It was my birthday recently, and as we've discussed before I'd rather do something as a present than have a thing, or stuff. With this in mind (and the email with a link I sent her) mother kindly marked the occasion with two tickets for the Swanage Breezer, a railtour put on by UK Railtours. Mrs BB had cleverly lined up an excuse, so the honour fell to everyone's favourite beer swilling commuted, Rich or the 'BGC' to certain online communities.
The tickets took us from Basingstoke to Swanage using the newly installed mainline link to the Swanage Railway. Traction came courtesy of a couple of South West Trains Class 159s bolted together to give a nice six car set.
The day began with a lift to Basingstoke, care of our old friend Brother of Beer Branches (BoBB). There's a nice old stable building in the car park of Basingstoke station, now in use as a car wash. A swift visit to Greggs (BGC has an account) provided us with bacon butties and coffee and we bid farewell to BoBB who had work.
The train started at London Waterloo, so we had a little wait on our hands. As the train runs as an 'unadvertised express' it doesn't appear on any information boards at the station. A cheerful ticket barrier man was on hand to show us the way.
When the train arrived we found our seats and were impressed to find a handy little program, full of times, route information and history. A nice little touch. We were also very excited to hear there was going to be a raffle.
After Basingstoke, our first stop was Salisbury to take on more passengers and for the driver to swap ends for the next leg. It was here that BGC recalled seeing an exciting new badge on Untappd. The badge in question was called 'Beerspotting' and featured a natty cartoon of a steam train with a bottle for a boiler. The conditions for getting the badge were drinking a beer in five different stations. At this time I should point out I had a backpack full of bottles, not to mention civilised plastic cups to slightly lessen the yobbish look. It's also probably worth mentioning it was about 9:30.
Unperturbed, we dished out the beer and booked the check in. BGC had cheated and already had a beer in a station at an earlier date, so only needed three more for the badge. The beer in question was Funnel Blower from Box Steam Brewery. Box do a great range of railway themed beers, mostly featuring Great Western themes. Funnel Blower is a fantastic vanilla porter, ideal as an eye opener on any rail themed outing. It's also very good at more socially acceptable times and venues.
The next stop was Southampton Central, planned arrival of 10:07. This was for another swap of ends, so included a five minute stop. This, perhaps unwisely, was considered the perfect opportunity to get another beer down our necks taking us one closer to that lovely badge. Wincing as people looked around for the source of clinking glass, a bottle of West Berkshire's very own Two Cocks Brewery 1643 Puritan Stout came out of the bag. Two Cocks have been producing beer near Newbury since 2011 and have one a string of well deserved rewards. A number of the beers feature a Civil War theme (Roundhead and Cavalier being the others) in recognition of the brewery being the site of the Roundhead camp prior to the first Batlle of Newbury in 1643. It's a nice beer, slightly bitter with a nice chocolate flavour. There's even a bit of liquorice in there.
We pulled out of Southampton Central at 10:12 bound for Bournemouth. This is a nice part of the journey, taking in the New Forest which looks grand, even in the rain. We thought better of a beer at Bournemouth and resolved to get one in there on the way back. By Poole the rain had cleared up and the sun shone brightly over Upton Lake and Poole Harbour.
Next stop was Wareham, where we took on a guard from the Swanage Railway and arrangements were made for us accessing the line. The preserved line is accessed via Worgret Junction along the short section of line still under Network Rail control that leads to the now disused Furzebrook BP terminal. This facility dealt with gas from the nearby Wytch Farm oil field. Trains took the gas to Avonmouth for onward distribution. The terminal was converted to butane and propane in 1990, which included the construction a 56 mile pipeline to carry the oil to Hamble. At the peak of production an average eleven trains a week used Furzebrook. The final trains ran in 2005.
This is the limit of Network Rail and we're now on the restored track of the Swanage Railway.
The first stop is Norden, where we have a stop to wait for a steam service to come out of the single line section and into the loop. Norden is the Northern limit of passenger services on the line (for now) and is nicely presented, featuring a station buffet and the Purbeck Mineral and Mining museum. With the line clear we set sail for Corfe Castle, which is a station, a village and a scaffold clad castle. Even with the scaffolding, the place looked stunning in the sun and will definitely warrant a return visit.
We now had a clear run down into Swanage, where there was a gala atmosphere. Disappointingly, there was no town band to mark our arrival but there was plenty happening. A steam engine was forming up a freight train for a driver experience day, there were stalls on the station and South West Trains were presenting a giant cheque for £10,000 to the RNLI.
This was all taking place in glorious sunshine.
After a mooch about the station, we headed out into the real world and down to the sea front.
Tune in next time to see what adventures we found in Swanage!
Find out more:
Box Steam Brewery
Two Cocks Brewery