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The Return of the Short Haired Bumblebee


Saturday 17 November 2018

Once every few years we have offered a short-day Forgotten Tracks railtour in Kent, ideally suited to shortening daylight hours and involving neither an early start nor a late finish. It has always been popular and following a number of requests we are repeating it this year.

The county boasts two quite long freight-only branch lines, each very different in character. The first, an eleven mile branch from Hoo Junction to Grain is all that remains of a number of branches on the Isle of Grain, not least to Port Victoria which the South Eastern Railway tried in vain to promote as a cross-channel port. The journey across the island will take us through peaceful farmland, but tall chimneys in the distance remind us of the industrial installations all along the Thames Estuary. The branch owes its continued existence to stone traffic. Our train will run right into the former passenger station site and you will see the remains of the short-lived station platform, a modern concrete structure opened in 1951 but closed a decade later.

The tour is dedicated to ‘bombus subterraneus’, a species of short haired bumblebee thought to have become extinct in the 1980s, but recently reintroduced to the nature reserves of Dungeness. The nine mile branch from Appledore to this bleak outpost is the second of our destinations. Unlike the meandering Grain branch it runs almost straight for much of the way, leaving the Ashford to Hastings line and heading south-east through farmland. But then things change completely. The old station at Lydd is still mostly intact and at this point the greenery suddenly gives way to a stark landscape of shingle, relieved only by a few basic buildings, plus of course the nuclear power station and the two remaining Dungeness lighthouses. Passenger services along the branch (to New Romney) ended in 1967.

The tour runs from Victoria via Nunhead, Lewisham, Blackheath, Dartford, Gravesend, Hoo Junction, Grain (reverse), Hoo Junction, Dartford, Sidcup, Lee Spur, Chislehurst, Swanley, Otford, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Headcorn (15 minute leg stretch), Ashford, Appledore, Lydd, Dungeness (reverse), Ashford, Maidstone East, Swanley, Beckenham, Nunhead, Victoria.

All timings are provisional and intended only as a guide.

StationDepartArrive
London Victoria08.4518.30