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The Bure Valley Railway
To-day's railway is built on the trackbed of a much older one.
The East Norfolk Railway obtained an Act of Parliament to build a line from Norwich to Cromer which opened as far as North Waisham on 20th October 1874, but Cromer was not reached until 1877. In 1876 an Act to build a branch from Wroxham to Aylsham was granted. This became known as the Aylsham extension, with intermediate stations at Coltishall & Buxton Lamas. Construction began in 1878 and the line was re-routed to make it more economical to construct. The line started at Wroxham Junction on the North Bank of the River Bure. The main contractor was William Waddell and the line cost £44,000 to build. The workforce consisted of 220 men, 28 horses and 54 wagons. Coltishall was reached by mid June 1879, where stables were built for dray horses to transport malt for local brewers. The first section from Wroxharn to Buxton Lamas was opened on 8th July 1879 and the whole line to Aylsham was opened for passengers and goods on 1st January 1880.
The East Norfolk Railway was taken over in 1882 by the Great Eastern Railway. The G.E.R. decided to extend the line to meet the Dereham to Wells-next-Sea Line at County School, this became known as the Western Extension, with intermediate stations at Cawston & Reepham. The Great Eastern became part of the London & North Eastern Railway on 1st January 1923. The LNER was nationalized on the 1st January 1948, becoming the Eastern Region of British Railways. A second railway arrived in Aylsham opening on 5th April 1883. This was the Midland & Great Northern line from North Walsham to Melton Constable, With intermediate stations at Felmingham, Blustone Halt, Corpusty & Saxthorpe. The opening of this line allowed through running from Kings Lynn to Great Yarmouth. The M&GN remalned independent until 1st January 1948, when it too became part of the Eastern Region of British Railways. Both stations in Aylsham were renamed on 27th September 1948. Aylsham Town becoming Aylsham South while Aylsham M&GN became Aylsham North.
This competition, combined with the introduction of bus services into Norwich did not encourage the generation of an acceptable level of passenger traffic. It was the building of RAF Stations at Salhouse, Coltishall and Foulsham which saved the line from closure prior to 1939. During the Second World War both passenger and freight traffic became extensive. Apart from military supplies, the transport of sugar beet became increasingly important.
In the immediate post-war period there was a rapid decline in passenger traffic as private cars returned to the roads and there was a continuing improvement in the bus service to Norwich. The passenger service was withdrawn on 15th September 1952. On this day the Union Flag was flown at half-mast in Buxton Lamas, whilst at Aylsham South the station was decorated in black and white crepe paper and Chopin's Funeral March was played. The line remained open throughout for freight until 1955, when the track was removed between Reepham and Foulsham, which were then served from each end. Meanwhile, on the original line from Norwich to Cromer, Wroxham Station became Hoveton & Wroxham on the 12th May 1966.
Along the line
We begin our journey in the ancient market town of Aylsham. When enjoying your look round the town don't forget to visit the National Trust property at Blickling Hall, about a mile along the Blickling Road, well worth a visit for the gardens alone.
The station at Aylsham is the headquarters of the Bure Valley Railway. Every building on the site to-day is new, built in the style of the M&GN in 1989-1990. The main entrance to the station is from the spacious car park. From here we enter the vestibule, with the Tourist information centre and toilets on our left. On our right is the ticket office and well stocked souvenir shop, well worth a visit. The station has four platforms, although only three have track laid into them at the moment. The train shed covers all four platforms and not only protects the passengers, but provides covered accommodation for all the rolling stock. At the end of the platforms, across the concourse is the eighty seater Whistlestop Restaurant, serving everything from a cup of coffee to a three course meal.
If we walk down platform two, we pass the company offices, the workshops and locomotive depot. In the yard beyond will be found the water tower and turntable. The signal box at the far end of the yard controls all train movements on the railway. Our train will normally leave from platform two or three.
As we leave the station round the right hand curve, we start to descend the 1 in 76 bank to pass through the steel and concrete tunnel under the Aylsham Bypass. The tunnel was built new for the Bure Valley, the original standard gauge line crossing the road by means of a level crossing.
As we climb out of the tunnel, notice the East Norfolk Railway's crossing keepers house on your left. The footpath beside the track goes all the way to Wroxham and is known as the Bure Valley Walk. Having passed over Spratts Green level crossing, we see the village of Brampton on our left, we enter Brampton Station and the first passing loop. The village of Buxton is next, complete with its station, built on the site of Buxton Lamas station. The original station building was sold and now is a private house.
We cross the River Bure by means of the 105 foot long girder bridge, by far the largest bridge on the line and enter Hautbois loop, the principle passing place and half way point of our journey. When we have cleared the loop and passed over the level crossing notice Little Hautbois Hall on your right. The next item of note is on your left, being the end of the runway of RAF Coltishall.
