Monday, 17 March 2014

Mid Hants Railway Real Ale Train, Hampshire

I find Christmas difficult. Frankly I've got too much 'stuff' and I don't need much more. Suggest this to loved ones though and it's all "I can't get you nothing" and "you must want something". So this year I took a different tack, hinting towards experiences rather than things. In a way it was cruel, as thinking of something I might enjoy is much harder than buying something off a list I'd written, thems were the brakes though and it paid off.
Amongst other things, Mrs BB got me two tickets to the rather good Mid Hants Railway, affectionately (and commercially) known as the Watercress Line. The MHR is a ten mile preserved Southern Railway line running between Alresford and Alton, where it terminates with South West Trains services to London Waterloo. The 'Watercress' part comes from the lines glory days transporting, among other things, fresh watercress to the capital and beyond. It's a scenic trip through rural Hampshire, and has even attracted Michael Portillo and his Great British Railway Journeys.

However, a Saturday night in February is not an ideal time for enjoy idyllic countryside views, so we'll just have to get our kicks elsewhere. Surprisingly, Mrs BB didn't fancy the double header of steam engines and real ale, so Brother of a Beer Branches (BoBB) happily stepped in.
Each Real Ale Train, or RAT focuses on different local breweries. There are plenty to choose from along the length of the line, Triple fff being a prime example. Our night was all about Longdog and Itchen Valley, two breweries operating within 15 miles of outr start point of Alton. The latter brewing at Alresford, the other terminus of the Watercress Line.

There was a busy buzz about Alton station, beyond that of the usual Saturday night crowd. The Watercress Line joins the national network here. There is the operational ability for through trains, but our train was sat in the far platform and the smell of steam and hot oil was in the air. The locomotive in question was Lord Nelson, a handsome Maunsell green Southern Region 4-6-0 engine, preserved in the National Collection.

There was a good mix of people aboard the train, ranging from couples, lads outings to steam and/or beer buffs and families. We gave the train a good scout from the platform, looking for somewhere with good bar access as well as a bit of space. We ended up with both these things plus a short hop to the griddle car where hot and cold food, as well as soft drinks and lager were available. The train makes two trips between Alton and Alresford, with stops in between.

The bar carriage was a practically converted carriage, featuring a bar with built in racking to allow for easy gravity pouring. Given pints were £2 a go, it was never going to be quiet but the folk manning the casks were efficient and friendly.

Three beers from each brewery were on, plus a cider. The beers gave a good choice of strengths and BoBB was particularly fond of Lamplight Porter as were many others. By the last return leg there was next to nothing left, which tells you all you need to know really.
Curry, chille and stroganoff were available in the Gridddle car at a reasonable £5, which filled a hole that got bigger as the evening went on.

The engine running around its train at Alresford and Alton allowed for some attempted nighttime photography, as well as the opportunity to use a toilet that wasn't rocking around.

With tickets at £15 each, including a free pint voucher this train is great value. Even when you factor in paying for beer, it's still very reasonable. The winters night we travelled on made enjoying the views a bit difficult, but during the summer months you'd get the full vista as you travel as well as the photo opportunities if you're into that sort of thing.

Really, the perfect night for any beer and steam fan!

Thanks to BoBB for some of the photo's.

Find out more: