Sunday 24 April 2016

True Heaven Is A Place In Essex

There you go, Belinda Carlisle, I can narrow it down for you. Heaven, indeed is in Essex. If the number of the beast is 666, then the number of its opposite is 339. Let me explain.

Yesterday Phileas Fogg and Passepartout, aka Steve and Tim ventured on an expedition to the rather confusingly name Epping & Ongar Railway. Now it is true the last time I travelled that line it was still part of the Central Line and indeed went from Epping to Ongar throught some really lovely countryside. Nowadays it should really be called the "100 yards from Epping & Ongar Railway" as trains no longer actually go to Epping station, but stop 100 yards from it, then go back without any opportunity to alight. So a top and tail train is needed. Yesterday providing the shuttle from North Weald in between the diesel loco hauled trains was former Southern Region thumper 205205, looking superb in NSE livery and sounding amazing. I travelled regularly on these little diesels and it's great to see one still in such great order.

Thumper 205205 arrives at North Weald
The main attractions on show were Class 31 31438 a visiting Class 20 D8059, A very impressive looking 37, D6729 and to sum up how monotonously slow the line is, a Class 08 shunter. I confess the 20 was the main reason for my attendance as those English Electric engines are just music to my ears. It didn't let me down although more opportunities for decent engine noise would have been appreciated.

The quirky yet magnificent Class 20
However the trains were overshadowed, eclipsed, hit for 6 by the other element of the day, which was completely unexpected. We knew that there was a heritage bus transfer from Shenfield Station to Ongar. What we were not aware of this is a registered bus service, numbered 339, which is available to anyone, not just users of the E&O Railway. The service runs everyday the railway does, so almost all weekends and all school holidays, including half terms. It offers local fares and accepts all bus passes including concessionary passes. A round trip from Shenfield to Epping will take over two hours so it's not just a short hop. And the fleet on this service? Well let's just say it's not E200's. At precisely 1050 at Shenfield Station this rolled up.

You're kidding right?
No y friends, your eyes do not deceive you. Let me introduce RT 3871, operating on a registered bus route in Essex. I think you can imagine the pleasing element of this. And so we boarded, not realising just how long the run to Ongar was. Now do you remember those old black and white movies featuring such vehicles that seemed to be speeded up, showing the buses racing around the streets? They weren't speeded up. That amazing old bus flew round the Essex countryside driven with incredible expertise by our driver. It was simply incredible, and guess what - no rattles! It really didn't matter what happened the rest of the day as  nothing could spoil that experience.

RT 3871 at Ongar Station
The London Bus Company, part of the heritage group running the E&O Railway operates a fleet of red and green RT's, and also a couple of RM's, including RM1993 which is the only one not pictured.

RM1966 and RT3238 on North Weald concourse
 We were going to catch the train back to Ongar to get the bus back to Shenfield, but realising we had covered all bases on the rails, a prolonged ride on an RM via Epping was too tempting to resist. The last RM I went on nearly made me cry - it had a Dart engine which in my view is deserving of a long stretch in prison. RM1066 though has an original RM engine and massaged my eardrums to a state of ecstasy. Like the RT it flew around the Essex streets, and even our lady clippie was straight out the golden age, taking no nonsense from a group of kids trying to cause trouble.

RM1966 at Shenfield Station
In all honesty the railway was disappointing. The rolling stock seemed in relatively poor condition and it is a much better place to photograph rather than travel. But the buses, well! The fact it's a registered service that takes all tickets and passes makes it a must do again. I'd recommend it to anyone and if you don't get on and off grinning from ear to ear then I'm not sure what will make you!

You can see details of the days and times of operation this year by clicking here and if you're wondering about DDA, well just like the trains because it's a registered heritage route DDA does not apply. Thanks, Tim for your company yesterday, and here's to the next outing! Not sure it will beat Heaven though!


  1. I agree yes the gala was ok for haulage numbers but the journey there and back and the craic we have (spot the Sharon's lol )plus the buses made my day even if we did find out I am a tad unfit lol. Will toughen up for the next one !

  2. Ah, you've discovered our secret jewel of Epping Forest? The E&OR buses are much better than the trains, but really for the latter it's their special events which are best (if you take to that sort of thing).

    The one I'd really like to try is Imberbus due in August, the other side of the country, though, when the MoD open up their lands on Salisbury Plain, and the the vintage buses converge on the 2WW abandoned village: Routemasters amongst the arsenal sounds great fun! The dog would love it too, especially sniffing out the abandoned munitions! Led I think by Peter Hendy who used to be something or another in London Transport and a Routemaster nut.