Normally, my trips out every month involves a cinema visit and a look at how funky it is. However, this month’s cash was spent on what I would have to call one of my best days out ever! Really, I have never had so much fun as I did visiting the Epping and Ongar Railway, a Heritage Line just outside London that opened up in May this year. Really, I am proud to all myself a geek and I was so chuffed with the choo-choo trains on offer, so read on about a proper steam line running from Epping to Ongar.
There is a lot history on the internet about this. Here (with part 2) and here are probably the best two bits on the internet about this former stretch of the tube. Originally built by the Eastern Counties Railway as a branch of their lines from Liverpool Street station, this single track piece of railway was taken over by the London Underground as part of the New Works Program in the 1930’a.
However, the introduction of Green Belt legislation that effectively halted the outward expanse of London meant that this branch was never heavily utilised. It limped on as a poorly used branch of the Central Line before shutting down in 1994, couple of years before the introduction of new trains onto the Central Line.
It has to be said that this is the easiest (and cheapest) Heritage Railway to reach from London. Being on a former branch of the tube, you hop on the tube to get there, with the nearest station being Epping, on the Central Line. You can purchase your ticket when you get to Epping and is £13 for adults and £7 for the little ones, with a slight discount for online booking. The ticket is a rover pass which means you can travel as much as you like all the time. Get in early, as the first bus to the railway leaves Epping Station at 10am every weekend. During the Olympics, the Railway will be open daily.
The railway line is absolutely tiny, only 6 miles in length, with only two stations, but that does not matter. There are big choo-choo trains around, and anyone with kids (or geeks like me) will absolutely love travelling here. The first part of the experience are the incredibly ancient buses that trundle up and down from Epping Station towards North Weald, connecting travelers between the tube line and the railway itself.
These buses will take you through the rolling Essex Countryside to North Weald Station, which serves as the hub of the heritage line. From North Weald station there are two trains. The firt (and less significant of the two) is a train that goes to nowhere. It runs for the fun of it towards Epping, but never reaching there. From North Weald, this train will take you to Coopersdale, a tiny Hamlet outside Epping. As there are no alighting facilities, you have to remain on the train, but the railway hopes one day to punch through their line through to Epping proper to connect with the tube network. This part of the day can be considered a taster of the main attraction on the heritage railway…
Oh yes, the choo-choo train. From North Weald towards Ongar, right at the end of the branch runs the steam train. Normally. You got to give these guys a break, they have only just started up, so while they try to out on a steam service, it may not always be guaranteed. So or us, on the way towards Ongar, the train was steam, but it broke down by the time we had lunch, so we had to be hauled by disels on the way back. That is the luck of the draw, as this is a new railway, steam cannot be always there.
The flip side is that the staff are incredibly friendly, they have not been jaded by giving up their every weekend in the name of smoke and soot (and yes, even as a passenger, you will be filthy by the end of the day out). Plus, they day out is reasonably priced. The snacks are on the cheaper side of rip off (and try the locally sourced ice creams – absolutely delicious – my choice was honeycomb) and all in all, the day out is one incredible amount of fun!
You know, there are a ton of things I could go on about. How everyone is so friendly, how much fun it is to see the preserved buildings, or the trains waiting for repair. Trundling old buses through the country, and of course the steam trains themselves. You do not have to be a transport buff to enjoy the Epping and Ongar Railway – anyone and everyone will, young and old alike. One of the best days out I have had in years, and there is so much fun and history around, it is unbelievable.
The only thing is that Ongar and North Weald are not really designed for the influx of tourists. The facilities at both these places are limited, so bring a picnic (although I will recommend the Cock Tavern in Ongar for the child friendly bar staff, but stay away from the hideously lazy Mogul Curry House in the same town). This is very much a new attraction, so over the coming years, expect the local area (and the railway itself) to change beyond recognition, as this, London’s very own heritage steam line comes rolling into full service…
(Official website – here)