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Bure Valley - at the Age of Maturity

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Joined: October 30th, 2007, 10:37 pm

August 31st, 2008, 8:18 pm #1

Bure Valley - at the Age of Maturity

Colin Peake

1990, a vintage year for 15 inch gauge railways, not only did Gateshead enjoy it’s own outstation of the Ravenglass & Eskdale Railway for a season, but something a lot more permanent arrived in Norfolk, the Bure Valley Railway between Aylsham and Wroxham. Nothing as ambitious as this almost 9-mile line had been attempted for a long time, nor has its like been attempted on the same scale since.

Autumn shadows at Wroxham station in 1990, with Winston Churchill and Samson ready for departure. (Michael J Collins

At the outset the railway gave the impression that it was a tourist attraction first, railway second. The builders were connected to the tourist attraction industry and traits of this can be seen in early photographs of the line, notably the very theme park-like outfits of some of the operating staff, bright red coaching stock and a distinct newness to everything in sight, with there being little in the way of heritage material. This approach lead to the customer being the core of the business rather than being engineering led as many railways are.

Wroxham Broad receives attention from the driver at Wroxham, 1997 (Colin Peake)

It is well documented that the first few years of the railway were dogged by ownership changes, and a motive power crisis in the 1991 season, which led to an interesting collection of locomotives being acquired that were not ideal for the line, but available at the time. This included Guest steam outline diesel 2-6-2 'Tracey-Jo', reborn after the 1991 season as a true steam loco, 2-6-4T 'Wroxham Broad'. Rebuilt by Winson Engineering, this firm went on to produce locomotives especially for the Bure Valley Railway in the form of a 2-6-2 design based on Indian ZB class locomotives, the first of which arrived in March 1994 and perhaps began the turning point in the lines fortunes.

'ZB' locomotive no. 7 at Aylsham in 1997 (Colin Peake)

My first visit to the line was in 1997, and change was evident from the pictures in my mind of how the railway looked, with stock being repainted out of red into chocolate and cream or maroon. Efforts to bring in some interesting items of historical 15 inch gauge interest were being made, with Bassett-Lowke atlantic 'Count Louis' due to arrive for restoration and the working steam crane once house at Lightwater Valley on display at Aylsham. At the time I have to admit that I sided with the late Robin Butterell when it came to the ZB locomotives, I thought them a little on the boxy, bland side and perhaps not as attractive as 'Wroxham Broad', which had become an instant favourite since I first saw her when visiting Cleethorpes for a gala in the mid 1990s. Locomotive no 8, later to become Vale of Rheidol outline tank 'Thunder', was a frame in the workshop area awaiting completion but as built this also seemed to be boxy looking. Overall I still felt the railway lacked something, but couldn’t put my finger on what it was.

The frames of number 8 in the workshop at Aylsham during construction. (Colin Peake)

So to 2008, a holiday in Norfolk provided the opportunity for a second visit and I was keen to see how the railway had developed. Through the kindness of the railway’s Chairman David Barnes, I was able to sample a cab ride on the very locomotive I had seen under construction over a decade beforehand.

Over a decade later a much rebuilt number 8 awaits departure from Wroxham, 29th July 2008. (Colin Peake)

Tuesday 29th July dawned and there was only a short wait before the arrival of no. 8 at Wroxham, in traffic for the first time following a major overhaul and conversion to coal firing from oil, plus a repaint in black lined in red and white. Travelling to Aylsham we sat in something else the Bure Valley has excelled in, one of the lines' newer convertible 20 seat/wheelchair saloons. As with all BVR stock, this proved to be comfortable and spacious, I think the only 15 inch gauge coaches in use with more passenger space are the Exmoor designs at Perrygrove and Markeaton Park. At the third loop from Wroxham, Brampton, we passed the other service train, headed by 'Wroxham Broad', the oldest locomotive on the railway and a very credible heritage item, looked after by the railway’s supporters association.

