I’ve nipped back to England for a long weekend to surprise my sister, who’s visiting from New Zealand. One look at the rolling hills of West Sussex and New York feels a million miles a way.
My family lives in a rural Sussex village called Kingscote. ‘Village’ is a bit of a stretch; all it has is houses, farmland, beautiful walks… and Kingscote Station. This is not a real train station – instead, it’s one of the four stops on the Bluebell Railway, an 1880s steam engine that still travels daily along the border of East and West Sussex. It used to transport goods – timber, milk and coal – before closing in 1955. One section re-opened as a commercial line in 1960 and others have followed in the decades since.
The Bluebell has always been on my periphery – we see its steam through the trees from the house, and my first job was working in an ice cream hut on the platform. But I’ve never actually taken the train to our nearest town, East Grinstead. This makes no sense – it takes just ten minutes and there is no other public transport from my family’s home to the town.
Ahead of my sister’s arrival, I wanted to nip up to London to see my friend Pip. To do this, I had to travel from East Grinstead, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to ride the steam engine to get there.
My brother Dylan, his girlfriend Mel and I walked the whole 100 metres from the house to the station, which was empty apart from the smartly-dressed station master and a lot of memorabilia. Old-fashioned luggage, maps and ticket machines adorned the platform.
The place is immaculate; no wonder they’ve filmed numerous movies and TV shows there, from Downton Abbey to Wind in the Willows. It’s even been in some music videos – The Pet Shop Boys, Tracey Ullman and the winning duo, Robson & Jerome.
Because it was so late, we didn’t have to pay. We found squidgy seats and readied ourselves to watch the Sussex countryside whizz past. The train chugged along, a satisfying ‘chuckachuckachucka’ above our heads.
Just ten minutes later and we rolled into East Grinstead, taking in the roofs among the treetops. The journey was far too short of course, but it was so cute and a lovely, relaxing way to check out the Sussex countryside. It’s a tourist’s dream.