorations, as well as the Boilershop and carriage restoration. When we arrived, a tour had just started, so we joined in and learnt about the railway and the work that goes into restoring these timeless machines, although it didn’t go without hiccup!
Whilst heading outside to view the other restoration projects, there was a hint that the main man himself; Thomas the Tank Engine, would be outside ‘resting’ after an eventful few weeks. “Wonderful” I thought. T was going to blow a gasket at the sight of his all-time favourite steamie. But this isn’t what happened. What occurred in a matter of seconds was enough to give anyone nightmares.
Thomas seemed to have lost his face.
Much to T’s horror, just as he turned round the corner to catch a glimpse of his hero, there was no face on his Thomas, but instead a dark mass of emptiness! His face soon turned to shock.
I know I sound dramatic, but it all happened in slow motion and there was nothing I could do about it. Thankfully, we were able to explain what was occurring, however the look on T’s face was certainly different after that!
Moving swiftly on, we then moved onto another highlight of the day; the Kings Cross Bridge. As far as famous Bridges go (are you still with us?), this is the one for us.
Made famous for featuring in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, this 200 ton bridge was dismantled from Kings Cross in 2008 and arrived at Ropley in 2011 where it then took a further 18 months to build – officially opening in 2013.
This part of the tour was exceptionally fascinating and it was rather magical walking on the bridge where Hagrid and Harry walked (yes, I am a nerd). Once we finished the tour, we then made our way to the play park – which is smaller than I had realised – before heading back onto our final train before the rain hit.
Arriving back to Alresford, we then had a look around the impressive gift shop, treated ourselves to some tea and cake (Happy Birthday, Grandad!) and then made our way home.
Even though the railway is a lot smaller in comparison to others in Sussex, I would still recommend visiting if you have a train fanatic like us (Thanks, Grandad!) or if you’re local to the area and fancy a quiet afternoon riding the trains.
All the stations are beautifully kept, and staff are warm and welcoming. On certain days there’s also a miniature railway based at Ropley – although sadly we missed out on this as it wasn’t open during our visit (check before you visit as it only opens certain days!) – as well as a variety of walks and trails starting at different stations.
I have no doubt T’s Grandad would have enjoyed his birthday, as T certainly did on his behalf!