1990 coaching stock undergoing refurbishment at Aylsham station. (Colin Peake)

On arrival at Aylsham there was able time to look at the other equipment the railway uses. An ongoing project is the refurbishment of the original 1990 coaching stock, which is receiving specialist attention off the railway, including re-panelling and a single piece roof, followed by a very high quality application of paint, it is no understatement to say you could see your face in the smooth gloss finish! The railway is clearly committed to keeping it’s passenger environment in a high quality state. Two items of coaching stock that caught my enthusiastic eye were the ex-Fairbourne 16 seat coaches painted up as Thomas’ companions Annie and Clarabel, but then they would, as I am rather fond of this style of Fairbourne stock…

Annie and Clarabel, former Fairbourne Railway coaches. (Colin Peake)

Aside from the diesel and internal combustion locos and variety of well equipped engineering stock there was also the opportunity to take a look at the other Winson Engineering locos, ZB tender locos 6 'Blickling Hall', 7 'Spitfire' and the magnificent no. 10 'Mark Timothy', styled after a Leek & Manifold Railway loco. Rebuilt ZB no. 6 with smoke deflectors and larger cylinders looks a fearsome beast, and I’m reliably informed has the power to match. I really would have loved to have seen No. 10 in service. This machine is a close run with no. 1 on the looks front, and was in light steam as a reserve loco in case of problems with newly out shopped no. 8.

An immaculate Mark Timothy in light steam at Aylsham. (Colin Peake)

Just before the 13.25 departure time I boarded the footplate of no. 8 for a trip to Wroxham with driver Bob. Bob had been involved with the rebuild of the loco and explained some of the subtle changes made to improve the design, including weight loss and simplification in the cab. Some cosmetic changes have softened the locomotives appearance somewhat, whilst under the running plate the loco is largely as built, new cylinders not being deemed necessary in light of the lower mileage run by this loco during it’s time as an oil burner. Coal is now the firepower used in line with the rest of the BVR steam fleet.

The author aboard number 8 at Aylsham. (Kerry Peake)

I noticed almost straight away that the Bure Valley is a very different railway from the footplate, the changes in grade are a lot more noticeable and I truly appreciated the work being done by the locomotive to haul the nine coaches plus guards vehicle behind us. After dipping under the Aylsham bypass in the tunnel built specially for the line we were out into the Norfolk countryside and increasing in speed, before slowing for the level crossing at Spratts Green. Once across, and having acknowledged the Guard’s indication that the rear of the train had cleared the crossing, we increased in speed along the reasonable straight formation.

A drivers-eye view of the level crossing at Spratts Green. (Colin Peake)

One of the fascinating things to observe from the cab was the operation and control of the railway over the dedicated radio network. I had wondered on the journey to Aylsham why we had apparently passed several Stop boards without awaiting instruction, now I knew, the driver had already radioed in his position and had authority to proceed past the board. According to the timetable we were due to pass 'Wroxham Broad' on the other train at Hautbois loop, the halfway point along the line. The news from control over the radio wasn't good, a late departure for no. 1 from Wroxham was going to delay us slightly. Once stopped in the loop the Guard walked up the train to the loco to speak to Bob. He was concerned as two passengers with a disability had to make a main line connection at Wroxham, could we make it in time?

A few minutes late, number 1 arrives at Hautbois loop with an Aylsham bound train. (Colin Peake)

In what seemed like no time, Wroxham Broad appeared on the horizon and we were soon on the move again, making up for lost time and arriving at Wroxham in time to make the connection with the national network. In a commendable act of customer service, one of the volunteers on board with the Guard assisted the disabled passengers to the main line station for their train. On the platform was proof that the Bure Valley can handle almost anything, a large party of Girl Guides awaited the next train to Aylsham, with reserved seats in several carriages. They may have had an eventful trip, I'm told no. 8 failed on the return run to Aylsham and had to be rescued by 'Wroxham Broad', oh to have seen that….

