La BAIE de SOMME NARROW GAUGE RAILWAY

View from the carriage

View from the carriage

Le Chemin de Fer de la BAIE de SOMME. This Heritage Railway along the estuary of the river Somme is in Northern France. The 4’8½” and metre gauge dual gauge line was finally abandoned by SNCF in the 1980s, but the narrow gauge section was closed by the early 1970s. The first 3 miles of the railway, which eventually ran for over 10 miles, was opened as a horse-drawn line in 1858. In 1969, with closure immanent, the PRESERVATION SOCIETY was formed.

The principal traffic had been agricultural goods but also included stone (beach pebbles) and shellfish. A passenger service provided access to seaside resorts for tourists. The First World War was a period of heavy use with the Somme valley seeing some of the heaviest fighting of the war. Although part of the line is dual gauge, the preserved railway is run as a metre gauge line exclusively.

A day trip to the railway was organised by the M&GN Railway Society for September 24 1977. The special train began from North Walsham on the Cromer line but my friend Bill Wragge and I joined it in Norwich.  It was an early start – I got dressed at 3.30 in the morning! The train left Norwich at 4.30 and we went to London via Ely. Luckily I was able to snooze on the way. As we crossed the river Thames at Fulham we was saw two herons despite it being central London; it must have been because of the early morning mist that they felt more secure. Then on past the oast houses and hop fields of Kent.

The metre gauge railway

The metre gauge railway

We sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne at 10.30 a.m.. Although Dover to Calais remains as a sea route to France this cross channel service was ended by the opening of the Channel Tunnel, and both the English town and the French one are no longer ports for ferry vessels. In 1977 however such developments were far in the future and the harbour branch at Folkstone was well used. We got on the ferry Vortigern (this vessel was launched in 1969 and was sold by Sealink to Greece in 1988, finally being scrapped in 2005). We had our breakfast of shrimp sandwiches and a lager on board. The ferry had to alter course as we nearly collided with a bulk carrier. At Boulogne we were loaded onto four coaches for the next leg of the journey, about an hour’s drive, to the steam hauled metre gauge line from Le Crotoy to Noyelles-sur-Mer and back. We went through a nice little town called Rue, but this area of France is very flat and there was nothing to see but fields.

Bill on the boat

Bill on the boat

On the return journey we were surprised to find ourselves aboard the Caesarea. This vessel, together with her sister ship Sarnia, had run the mail boat service from Weymouth to the Channel Islands during the 1960s and they were much used by me on visits to my sister Tig who was a teacher on Guernsey from 1963. The mail boat had been taken off the Channel Island run when that was converted  to a roll-on roll-off service in 1973. Before that any cars going to the Chanel Isles were craned up in nets and deposited in the hold. (Sarnia and Caesarea were the Roman names for Guernsey and Jersey.)

Back in England the journey home was rather a nightmare. The train was delayed going through London and at Ely we had to get off altogether and board buses to Shipppea Hill. Then we got on a DMU but Bill had the bright idea of travelling in the First Class section, where I was able to sleep till we reached Norwich. We finally got home 24 hours after we had left. I had arranged to leave my dogs in kennels on Friday and rushed off to get them back at 9.30 on Sunday morning.

JOSEPH MASON

joemasonspage@gmail.com

 FOR THE HISTORY OF RAILWAYS

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