A day trip on the Epping Ongar Railway

Steam railway engine on the Epping Ongar Railway

It’s always the enthusiasts who have the most badges and the Epping Ongar Railway steam extravaganza proved no different. Those wearing the badges (the badgers?) steered a 21-strong smattering of Geezers plus friends slowly, with some vague sense of efficiency blended with an appropriate sense of timelessness.

The Station Master with his badges at Epping Ongar Railway

It was quite pleasant waiting for transport that strayed so far from whatever timetable it pretended to follow. Gone are the days that British Rail promised to get anyone anywhere on time.

An old style ticket machine at Epping Ongar Railway

There were, after all, more important things, like trying to change old fashioned cardboard tickets in a machine. They offered the distinct joy of making a noise when clipped. Then there was the gift shop, where fridge magnets reproduced when your back was turned, and a charming little tea and cake concession that was easily the preferred destination of the peckish.

And there was a good reason to be hungry! We had jumped from the tube onto an old Greenline bus that purred into life and then proceeded to storm the roads of the countryside like a bat out of hell. It was fast, it was really fast, really really fast. Why so fast? Well we were all upstairs, which dramatises just about everything. Chief Geezer Ed thought it was all to do with the tender age of the driver – we reckon he might have been 12 years old.

The 339 bus runs from operates right from the Central Line at Epping to North Weald
The 339 bus runs from operates right from the Central Line at Epping to North Weald

After all that excitement – the windows opened and everything – the conductor allowed us to get off. He was as bad as us, he works in an office near Fenchurch Street during the week, but gets to pop on his clippy garb of a weekend: “You’ve got let off some steam at the weekend,” he said, not quite sure how funny he had just been.

King Geezer Ed thought it would be a good idea to show us the highs and lows of Ongar, so led us through a high street spoiled by fast cars on their way to anywhere other than this jewel of Essex. How mad is that? If they just drove a little slower they could read the sign revealing that David Livingstone (presumably him) lived among the clashing architecture of old, mock old, more mock old and 1960s semi-detached. 

All that confusion was easily shunted to one side once we entered the old railway carriages, with their tired springs, dated cloth coverings and disco lights. Yep, the ceiling was decked with crazy lighting, it was Saturday Night Fever under that roof top. 

Driving wheels of an old steam railway  at Epping Ongar Railway

It only took a quick whistle and off we went, chuffing away under a grim grey sky and through a fabulously plush and green countryside, past the ghost train, past the frolicking deer and, before you knew it, to the first of our destinations. The King’s Head is the oldest brick-fronted building on Chipping Ongar High Street. It sponsors Ongar Rugby Club, if you’re still reading.

Lasting memories include the Foot Warmer building at the train station, not available to second or third class passengers (whatever happened to third class travel?). Then there’s the stupendous amount of smoke that billows from a train funnel, the availability of mugs emblazoned with Stupid Boy, and the absolute pleasure of travelling by steam train.

The Geezers recommend the Epping Ongar Railway.

Richard Jory

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