There used to be another railway line down to the Sussex Coast, the Wealden line, severed by one of the final post-Beeching closures in 1969. A ten mile gap now exists between Lewes and the terminus at Uckfield, which many would like to see reinstated to promote local travel and provide greater network resilience. Repeated studies have shown no business case, leaving locals dependent on a half-hourly bus, but one mile remains open as part of a volunteer-run steam railway - the Lavender Line.
Many heritage railways open up on New Year's Day to cater for the non-hungover and those with small children, and the Lavender line is no exception. Both descended on the small village of Isfield yesterday to enjoy all the facilities at the station and a regular service up the line. At one mile long it's not the most thrilling of jaunts, consisting of a cutting leading to marshy paddocks and a waterlogged field, terminating at an inaccessible picnic shelter on the invisible banks of the river Uck. But most visitors to steam railways aren't there for the view, they've come for the rolling stock. The railway's sole operational steam engine is a former colliery loco called Empress, yesterday pulling a motley collection of carriages including a boiler-heated brake van and a diesel-mechanical multiple unit still boasting 1989-era west London suburban chic. Up and back every half hour, with seats in all parts, and an additional ride on the footplate is yours for a fiver.
Other attractions include the signal box, available for the tugging of levers to your heart's content, one of which lowers the signal by the level crossing. There's also a gift shop stashed with souvenirs, and the period station itself of course. Alas the miniature ride-on railway up the side of platform 2 wasn't open, neither was the model railway, nor the museum carriage wherever that actually was. Also the hoped-for New Year cavalcade of vintage vehicles proved somewhat small, and by lunchtime the three sets of owners had shuffled off home. However the cafe was absolutely packed out, indeed overwhelmed, with signature cooked breakfasts sold out by one o'clock and several tables of increasingly-hungry punters sat waiting for their plates of eggs, bacon and beans. Normal service is likely more swift, that's every Sunday throughout the year, should you ever want to come ride or play with trains. [5 photos]