This was the home during the 1939-1945 war of 242 Squadron RAF commanded by Sqdn. Ldr Douglas Bader. To-day it is home to 6, 41 & 54 Squadrons RAF, all equipped with Jaguar fighters. After about a mile we enter Coltishall Station and passing loop. The station is built on the site of the former East Norfolk Station, the former station buildings having been sold as a private house.
After passing under four bridges we come to Belaugh Green Level Crossing and later enter a cutting. As we leave the cutting you will see the Anglia Railway's line to Cromer & Sheringham coming in on your left. We then enter Wroxham station and our journey's end. Like Aylsham, Wroxham Station is all new, having been built in 1989-90, it also has a large free car park. The original railway joined the main line by the Anglia Railways signal box. The locomotive will come off the train and run onto the turntable, having been turned it will stop at the water tower to refill it's tanks, before joining the train ready for the return trip. The station buildings here are very modest, containing toilets and a shop/ticket office.
The town centre of Wroxham, known as "The Capital of the Broads" is but a short walk away. Leave the station on the footpath behind the turntable, cross Belaugh Road on the new footbridge, through the subway under the Anglia Railways station and into Station Road. At the end of which you come to a crossroads, the shops on each corner belong to Roys, the largest village shop in the world. When you have finished admiring the shops, turn right into Norwich Road and walk over the hump back bridge crossing the River Bure. The boat yard of Broad's Tours is on your left, here you will find the boat waiting for your trip on the beautiful man-made Broads.
The Bure Valley Railway was a joint venture between Broadland District Council and the Bure Valley Railway Company.
The vision behind the project was fourfold:
(1) To awaken a slumbering railway track.
(2) To create a long distance footpath.
(3) To provide a tourist attraction in Broadland.
(4) To bring benefits to Aylsham and the villages along the route through the creation of jobs and tourist expenditure.
One of the functions of the British Rail Property Board is the disposal of surplus railway land and buildings.
In 1978 the Norfolk County Council and Broadland District Council, jointly bought the track bed of the former BR line from Hellesdon on the outskirts of Norwich to Attlebridge near Lenwade. The Marriotts Way footpath was established on this route.
In 1987 the two councils were offered the track bed from Lenwade to Hoveton & Wroxham by the British Rail Property Board. It was agreed the Norfolk County Council would acquire the section from Lenwade to Aylsham and convert it to an extension of the Marriotts Way footpath, linking the Weavers Way long distance footpath with the Bure Valley Walk at Aylsham. The Broadland District Council bought the section from Aylsham to Hoveton & Wroxham and in partnership have developed it as both a footpath and the narrow gauge railway.
On completion of the purchase of the track bed by Broadland District Council, one half of of its entire length was leased for 125 years to the Bure Valley Railway Company. In 1989 the B,V.R. set about the task of constructing the 15 inch gauge railway between Aylsham and Wroxham, with intermediate stations at Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall and passing loops at Brampton, Hautbois and Coltishall. The project cost £2.5 million to construct and was part funded by the English Tourist Board and the Department of the Environment. The railway opened, with all due ceremony on 10th July 1990. The construction of the Bure Valley Walk took a little longer and involved the construction of various pedestrian access points and the provision of car parks. The footpath was formally opened in March 1991.
The first Joint Managing Directors of the Bure Valley Railway Ltd; were Robert Hudson and John Edwards of Great Yarmouth. They also supplied and maintained the railway facilities at Pleasurewood Hills American Theme Park, situated to the south of Great Yarmouth. Local government liaison and expertise came from Graham Fowler of Broadland District Council. He later became the railway's General Manager In January 1991, Pleasurewood Hills parent company, RKF Holdings ceased trading and forced the Bure Valley into receivership.
Following a period of uncertainty Broadland District Council and the Hart family, proprietors of Railway Wheelsets Ltd; of Rotherham took control of the Bure Valley in April 1991. The shareholding of the Hart family was purchased by Robert Baker of Sudbury, Suffolk, just before the 1993 season. Mr Baker's shares were purchased by the present owners, Westernasset Ltd; in September 1995.
There are 17 bridges, five culverts and long tunnel under the Aylsham Bypass. The most obvious engineering feature is the 105 foot long girder bridge over the River Bure at Buxton. The track, laid on 6,000 tons of crushed shingle, is flat-bottomed 30lb/yard British Standard Mining steel rail, in 30 foot lengths, secured to wooden sleepers by base plates and Pandrol clips.
The Bure Valley Railway
The Bure Valley Railway Aylsham Station Norwich Road Aylsham Norfolk NR11 6BW
Tel: +44 (0) 1263 733858 Fax: +44 (0) 1263 733814
Riyan Productions would like to thank Neal of The Bure Valley Railway, for assistance in allowing us to re-produce this article.
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Ian C Fyvie ... Dual Editor Chris Skelhorn ... Staff Writer RIYAN Productions.
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