I recently paid a visit to the Mid Hants Railway in Hampshire, Affectionately known as the Watercress Line. I picked perhaps the worst day to go as it hardly stopped raining all day, but despite the rain it was a fantastic day out and is highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of the former Southern Railway.
The Watercress Line runs for Approximately 10 miles (16km) between the towns of New Alresford and Alton in Hampshire. It forms part of a former through line between Brockwood (near Woking) and Winchester. Originally transporting Watercress from the beds in and around New Alresford to London and beyond. The line closed due to poor traffic in 1973 and re-opened as the preserved line in stages between 1975 and 1985. The line is now one of the premier heritage railways in the UK. The line is currently run by a small core of paid staff (mostly performing administrative duties) and over 400 volunteers, working as a non profit organisation with all profit reinvested back into the line to keep it running for future generations to enjoy.
After quite an early start from my home (which is a roughly 2 hour drive away) I arrived at New Alresford station just in time to catch the 11:00AM train, formed of 5 carriages (including a well stocked buffet car) and hauled by LMS Black 5 45379, I got there with quite literally moments to spare. I purchased my tickets and jumped on board and within seconds of sitting down we were off. I stayed on board for the full length of the line to Alton where the train terminated, arriving at 11:40.
After having a quick wander around the station to see what was on offer I boarded the 12:00 train back towards New Alresford. This was also hauled by the Black 5 and I stayed on until Medstead and Four Marks station. At 12:15 we arrived at Medstead where the other train was waiting to cross. I quickly crossed over to catch the other train back to Alton. This train was formed of 3 coaches with Ivatt class 2MT tank 41312 hauling it. We arrived back at Alton at 12:28.
I decided to stay with this train for a while, so I reboarded and went back to New Alresford, departing Alton at 12:50 and arriving at Alresford at 13:24. The two trains passed at Ropley at 13:16. After making a very spirited run up the 1 in 60 gradient between Ropley and Medstead known locally as the Alps, and then down the equally steep down gradient into Ropley.
At Alresford I quickly paused for a quick bite to eat in the very reasonably priced and high quality station cafe, and got back on the train, departing Alresford at 13:45. At Ropley we paused for a few minutes to take on water, departing there at 2:00. The two trains then passed at Medstead again where I was very kindly offered a cheeky cab ride, a very rare opportunity and a great honour indeed.
We arrived at Alton at approximately 2:28, I got back into the passenger compartment where I was joined by a member of the loco crew (who happened to be a good friend of mine) and travelled as far as Ropley. Arriving at 15:16 with the Black 5 crossing us.
As Ropley is the location of the railway’s workshops and engine sheds, I decided to explore the station, the yards and the surrounding area. Parked up in the station yard was a few locomotives, one of which (Southern Railway Schools class number 925 cheltenham) was in steam. It looked like she was having an inspection of some description, and there were engineers going about their business within the workshops and around the station yard.
After an hour and 15 minutes it was time to head home. The last train of the day was the 16:27 departure back to New Alresford, getting back in at 16:27. This was hauled by the Black 5 and was pretty quiet. After we got back to Alresford it was time to head home, stopping for a meal and a quick rest in the Oxford area, a nice relaxing way to end a fantastic and relaxing day.
I would like to thank the Mid Hants Railway and it’s highly dedicated staff who despite the elements managed to put on a fantastic day for all involved, talking to some fellow passengers everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves and the staff seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and their work, which at the end of the day is what the whole thing is all about.
further photos below: