Sheringham to Weybourne
Trains leaving Sheringham station pass under bridge 305, this carries Church Street into the town. Immediately after the bridge on the south of the line is a replica M&GN style water tower, and on the north side, the operating signal box, moved here from Wensum Junction, Norwich.
The railway from here to Weybourne is a single line, so the engine crew have to receive a tablet from the signalman which gives him permission to continue to Weybourne. Opposite are the carriage sidings where stock not in use is stored.
The line then crosses Sweetbriar Lane automatic level crossing. This is a private road that leads to Sheringham Golf Club. On the seaward side, the golf practice area, followed by the clubhouse and the hilly course of 18 holes are seen. This golf course which was founded in 1891 by Tom Dunn, is said to be rated 80th in the world, with the factoring in of the North Sea winds a particular hazard.
In the distance to the south, you can make out the attractive flint village and interesting church of Upper Sheringham, nestling against a backdrop of the Cromer Ridge. The Cromer Ridge was formed in the last ice age which ended 10,000 years ago. The glaciers and ice sheets transported huge amounts of debris, ranging from huge boulders to fine rock particles. The glaciers eventually dumped their rock debris known as till or boulder clay, as the ice melted, which formed mounds and ridges, called moraines, these created the familiar un-Norfolk like landscape that the railway runs through today.
Nearer to the railway, here on the south side keep a look out for the giant red lobster that advertises locally available seafood. Look also at the trees along this coastal strip and see how they have grown away from the coast, due to the onshore winds.
Meanwhile to the north, over the golf course, superb open views of the North Sea appear once the train has passed Skelding Hill with its small white former Coastguard hut on the top. Shortly after Skelding Hill in a natural break in the cliffs the Old Hythe (Sheringham) Lifeboat House was situated from 1902 until 1936 when a new boathouse and slipway were built at the end of the promenade for the town’s first motor lifeboat.
The trains now climb a 1 in 97 gradient through farm land with the golf course g along the north side. The track levels out for a very short while before it descends at 1 in 100 passing under bridge 304 and through cutting through Dead Man’s Hill. Local legend is that it is called this because the Weybourne victims of the Great Plague from Weybourne were buried here, far from their homes and families in the village.
Soon Dead Man’s cutting gives way to a tall embankment that carries the track to bridge 303 over the A149, the coast road that parallels the railway from Sheringham to here. This bridge was totally reconstructed in 1984. Sadly, the volunteer project leader, experienced bridge-engineer David Pinkerton, lost his life through an accidental fall when the bridge was almost completed. A plaque to his memory is built into its abutment.
On the landward side are mixed woodlands, these belong to the Sheringham Hall estate. Sheringham Hall is a Regency building (built 1813-1818 for Abbott Upcher) that is now part of the National Trust and is the work of Humphrey Repton (1752-1818). Repton was the last great English landscape designer of the 18th century. He wrote ‘I can with truth pronounce, that Sheringham possesses more natural beauty and local advantages, than any place I have ever seen’. Sheringham Hall was deliberately built to face south away from the bitter North Sea winds, so we cannot see it from the train. We can however, if we look back at the park, see a small stone temple on a hill. Repton had proposed a temple feature (though not in this position), but it wasn’t built until 1975, when Thomas Upcher had it built. The park is open to the public all year round and in late May and early June there are magnificent displays of rhododendrons. Panoramic views of the area, including the railway, are to be seen from the gazebo in the park.
A footpath leads to the park from Weybourne station (approx. a mile), a map shows the route on Weybourne station and leaflets are available.
Beyond bridge 303 the engines have to work hard up a gradient of 1 in 80 all the way to Weybourne station. On the seaward side a group of coastguards’ cottages close to the cliff edge can be seen and then the picturesque windmill. This mill, built in 1850, now restored but non-operational, has a chequered history, it is said to have been linked with smuggling through the years, and German collaboration in WW2. Weybourne village with its church and priory ruins are soon visible. On the opposite side, you may glimpse on the hill in the woods the one time holiday home of a former British Prime Minister.
Weybourne to Holt
Leaving Weybourne the train immediately passes under bridge 302, this carries a minor road from Weybourne up over the Cromer Ridge to Bodham. On the south side of the bridge is a replica World War 2 allotment complete with Anderson Shelter.
Immediately after this is the site of the Weybourne Springs Hotel, whilst this was the reason for Weybourne station being built, there remains nothing to see today from the train because it was demolished at the start of the Second World War as it was thought to be used as a landmark by enemy bombers coming in over the coast.
After this, the train, now back on the single line, crosses Spring Beck on bridge 301. Spring Beck is so named because the stream originates from several natural springs about twenty metres south of the bridge. Here the train begins a long climb with a tough 1 in 80 gradient (66ft per mile – 12.5m per km), as it climbs, sweeping views of Weybourne village open up along the valley to the sea. Telegraph and Muckleburgh Hills can be seen to the west of Weybourne, with the steep escarpment of Kelling Heath dominating the view.
A pleasant footpath runs from just up the hill from Weybourne Station through Hundred Acre Wood on to the top of Kelling Heath where there is the award winning Kelling Heath holiday park, with a convenient shop for thirst quenching! This is one of Britain’s top holiday parks winning, amongst others, the David Bellamy Gold Conservation Award in both 2008, and 2009. There are many walks and trails from the holiday park, maps are available from their reception. Hundred Acre Wood (no, not the one in Winnie the Pooh!) is interesting, having evidence of medieval iron workings and an ancient tumulus.
Here on the edge of the woods there is a small halt called Kelling Heath Park Halt. This serves the holiday park. Railbuses or DMUs stop here on request. The steam or diesel hauled trains, however, are only able to stop on the way back to Weybourne from Holt because of the gradient, passengers should let the guard know if they wish to alight here. To board the train put your hand out to ask the driver to stop.
Beyond the halt the line continues to climb the lengthy gradient of l in 80 through a 40 foot deep cutting that cuts right through the Cromer Ridge, in many places exposing the sand and gravel that was deposited here during the last ice age. After climbing for a mile the trains emerge from the cutting out on to open heathland.
A privately owned crossing-keeper’s cottage (Kelling Heath Crossing, Gatehouse no. 53) stands by a level crossing here, which only serves a footpath and bridleway, it is interesting that this crossing was built, not for an existing road, but because the Board of Trade (who approved the railway) felt it was necessary, as the railway split the heath in two, and needed a place for the public to cross safely. A wind pump was used to supply water for the cottage in the past, and the crossing is now known as Windmill or Wind-pump crossing. From here the train is crossing Kelling Heath, with heather and gorse making a colourful landscape as they come into flower.
On the north side of the line here is a smallholding followed by the Holt Garden Centre, then a large white house formally known as the Aviaries, where exotic birds were on show to the public. This has since been a hotel, a nursing home, and is now a care home.
Beyond this the line curves round to the south towards Holt. Pine woodlands planted by the Forestry Commission in the 1950s is passed, and to the seaward side of the line evidence can be seen of the gravel pits and sidings (opened in 1901) from which sand and gravel was extracted for use on the M&GN. When the ice melted back from the Cromer Ridge, outwash gravels were deposited between the ridge and ice front to the north. This makes the area very rich in sand and gravel.
The original intention of the Lynn and Fakenham Railway (later the Eastern and Midlands) in 1880 was to go from Melton Constable to Blakeney via Holt with a branch to Sheringham. Had this happened, there would have been a junction here, near the old gravel pits, to Blakeney. The Blakeney scheme was dropped in favour of an extension of the Sheringham line to Cromer due to both the sudden popularity of ‘Poppy Land’ and poor traffic predictions between Blakeney and Holt. There were several later attempts to build a line from Kelling Heath to the harbour at Blakeney via Salthouse and Cley, all of which failed.
The line now passes under bridge no. 299. This carries Bridge Road from High Kelling to Salthouse and Cley. On the east side immediately after the bridge are the railway’s carriage storage sheds which were built with generous funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. These keep much of the railway’s historic rolling stock undercover and out of the elements.
As the train approaches Holt, sidings appear on the west side, where wagons are stored. The train then passes Holt signal box, where the tablet is given up to the signalman, and comes to a halt in the station.
The line then runs through a short cutting and Weybourne Station is soon reached, with the loco yard on the right, with the sheds and workshops behind. As the trains reach the station the loco crews have to hand the tablet for the section from Sheringham to Weybourne to the Weybourne signalman, who waits on the platform by the signal box. Before leaving, they will have to take a new tablet from the signalman to continue to Holt
Sometimes trains from Sheringham will pass another arriving from Holt here, depending on the timetable in operation.