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Full steam ahead as Bure Valley Railway celebrates 25th anniversary

PUBLISHED: 15:23 13 July 2015 | UPDATED: 15:23 13 July 2015

Bure Valley Railway celebrate 25 years since the branch line was closed in 1982 and the track lifted 2 years later. They had coaches but no locomotives of it's own to haul them so it hired them from Romney Hythe and Dymchurch in Kent.

Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Bure Valley Railway celebrate 25 years since the branch line was closed in 1982 and the track lifted 2 years later. They had coaches but no locomotives of it's own to haul them so it hired them from Romney Hythe and Dymchurch in Kent. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

Archant Norfolk 2015

It is Norfolk’s longest fifteen inch narrow gauge line, running nine miles between Aylsham and Wroxham and for the last half-a-century, has taken visitors and tourists through the picturesque Bure Valley countryside.

The railway is operated by a fleet of five steam and three diesel locomotives and has 18 staff working alongside volunteers as well as volunteer supporting group, The Friends of the Bure Valley Railway.

The BVR celebrated its anniversary milestone at the weekend, with visits from guest trains and activities, including a photo exhibition charting the history of the line from when it was a mainline track.

On Friday all passengers also paid the same fares as when the railway first opened in 1990, adults £5.50, juniors £3.95 and under 5’s Free.

When the BVR opened on July 10, 1990 it owned no locomotives of its own and relied on hiring them from the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent, where for many years the locomotives also had to go to be repaired.

Bure Valley Railway History

The railway is built on the trackbed of the East Norfolk Railway (ENR).

It opened its line - now known as the Bittern Line - from Norwich to Cromer in 1877, with the extension from Wroxham to Alysham following three years later.

Figures from the following year, 1881, showed it only carried 6,000 passengers.

The Norwich to Aylsham line was axed to passengers in 1952, more than a decade before Dr Richard Beeching announced his radical plans to tranform the railways, spelling doom for many more in the region.

The line continued to be used for freight, although Buxton Lamas closed for goods in 1964, with Aylsham and Coltishall following a decade later. Coal continued to run along the line, until it was formally closed through Aylsham in 1982. In 1983 a weed-killing train ran on the line and in 1984 track lifting began.

The Bure Valley Railway opened on 10 July 1990, and a long distance footpath opened alongside it in 1991.

The line features the Aylsham Bypass Tunnel, Norfolk’s only operational railway tunnel, which carries it under the Aylsham Bypass, replacing the original standard gauge level crossing. Cromer Tunnel, the only other surviving railway tunnel in the county, is not in use.

The first joint managers of the railway were Robert Hudson and John Edwards of Great Yarmouth, who also supplied and maintained the railway facilities at Pleasurewood Hills.

In January 1991, Pleasurewood Hills parent company, RKF Holdings, ceased trading and forced the Bure Valley into receivership.

A new lessee, Mike Hart, took over and services resumed in April 1991.

In 1993, Robert Baker took over the main shareholding and more shares were issued out in the company.

Ownership changed again in 1995 when the shares were bought by a group of railway enthusiasts.

From 2000 to the present, Andrew Barnes and Susan Munday, majority shareholders, have run the railway as a not-for-profit concern.

The Bure Valley Railway now carries 125,000 passengers a year.

The railway has now built up a fleet of purpose built locos but keeps strong ties to its Kent counterpart.

To mark the Norfolk attraction’s silver jubilee over the weekend, two visiting engines were on loan from Kent, The Green Goddess and The Winston Churchill, which hauled the very first passenger train on the Bure Valley back in 1990.

Also at the event as were the two men who drove The Winston Churchill when it was used on the Bure Valley Railway, Richard Batten, from Kent, and Derek Walsh, who flew in for the anniversary weekend from the Shetlands.

Mr Batten said: “It has changed tremendously, it has improved dramatically, especially improvements by the chief engineer, Bob King. The track is excellent and the engines have been improved in terms of power and also economically.”

General manager of the railway, Andrew Barnes said: “People have come from all over the country to see the Kent locomotives alongside our own. We have also had people come for the first time to share the experience of our past.”

He estimated that over the weekend thousands had attended.

Do you know of a north Norfolk attraction celebrating a milestone? Email tracey.gray@archant.co.uk

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