4’ 8½”, 15”, 7¼”

As some readers will be aware I have always had an interest in trains.  Perhaps it comes from having been born in the United Kingdom, the birthplace of railways, who knows. In Australia, I am a card carrying member of the Brisbane Bayside Steam Railway (BBSR) – a 5” and 7¼” gauge railway so on the lookout to see what other railways are doing especially in the area of ballasting which I am involved in. I am hoping that the membership card will carry some weight when talking to or trying to gain access to non-public areas.

In the UK, there is a thriving heritage railway network. Across the country, around 100 groups have saved or restored railway lines closed as a result of the Beeching cuts in the mid 1960’s.  Over the years we have visited a few when in the UK including the Swanage Railway, the Strathspey Railway and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

While in the UK this time, I was lucky enough to be able to visit three steam railways, each on a different gauge, hence the title, and I decided to group the visits together in a single post for those interested in railways to read.

The Bluebell Railway in Sussex is one of the best known heritage railways in the UK.  Thus while returning to Kent after riding Streak & Storm, I was able to plot a route close to Sheffield Park Station, the southern terminus of the railway.  I had never visited the Bluebell Railway before and just wanted to see what was there.  Fortuitously, the last train of the day was about to leave and just as had happened in October 2019 on the Strathspey Railway, they held the train while we purchased tickets. With the fire risk from summer heatwave, our train was pulled by a diesel locomotive, not steam. En-route to Horsted Keynes we passed a burnt out field believed to be caused by burning coals from a steam locomotive earlier in the week.  As someone who volunteers on Brisbane Bayside Steam Railway (BBSR), we are familiar with the fire risk from coal and take appropriate precautions.


Sheffield Park Station looking north from the footbridge.
First Class all the way with Anne
Our 0-6-0 Diesel loco D4106
Beautiful Sussex fields from the train.
Line side fires on Bluebell Railway.

At Horsted Keynes we are able to see British Railways Class 5 loco in action pulling a wedding train! You get changing scenery while you celebrate the wedding reception.  A great way to get additional income for the railway. They also let me onto the locomotive cab. A great experience.


BR Standard 2-6-0 loco 73082 “Camelot”
Driver and Fireman of 73082 “Camelot”
Lucky to get time in the cab of 73082 “Camelot”.

My second outing, courtesy of my brother in law Jeremy, was to the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway (RH&DR).  Located on the south Kent coast, this 15” railway which opened in 1927 was the the brainchild of Captain J. E. P. Howey and Count Louis Zborowski who wanted to run 1/3 size steam locomotives at mainline scale speeds. Sadly, the Count was killed in a motor racing accident before the railway opened but Captain Howey pushed ahead with the project.  The locomotives were designed by Henry Greenly and built by Davy Paxman and Co. in Colchester.

The railway was designed to run at 25 mph and between Hythe and New Romney dual track helped facilitates this. During WW2 they even had an armoured train running on the line. At one time the RH&DR used to take children to school.

Jeremy had carefully planned the day to allow us time to a visit a number of locations.  Our journey starts at Hythe Station with anticipation to see which of the dozen locomotives will be pulling our first train.  It turns out to be No. 2 “Northern Chief”.

RHDR No. 2 “Northern Chief” on the turntable at Hythe.

The day has been overcast with some rain but we bravely or foolishly take the open carriage.  This way we get more of the steam train experience.  The weather Gods are kind to us and our journey to New Romney sees no rain.  At New Romney we are lucky enough to meet the Engineering Manager who gives us a tour of the engine shed. There is also a large HO gauge railway layout to see here as well.


Our guide around the RHDR Engine Shed at New Romney.
RH&DR New Romney engine shed with No. 9 ”Winston Churchill”.
RH&DR No. 1 “Green Goddess” waits for No. 2 “Northern Chief” at New Romney.

Onward to Dungeness, which is the end of the line, this time with a different locomotive: No 1. “Green Goddess”. As the rain beat against the roof and windows of our enclosed carriage, we knew we had made the right choice.  At Dungeness, the old lighthouse contracts with the now closed Nuclear Power Stations.  “A” which consisted on two 250 MWe, opened in 1965 and reached their end of life in 2006. “B”  which consisted of two 520 MWe, opened in the mid 1980’s and both units shut down in 2018.  Interesting how the RH&DR railway has been in existence from long before the nuclear power stations and likely to continue long afterwards their closure.

Dungeness old lighthouse and decommissioned A & B nuclear power stations.
RHDR No. 1 “Green Goddess”.

Close to my sister’s home in Dorset is the Moors Valley Railway. Here the gauge is the same as the larger gauge on the BBSR namely 7 ¼”. I was able to spend some time with the works team looking at their maintenance equipment. Very jealous of their equipment and setup but too large to sneak into the overhead locker on the plane.  Oh well back to buckets and shovels for me BBSR at home.


Moors Valley Railway Engine Shed.
Moors Valley Railway Turntable
This is what we need for the BBSR Ballast Dept.

