Photo gallery: Memories of the lost seaside Rail lines
- Credit: Archant
It's a dangerous game, the 'if only' one. Especially when you're talking about fondly-remembered railway branch lines.
And when he waxes lyrical about the King's Lynn to Hunstanton line, you can hear the smile in Richard Adderson's voice. 'Wouldn't it be great to get centre-to-centre in 25 minutes these days?' he sighs.
But unhappily for rail fans and commuters, the line is long gone, victim of the rationalisation of the branch railway line network which swept across Britain in the 1960s.
Richard is helping to jog memories about that much-missed line – and its 'sister', the Heacham-Wells line (which closed to passengers in 1952) – with a new book co-written with Graham Kenworthy.
The author, who lives in Thorpe St Andrew, near Norwich, knows all about the poignancy behind the loss of the line to 'Sunny Hunny', because he was on its very last train.
'I would have been 22 when the line closed in 1969,' he recalled. 'I drove over from Norwich with a couple of mates and we spent the day riding and photographing along the line, before riding on the last return trip from Lynn to Hunstanton and back (it was 3/3d each way).'
Some of the photographs from that day – and 122 others – feature in the new book, 'Country Railway Routes: King's Lynn to Hunstanton, Including the Heacham to Wells Branch'.
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The book offers a rich nostalgic treat, taking the line from its start at Lynn and travelling through Gaywood, and calling at stations at North Wootton, Wolferton, Dersingham, Snettisham, Heacham and Hunstanton ('only two minutes from the sea!').
A third of the book is devoted to the Heacham-Wells line, which ran through Sedgeford, Docking, Stanhoe, Burnham Market and Holkham on the way.
The authors are proud of the fact that they have been able to source so many previously unpublished photographs for the lines. 'As far as we know, no more than a dozen of the 123 photographs have been published before,' Richard said.
The retired bank worker has loved railways since he was a boy. 'When I was a lad, every self-respecting boy was a trainspotter. It wasn't just the trains, it was enjoying the ways the lines fitted into the landscape – the 'feel' of it, the social side.'
That special warmth towards the railways still exists today. Just look at the county's preserved lines which welcome thousands of passengers each year. It's hard to put your finger on why railways have this 'pull' on our imaginations - but pull they most definitely have.
Last year Richard gave a talk last year at Grimston church which perfectly illustrates his point. 'I went to talk about the King's Lynn to Fakenham line – and 90 people turned up! It wasn't down to me as a speaker, but to the subject. There is a tremendous amount of sympathy about the railways.'
If even you weren't old enough at the time, luckily we can still get a taste of the Lynn-Hunstanton line thanks to a short film made in 1961 by John Betjeman (check out www.eafa.org.uk/catalogue/76). 'You can really appreciate the ambience the line had.'
What made the line special, apart from the fact that it was a seaside holiday service, was its unique royal connection. The station at Wolferton was the stopping-off point for Sandringham, and emperors, czars and kaisers once embarked here. Its most poignant departure was on February 11 1952 when the body of George VI set off for London, watched by thousands of people.
The royal connection was not enough to save the line. And although he loves the history of the railways, Richard is also a realist. 'You have to remember that, in the terms of the time, the lines didn't make economic sense.
'You could argue, for example, that the Heacham to Wells line should never have been built. It was probably more to do with the prestige than anything else and probably never made money. It was built at a time was a time when every town or village wanted a station.'
Lynn to Hunstanton was very busy one day a week with the daytripper traffic – 'but that wasn't enough in the economic situation at the time. All these coaches and stock were used once a week before heading off back to Bourne or Wisbech or wherever. The economics didn't add up – and don't forget you're talking of an era before subsidies.
'You have to realise that in the late 1960s, the line was perceived as being very run-down. The stations were almost derelict, and the train services were being running to suit the railway's needs, not the passengers'. They [British Rail] argued that there just wasn't the demand.
'With hindsight, you could argue that they should have thought about the longer term and future needs.'
That 'A149 corridor' running from Lynn to Hunstanton has seen much development over the past few years. If the line still existed today, it would now have been a key route for commuters, a much-needed alternative to those thousands of motorists struggling in and out of Lynn in the rush hour every day.
'I went through Dersingham the other day and was astonished at how big it is,' Richard said. 'The bus-stops even have those electronic displays, and I don't have those at Thorpe!
'And the station there is almost intact…'
But Richard knows that hopes of reopening the line are unrealistic. 'The track bed is just about gone –built over in some places – and the stations are all private buildings now.'
For his next book, his 15th, Richard will be teaming up with Graham for more in the popular Middleton Press series, which is gradually covering every single line around the country.
'We'll be looking at the main line from Ipswich to Norwich for our next project,' he said. 'We may end up splitting it into two books!'
Happily there are signs that Richard's love of the railways is passing on to a new generation. 'My son had no interest in the subject, but my three-year-old grandson Max loves it!'
And as Thomas the Tank Engine would say, 'Peep! Peep!' to that...
Country Railway Routes: King's Lynn to Hunstanton, by Richard Adderson and Graham Kenworthy, is published by Middleton Press, £17.95.