It's 'all aboard' for Christmas on Norfolk's heritage Poppy Line railway
PUBLISHED: 14:56 09 December 2018 | UPDATED: 08:48 10 December 2018
The romance of steam has mingled with the magic of Christmas on Norfolk's famous Poppy Line.
Hundreds of families with young children rolled through the countryside over the weekend as part of one of North Norfolk Railway’s Santa’s Special services.
The ‘Black Prince’ locomotive hissed and hooted its way into Weybourne station after a short hop from Sheringham, and visitors soon filled the platform to be greeted by brightly dressed ‘elves’.
The youngsters filed into Santa’s Grotto for a few kind words and an early present, before the ‘all aborad’ sounded for the return journey.
Among them were Matt Keen and his two-year-old daughter, Avice, clutching a toy giraffe she’d just received.
Mr Keen said: “It’s a great experience for the little one. We came last year but she hadn’t been on a train before. Her pop volunteers here and really enjoys it.”
And although the steam engines are the stars of the show, there’s something else driving the Poppy Line’s 350 volunteers, including Roger ‘Rabbit’ Taylor.
The 74-year-old from Fakenham said: “There’s so many dedicated people here that it’s just like one big family. We’re classed as ‘the friendly railway’ and we try to make everyone feel as welcome as we possibly can. They all go away with a smile on their face.”
Mr Taylor added: “I’m old enough to remember steam trains when they were actually on the main line but most people these days aren’t. It’s something unique. It’s alive.”
Andrew Munden, the railway’s general manager, said the heritage railway offered something different for everyone.
Mr Munden, who has worked there for two years after a career with Network Rail, said: “We’ve got some lovely trains, we’re fortunate to run through some fabulous scenery, but it’s the people that really make this place.”
He said the railway was a “microcosm” for volunteering.
“It doesn’t matter what you want to do, you can find it here. If you want to hit very large lumps of metal you can, if you want to do some gardening, serve in a buffet, dress up in uniform or drive a train, you can.”
-Santa’s Special services are taking place on weekends throughout December, visit www.nnrailway.co.uk for more.
The volunteers: What drives them on
The steam trains themselves are what draw many volunteers to work on the railway, but Mr Munden said human contact that was the attraction for most.
He said getting involved in the group was an important way, especially for older volunteers, of avoiding loneliness.
Pensioners David and Margaret Prytheroh, who have been named among North Norfolk Railway’s volunteers of the year, couldn’t agree more.
Mr Prytheroh, 72, from Trunch, said: “We love the interaction.
“We meet some very interesting people and we volunteer all over the railway.
“We do the music on show days, we work in the buffets, in the shop at Sheringham, wherever we’re needed.”
Also giving up her time for the Santa’s Special weekends is Anna Howard, 30, from North Walsham.
Ms Howard, whose ‘day job’ is a train driver for Greater Anglia, said: “This is my favourite event here. I love the volunteers that I work with.”
In for repairs: A centre of excellence
North Norfolk Railway operates 10 steam locomotives and several diesel engines.
Each year about 160,000 visitors get a taste of travel as it used to be on regular services between Sheringham and Holt stations, as well as at special events including murder mysteries, a 1940s weekend and the Santa’s Specials.
But it’s what happens behind the walls of the big railway sheds that helps keeps railway’s finances humming along.
Mr Munden said many of the railway’s 50 full-time staff worked on repairing steam engines brought in from as far afield as Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg.
The huge steam boxes, each weighing tonnes and studded with rivets, are moved through the hall using specially-constructed cranes and gantries.
Mr Munden said: “We’re overhauling boilers all year. This work brings cash in the door on a regular steady 12-month basis.”