18 years on, and despite hurdles of the first five or so years of it’s existence, the Bure Valley has certainly come a long way since it opened. From an enthusiasts point of view, the railway has lost the look of a simply being a tourist attraction and is a lot more railway-like, but still upholding the high quality level in visitor facilities. Of course we have to remember that as enthusiasts, we are in the minority of visitors to our miniature lines. However, every now and then something is done to cater for our desires, and over the weekend of 13th and 14th September the Bure Valley will play host to visiting locomotives from other 15 inch gauge railways, including Romney, Ravenglass, Cleethorpes and Bressingham. The challenge of the 9 mile run over the far from flat Norfolk countryside awaits! For more details see .

My thanks are extended to David Barnes, BVR Chairman and to all the staff and volunteers at the Bure Valley Railway for making this a wonderful day out.

Just what is the Miniature Railway Museum Trust?

Colin Peake and the MRMT Trustees

Saturday September 6th sees the formal launch of the Miniature Railway Museum Trust at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway. The Trust was created in March 2008 with the aim of telling the story of how the country’s pleasure railways became such an important part of the country’s social history.

So much of our miniature railway heritage has already been lost and significant items have gone abroad. Some historic locos in particular have become part of private collections overseas and it is unlikely that British enthusiasts will ever get to see them again. The Trust hopes to act as a focal point to keep as much as possible safe for future generations.

So just who are the Miniature Railway Museum Trust?

Our trustees and advisors include representatives from some top museums and miniature heritage railways including the National Railway Museum, Rhyl Miniature Railway, Kirklees Light Railway, North Bay Railway, Bekonscot and Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway:

David Humphreys – Trustee and Chairman
Chris Shaw – Trustee
Stuart Ross – Trustee
Craig Gluyas – Trustee
Dave Holroyde – Trustee
Phil Ashworth – Trustee and Publicity Officer
Tim Dunn – Trustee
Colin Peake – Trustee and Secretary
John Waldron – Trustee
Simon Townsend – Advisor
Anthony Coulls – Advisor
Peter Bryant – Advisor

A lot of hard work has gone on behind the scenes to get the Trust up and running and to establish our first visible project, the Griffin Hall display at the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway. On 6th September interpretive panels will be unveiled dedicated to the history of the Sutton Miniature Railway collection housed at Cleethorpes, for which the Trust is very grateful for the input of historian, author and former SMR driver John Tidmarsh who has tirelessly worked alongside Simon Townsend throughout the project.

Also being launched is the Friends of the Miniature Railway Museum Trust, which will take place at 3.00 pm. The Friends are the Trust’s fundraising and support group and membership is open to all interested in the work of the Trust and miniature railways in general.

Colin Peake

In February 1993 Robin Butterell reported on both the 1992 AGM of the 7 ¼ inch Gauge Society and the October 1992 meeting of the Heywood Society, with, typically for Robin, an extra trip of interest added into the mix!

The 7 ¼ inch Gauge Society is well established and is renowned for it’s impressive display and operation of member’s locomotives over the AGM weekend, held at different venues around the country each year. 1992 saw the line at Child Beale Bird Park, Berkshire host the event with 52 locomotives present, ranging from the tiniest – a GWR 14xx Auto Tank to a Yugoslav 0-8-2. Sadly for 7 ¼ inch fans the railway closed and reopened as a 10 ¼ inch gauge line in 1994, with an Exmoor tank locomotive as the new motive power, assisted by a historic Guest Bo-Bo diesel ex Shillingstone.

The Heywood meeting too place in Warwickshire, visiting a cluster of private 7 ¼ inch lines. Robin however took a diversion on the first day to Rugby to attend an auction of items from the offices of Bassett-Lowke of Northampton. Much of miniature railway interest was acquired by John Milner of Milner Engineering and latterly publisher Rail Romances, and some of this material can be found in John’s history of the Fairbourne Railway 'Rails Through The Sand' and John and Robin’s work on the Little Giants.

