To paraphrase Dorothy: 'There is no place like London.' I hope I can convince you of that here. Also check out my blog at damselwithadulcimer.wordpress.com and my theatre reviews at www.playstosee.com
Published August 21st 2012
The Only Way is Essex: Epping and Ongar Railway
Epping Ongar Railway is proud to boast that it's not only the closest heritage railway to London, and the longest heritage line in Essex, but it's also the only heritage line on the former London Underground Network. The line itself dates back to 1865 and was originally owned by the London North Eastern Railway (LNER) and then British Rail, finally coming under the Central Line (the red one that runs west to east through London). In 1994 the London Underground ceased to run services beyond Epping, as there was insufficient passenger demand. Thanks to the four paid dedicated staff and a good many volunteers, the former shuttle between Epping and Ongar was reopened on 24 May this year.
British Railways Train Logo
The EOR staff and volunteers are more than happy to explain the history of the line and to pass on interesting facts and titbits. Service with a smile and a chat are what's available out in this corner of Essex, and I can promise you that the bus drivers are far superior to their counterparts who drive the TFL red buses: they know how to change gear and accelerate without throwing passengers to the floor.
Vintage Buses Outside North Weald Station
Your day or part day starts with your arrival at Epping Station. From here you will join a circa 1950s 339 Routemaster bus, either red or green. Some of these buses still have the old signs warning that there is a £5 fine for spitting: you have been warned. The conductors, especially Mike (who let me use the ticket machine to print my own ticket), are more than happy to chat to passengers as you travel along Epping High Street, through Epping Forest and to North Weald Station, where you have a choice of trains.
North Weald Station
You can take a steam train, hauled by the 1926 locomotive, Pitchford Hall, along the single track passing Blake Hall Station and ending your journey at Ongar. Blake Hall was closed in 1981 as it was only used by six passengers a day; the station building is now a private house. Ongar Station, an 1865 Grade II listed building, has been restored to its original state as befits the end of the line. It even boasts its own Ladies' Waiting Room, complete with a table and chairs.
After your return to North Weald you can then enjoy another short train ride, this time being pulled by a diesel engine from the 1970s. Your twenty minute trip will take you to Coopersale, which has no platform, so the train just returns to North Weald. Not only are you allowed to cross the railway tracks between platforms, but helpful volunteers will also open the gates for you. Such courtesy.
Once you have your tickets (which can also be booked online) you're free to use the trains and buses for the entire day, stopping off to visit other sites and places of interest along the route. There is a lot more information, including special events, available on the website.
Railway Ticket (picture courtesy of eorailway.co.uk)
Epping Ongar Railway also offers trains and buses for parties, filming and corporate events, and steam or diesel footplate experiences. Bear them in mind if you're stuck for dad's or grandpa's next birthday or Fathers' Day present.