A common theme across heritage railways from what I have learned is problems accessing quality Welsh coal. Over the decades, steam engines have been using Welsh coal for its good burning qualities and engines have been tuned accordingly.  Alternate coal and coal substitutes each have their own issues and are not the best answer. It seems a pity in our rush to go green that the heritage railways could suffer for what must be a very small amount of coal that they use.

Well that’s the train bug out of the way so back to normal blogging next.

– Anthony

The road ahead in 2022

April fools day (1st April) was the perfect riding day in SE Queensland, warm, 28 degrees celsius, but with the air feeling cool on our faces as we rode south west towards Boonah for brunch.  Once out of the city, the country roads were clear, the landscape so green from the recent floods and the mountains of the Great Dividing range were beckoning in the distance.  What could be better?  We rounded off the afternoon with a movie at the French film festival, subtitles for me, and as we rode back from the city we realised that this was the first time we had ridden together in Brisbane’s CBD (Central Business District)!  Having ridden together on Streak and Storm in city centres as far apart as London, Santiago, Tehran, New York and Bangkok it was a little strange that we had not done so at home, but then we have no reason to ride into our local CBD, we prefer the open road.

Has it really been six months since our fingers skipped across the keyboard of the blog? Sadly yes. I am not sure where the time has gone but it has. We have been riding locally, going to the beach, windsurfing again for the first time in 10 years and I have joined the Brisbane Bayside Steam Railway (BBSR) which offers rides twice a month for big and little kids. I have a lot to learn but everyone is happy to share their knowledge with me.

Windsurfing again in Manly Qld
Driving the works loco hauling ballast on the BB.
Approach road to Binna Burra Lodge in Lamington National Park

Over Christmas I reflected that two years ago we were in Hua Hin in Thailand planing to head to Bangkok to meet up with friends Dave and Sky and celebrate the New Year together.  Little did we, or most people, know that in a couple of months a pandemic named COVID-19 would be upon us and that we would spend the best part of two years with significant travel restrictions and, for many, endless lockdowns, that fortunately we avoided in Queensland. I felt optimistic about 2022 that the world would start to open up for all of us to travel.

Restrictions in Queensland have fallen away as we moved towards living with the COVID-19 in Australia having abandoned our ‘Fortress’ approach of last two years. Single digit COVID numbers that used to take centre stage on the news every day now seem to be just a footnote even though they number in the thousands daily.  The vaccinations seem to have done the trick in reducing hospitalisations and deaths. I am about to get my fourth jab in 10 days or so.  I just have to decide which flavour.

We had planned to return to Europe at the end of March but this was scuppered with Hong Kong banning flights from Australia in January due to increased COVID-19 numbers here so Cathay Pacific cancelled our Brisbane to Hong Kong flight.  Looking at the options we decided that we would spend the rest of the summer and autumn here.   We have rebooked via Singapore in mid July which will allow us to arrive in the summer rather than the end of the northern hemisphere winter.

In December 2021, a final visit to the ophthalmic surgeon allowed me to close off my detached retina saga, leaving me free to start a new medical journey on the 31st of January: Coeliac Disease.  Blood tests had both markers tested strongly indicated the diagnosis.  I understood that a result below 7 was no Coeliac Disease , mine was over 300!  A followup endoscopy and biopsy confirmed the diagnosis. It did explain my lack of energy, due to an iron deficiency, and constant hunger yet weight loss which, along other symptoms of Coeliac Disease, had been affecting me increasingly over the last 12 -18 months. 

Some people will do anything for a sleep. Another operating theatre photo
Iron Infusion while you wait.

I tried to find a little wriggle room with our doctor, but sadly there is none. “Gluten Free” is the new black for me.  Gone are croissants and baguettes in Paris cafes, Cadbury chocolate fingers with tea and occasional visits to McDonald’s. Don’t tell my cardiac specialist about the last one. Anne is trying to convince me that Single “Malt” Scotch contains gluten, but I think there is an ulterior motive as she eyes our/her Isla Scotch Collection.

Alas none for Anthony anymore and these are the best in Brisbane

It was an interesting 24 hours following diagnosis.  After dropping Anne at the Endodontist,  lucky her, I entered the Indooroopilly shopping centre and I see this:

First shop after Celiac Disease diagnosis.

I just burst out laughing.  Of all the things I could have seen this was the best and yes every food item they sell is gluten free.  While Anne suffered in the chair, I perused the health food section at Woolworths and selected a range of gluten free products to try, including chocolate.  Anne’s sister very kindly arranged a couple of wonderful gluten free care packages which I have been working my way through. Life goes on, now with renewed energy.

Over a year ago, I proposed to write a retrospective of our first RTW journey from way back in 1982. All the ingredients are there, the cook just needs to step up to the stove and start cooking. This project has languished in part due to my inability to decide how to approach telling from either a historical only or retrospective viewpoint. I now plan to push ahead with a hybrid model so who knows what we will end up with.

Finally the road ahead beckons us and either here or overseas we will tour on motorbikes again this year.  Streak and Storm are being serviced and have to pass a UK roadworthy (MOT) and will be waiting for us in July.

Only a small ding, no reason to fail an MOT in my view.

The desire to travel and see family and friends is too strong and regardless of COVID we will be out there in 2022. Stay safe and travel well. 

– Anthony