The tour group stand in bright sunshine at Exbury Gardens.

The new Heritage Rail Charitable Trust ran the first of the Friends 2019 trips as a Winchester cultural city tour, with visits to various transport attractions in the area. Winchester’s welcome was rather damp, but the rain couldn’t suppress the happy throng on a Friday night visit to various watering houses in the City. The threatening weekend weather forecast was unfulfilled, as our comfortable tour bus took a chattering crowd of twenty-five to visit the steam gala at the Moors Valley Railway near to Ringwood. On the extensive 7¼” gauge, fully signalled railway, every locomotive that could be steamed was out and about, hauling an intensive service of trains along the line. Such a carefully arranged stream of trains, freight and passenger offered an unrivalled spectacle, with a constant movement of little locomotives round the compact layout, so that everyone got at least one ride, including our own special train. We were torn away from the busy scene, boarding our coach, dodging hordes of superbly modelled traction engines to leave in bright sunshine, now bound for the Isle of Purbeck.

The next destination was the Swanage Railway, where we boarded the smart, green-painted carriages, accompanied by General Manager Gavin Jones. Gavin transferred us into the beautifully restored Devon Belle Observation Car for an excellent view of Standard Class 4 tank 80104 that pulled us to Corfe Castle. Some went to visit the nearby village and Castle, and others admired the South Western Railway regular, advertised train that runs through from the National Network. We rejoined the steam train to complete our journey at Norden, and then re-boarded the coach for a transfer to Hythe, adjacent to the Marchwood Military Port.

The 700 yard long Hythe Pier hosts a ferry at its seaward end, running across to Southampton Town Quay, close by the Ocean Liner Terminal. A 2ft gauge tramway runs the length of the Pier and the line is electrified with a third rail at 250vDC. One of the two antique, 1917, ex-WD electric locomotives pushed a three-coach train to the ferry, meeting the service, then pulling the passengers back to dry land. The rather weatherbeaten train is a unique survivor of a bygone age. It is little known, except to Hythe commuters, and has recently been in danger of closure. After being enthusiastically led round the workshops, we loaded aboard and rattled and swayed to the head of the pier where the ferry was waiting. We crammed on board the little MV Jenny Blue and set off across Southampton Water at a fine pace. However we suddenly slowed down, and there was a huge, low-note noise that filled the air, and gradually a massive shape rose over the cabin as the 130,000GRT, P&O Cruises, MV Azura came past in the centre of the channel, at the regulation 6 knots. It took some time for the giant to pass, and we shot round its stern and berthed, with the P&O flagship 180,000GRT, MV Britannia waiting to sail in the adjacent berth. This was quite a ferry journey!

The following day saw our Mervyn’s Coaches vehicle take us to Exbury Gardens. Here there are spacious forest and gardens to stroll in and there is an excellent 12¼” gauge railway running through the grounds. We had our own special train at 14.30, hauled by Exmoor 2-8-2 tender engine Mariloo. Again we were treated most courteously, shown into the locomotive sheds, and all enjoyed the smooth and gentle, sunny passage of the train over the scenic railway. The wider gauge was in marked contrast to the busy Moors Valley line, and the trains were well patronised indeed.

All in all this was a particularly pleasant weekend with many old acquaintances,

immaculately organised by John Glover – the first of many Friends’ Tours. The next will be announced soon.


Gordon Rushton