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It’s ‘all aboard’ for Christmas on Norfolk’s heritage Poppy Line railway

PUBLISHED: 14:56 09 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:48 10 December 2018

Locomotive driver Phil Graveling on the footplate of the Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Locomotive driver Phil Graveling on the footplate of the Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Archant

The romance of steam has mingled with the magic of Christmas on Norfolk’s famous Poppy Line.

Hundreds of families with young children rolled through the countryside over the weekend as part of one of North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special services.

The ‘Black Prince’ locomotive hissed and hooted its way into Weybourne station after a short hop from Sheringham, and visitors soon filled the platform to be greeted by brightly dressed ‘elves’.

The youngsters filed into Santa’s Grotto for a few kind words and an early present, before the ‘all aborad’ sounded for the return journey.

Among them were Matt Keen and his two-year-old daughter, Avice, clutching a toy giraffe she’d just received.

Lucy and Lily Bethell, one, from Cambridge, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. . Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYLucy and Lily Bethell, one, from Cambridge, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. . Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Mr Keen said: “It’s a great experience for the little one. We came last year but she hadn’t been on a train before. Her pop volunteers here and really enjoys it.”

And although the steam engines are the stars of the show, there’s something else driving the Poppy Line’s 350 volunteers, including Roger ‘Rabbit’ Taylor.

The 74-year-old from Fakenham said: “There’s so many dedicated people here that it’s just like one big family. We’re classed as ‘the friendly railway’ and we try to make everyone feel as welcome as we possibly can. They all go away with a smile on their face.”

Mr Taylor added: “I’m old enough to remember steam trains when they were actually on the main line but most people these days aren’t. It’s something unique. It’s alive.”

North Norfolk Railway volunteers David and Margaret Prytheroh at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYNorth Norfolk Railway volunteers David and Margaret Prytheroh at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Andrew Munden, the railway’s general manager, said the heritage railway offered something different for everyone.

Mr Munden, who has worked there for two years after a career with Network Rail, said: “We’ve got some lovely trains, we’re fortunate to run through some fabulous scenery, but it’s the people that really make this place.”

He said the railway was a “microcosm” for volunteering.

“It doesn’t matter what you want to do, you can find it here. If you want to hit very large lumps of metal you can, if you want to do some gardening, serve in a buffet, dress up in uniform or drive a train, you can.”

Avice Keen, two, and dad, Matt Keen, from Norwich, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYAvice Keen, two, and dad, Matt Keen, from Norwich, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

-Santa’s Special services are taking place on weekends throughout December, visit www.nnrailway.co.uk for more.

The volunteers: What drives them on

The steam trains themselves are what draw many volunteers to work on the railway, but Mr Munden said human contact that was the attraction for most.

He said getting involved in the group was an important way, especially for older volunteers, of avoiding loneliness.

North Norfolk Railway general manager Andrew Munden in front of The Royal Norfolk Regiment locomotive at Weybourne Station. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYNorth Norfolk Railway general manager Andrew Munden in front of The Royal Norfolk Regiment locomotive at Weybourne Station. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Pensioners David and Margaret Prytheroh, who have been named among North Norfolk Railway’s volunteers of the year, couldn’t agree more.

Mr Prytheroh, 72, from Trunch, said: “We love the interaction.

“We meet some very interesting people and we volunteer all over the railway.

“We do the music on show days, we work in the buffets, in the shop at Sheringham, wherever we’re needed.”

The Black Prince rolls into Weybourne station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYThe Black Prince rolls into Weybourne station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Also giving up her time for the Santa’s Special weekends is Anna Howard, 30, from North Walsham.

Ms Howard, whose ‘day job’ is a train driver for Greater Anglia, said: “This is my favourite event here. I love the volunteers that I work with.”

In for repairs: A centre of excellence

North Norfolk Railway operates 10 steam locomotives and several diesel engines.

From left, North Norfolk Railway general manager Andrew Munden with volunteers Roy Heyward, Chris Beverley and Edward Hill. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYFrom left, North Norfolk Railway general manager Andrew Munden with volunteers Roy Heyward, Chris Beverley and Edward Hill. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Each year about 160,000 visitors get a taste of travel as it used to be on regular services between Sheringham and Holt stations, as well as at special events including murder mysteries, a 1940s weekend and the Santa’s Specials.

But it’s what happens behind the walls of the big railway sheds that helps keeps railway’s finances humming along.

Mr Munden said many of the railway’s 50 full-time staff worked on repairing steam engines brought in from as far afield as Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.

The huge steam boxes, each weighing tonnes and studded with rivets, are moved through the hall using specially-constructed cranes and gantries.

North Norfolk Railway volunteer Roger Howlett with Tilly the cockatiel, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYNorth Norfolk Railway volunteer Roger Howlett with Tilly the cockatiel, at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Mr Munden said: “We’re overhauling boilers all year. This work brings cash in the door on a regular steady 12-month basis.”

Inside the shed at Weybourne station on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYInside the shed at Weybourne station on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Father Christmas at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYFather Christmas at Weybourne Station as part of a North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Inside the shed at Weybourne station on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYInside the shed at Weybourne station on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

The Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway, decked out for a Santa's Special service. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYThe Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway, decked out for a Santa's Special service. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

Alan Harper-Bourne, left, and Joe Issitt on the footplate (cab) of the Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURYAlan Harper-Bourne, left, and Joe Issitt on the footplate (cab) of the Black Prince on the North Norfolk Railway. Picture: NEIL DIDSBURY

The Black Prince was taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSONThe Black Prince was taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Emma Howard was also among the volunteers taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSONEmma Howard was also among the volunteers taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

Roger, 'Rabbit' Taylor, left, and 'Biz', two of the volunteers taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSONRoger, 'Rabbit' Taylor, left, and 'Biz', two of the volunteers taking part in the North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special weekend. Picture: STUART ANDERSON

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