What are your memories of the Bure Valley Railway's first 18 years? Miniature Railway World Forum members may respond to this Digest, all responses will be checked by the Admin team before appearing.
Miniature Railway World Digest
Edited by Colin Peake

Joined: August 12th, 2007, 11:36 am

September 1st, 2008, 10:41 am #2

Thank you Colin for your excellent portrayal of the BVR.

It is BVR policy to use powerful locos for the reasons that you explained above. #8 is currently the weakest of the “ZB” fleet, due the poor design of its (original) cylinders. :( When the existing smokebox is replaced in a few years time, we will look into the options to improve the front end performance of #8 so it can easily haul 12 coaches plus a Guards Van - the same as the other three “ZB” locos. #6, #7 & #9 (ex #10) :P

I look forward to hearing other member’s comments about the BVR, both good and bad.
David Barnes

Bure Valley Railway - The 15" gauge railway with powerful steam locomotives.
Trains between Wroxham & Aylsham in Norfolk.
Daily services between 24th March and 28th October 2018.
Please look up the BVR website, for more details.

Joined: May 27th, 2007, 4:12 pm

September 1st, 2008, 2:18 pm #3

Congratulations Colin on another super Digest - it has become a splendid way to kick-start each month!

I hope I'm not the only one who has been printing out each Digest as it is issued. It is making up into a folder that will form perhaps THE seminal document covering all aspects of miniature railways - but at a cost of ink and paper that will probably end up costing more than a signed first edition of the Little Giant book!

Keep up the good work - best wishes for the launch of the Trust on the 6th, and I'm looking forward to seeing what the next Digest on 1 Oct will be already!


Joined: January 7th, 2007, 8:13 pm

September 1st, 2008, 3:20 pm #4

It's not often that such a detailed document can be written about a railway of such a lifespan, either because such a rialway has existed for so much longer and ultimately has volumes more information to go through, with significant amounts of early information lost or vague, or the line has been and gone, but this article just goes to show that the BVR has indeed matured into a serious concern.

Well done, Colin ,and all at the BVR!


Dom Greenop
"There's no such thing as sanity, and that's the sanest fact" M. Knopfler, 1985

Joined: November 2nd, 2007, 6:25 pm

September 1st, 2008, 4:46 pm #5

A very well written digest here colin! Nice to see a drift away from the usual very formal digests into a personal, almost diary entry.

Hope to visit the BVR at some point in the not to distant future.
Well done!
"Humans are so smart, they dont even need a meteorite to destroy themselves, like the stupid dinosaurs did!"

NYMR Fireman - "More in the back end!"

Joined: August 16th, 2007, 6:37 pm

September 1st, 2008, 6:37 pm #6

Colin , well done - another great article. I was on the BVR myself 2 weeks ago. A great railway with friendly staff. Certainly not flat and I was very impressed by the performance of the Leek and Manifold loco number 9. Cheers , Dave

Jordan Leeds
Joined: April 27th, 2007, 5:02 pm

September 2nd, 2008, 4:35 pm #7

As usual one superb artical well done.
One slight qualm about the freinds launch nowhere that i have seen is there is no mention of a cost for joining the freinds is there any chnce that it could be made public ?

Trains go into tunnels and come out but locos can go in sheds and never come out

Joined: August 15th, 2006, 6:15 pm

September 2nd, 2008, 5:03 pm #8

rough-shunter wrote:As usual one superb artical well done.
One slight qualm about the freinds launch nowhere that i have seen is there is no mention of a cost for joining the freinds is there any chnce that it could be made public ?
Thanks Jordan :D

Friends membership will be £20.00, more details will be on the website when updated.

Colin Peake
MRW Digest Editor

My blog: O9 Modeller

Deputy Manager
Deputy Manager
Joined: September 28th, 2007, 4:23 pm

September 2nd, 2008, 5:08 pm #9

Just as a matter of interest how were the trustees and advisors chosen?

Operations Manager
Operations Manager
Joined: December 15th, 2006, 6:24 pm

September 2nd, 2008, 6:54 pm #10

Superb as always Colin, just shows that recent history can be very interesting too.