Whilst staying in Hythe last weekend, we wanted to take a trip on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. I’d travelled on the railway many years ago as a child, when I lived in Folkestone. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway is a narrow gauge railway that runs for 13.5 miles along the Kent coast from Hythe to Dungeness. There is a fleet of one-third full size steam and diesel locomotives, that run on 15″ wide track, and is built to run safely at 25 mph. The railway was designed and planned in the 1920’s, by Captain J E P Howey, a racing driver and millionaire landowner, and Count Louis Zborowski, also a millionaire racing driver. They wanted to create the best miniature railway in the world, which would be run like any normal mainline railway. When it opened in July 1927, the double track only ran from Hythe to New Romney, but within a year it went as far as the shingle ridges of Dungeness. During the Second World War the railway line was requisitioned by the War Department, who built a miniature armoured train, which was used during the building of PLUTO (Pipe Line Under The Ocean) which fueled the Allied invasion force. The railway was re-opened in 1947 by Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Now, almost 70 years later, it is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kent, having in excess of 100,000 visitors every year.
So, on Sunday morning we parked by the Royal Military Canal in Hythe, and bought RomneyRover Tickets, which enabled us to get on and off the train at any station. Like the locomotives, the carriages are obviously small, with just enough space for two normal sized adults to sit side by side, and a tall man (or woman) might find their heads touching the ceiling! There are open carriages, with no doors or windows, but we chose a closed carriage, with a sliding door. The guard waved his green flag, (children waved theirs), the steam whistle blew and we were off out of the station passing between the gardens of Hythe, until we reached the open fields. Sheep munched lazily, well used to the clickety-clack of the train passing, and the air was filled with the smell of steam and smoke. Dymchurch was the first station we stopped at, followed by St Mary’s Bay. Then at New Romney we got off and had lunch. We also had a look at the extensive Model Railway Exhibition which was included in our Rover ticket. Also at New Romney is a locomotive turntable, which I remembered seeing as a child. Then we were off again heading for Dungeness. Bells rang and red lights flashed each time we crossed country roads, and everyone waved good-naturedly as they waited for us to go by. The scenery changed dramatically as we moved onto the bleak open shingle ridges of the Dungeness National Nature Reserve, classified as desert by the meteorological office. The train looped round to Dungeness Station, where we got off and had a wander around, before catching the train back to Hythe.
It was a fabulous train trip on the world’s smallest public railway, and for me, a wonderful revival of childhood memories. If we had had the time, I would have loved to do it all again!
For more information see: http://www.rhdr.org.uk