Step back in time on The Poppy Line
The North Norfolk Railway, affectionately known as The Poppy Line, is a heritage steam railway that runs for over 5 miles between Sheringham and Holt via Weybourne. It offers a spectacular scenic ride along the coast and through the countryside, stopping at delightful Victorian stations where another world awaits. Nostalgia at its finest!
I first saw the Poppy Line train from afar while standing high up on the Gazebo in Sheringham Park. As it chugged through the Norfolk countryside puffing steam into the sky, I was determined there and then to take that same journey. I wanted to sit and stare at the sea from a comfy seat, watch Weybourne Windmill whizz by, and gently rock through rolling countryside, head lolling, resisting the urge to close my eyes and slip into sleep. Trains have that effect on me.
On a sunny day in July, I was ready. I’d booked tickets online (2 x Day Rover Tickets at £13.50 each) and the steam train was scheduled to depart Sheringham Station at 9:55am, the first train of the day. I was feeling rather giddy.
Sheringham is 17 miles from Wells, just half an hour or so on the A149 coast road. There’s a large pay and display car park right next to the North Norfolk Railway making life nice and easy. We arrived with plenty of time to explore the station.
Our first glimpse of the train was not the steam engine itself, but the vintage carriages on Platform 2. Although eager to board, we first crossed the metal bridge over to Platform 1 where, to our surprise, we seemed to step back in time.
It looked like the set of a 1940s film. The ornate ironwork of the platform canopy, the retro signs advertising cigarettes, the old fashioned fire buckets hanging on the walls. Old trunks and suitcases were stacked high on luggage trollies next to large metal milk churns.
The information board had wooden signs hanging by hooks – no newfangled technology here – and shiny cast iron clocks added to the charm. Baskets and barrels full of flowers and glossy green benches lined the platform. Even the guards looked dandy in their smart outfits, with hats, waistcoats and whistles at the ready. It was all utterly delightful!
We popped into the waiting room, peeked into the ticket office, skipped the souvenir shop, and found ourselves in the refreshment room.
Picnickers could choose from carefully wrapped sandwiches, scones and slices of cake. Hungry travellers could enjoy hearty meals. Kids could feast on chocolate and ice cream. I plumped for a hot pasty. Delicious!
We made our way back to Platform 2, past the carriages to the end of the train where we admired the steam engine, an enormous beast snorting black smoke, ready for action.
With bellies full and tickets at the ready, we boarded the train.
The first carriage was laid out much like a normal train, with pairs of seats facing each other and a central aisle, but the next carriage was much more exciting – private compartments on one side with a corridor running down the other, just like the movies. We settled in, examining the wooden-trim sliding doors and retro light switches.
The guard’s whistle blew followed by the train’s whistle, then a rush of steam and we were off, slowly pulling out of the station, the carriage creaking and gently swaying as our journey began. We met Tony the ticket inspector who was friendly and helpful (the railway is almost entirely run by volunteers).
We left our compartment and stood in the corridor, holding onto the wooden handrails to steady ourselves, and watched the world go by through open windows.
We passed a golf course, all green slopes and bunkers, candyfloss clouds in the sky. Weybourne came into view with its famous windmill, the sea in the background, golden fields in the foreground, a combine harvester hard at work.
Just ten minutes into the trip we arrived at Weybourne station, another beautifully restored station brimming with charm and cheer. The restored WCs, ticket office, souvenir shop and refreshment room are all in period style. The bookshop has a selection of railway magazines, framed prints, new and second-hand books displayed on the platform.
The cream and tan colour scheme of the station, including the striped canopy, matches the the Waiting Room building on the opposite side of the tracks, along with the now familiar stacks of suitcases. Weybourne station also houses the restoration sheds and carriage maintenance centre which you pass on arrival.
You can disembark here and visit Weybourne village, just over a mile away. You can also walk to Weybourne beach and follow the Norfolk Coast Path back to Sheringham, or you can walk to Sheringham Park (the National Trust website has route details).
After a couple of minutes in the station, and a few new faces on the train, not to mention one or two four-legged-friends, we were off again, under bridges and past pine trees, on our way to Holt.
Holt is is the third and final station, a well-maintained and very pretty station. Busy too, and we stopped here for 20 minutes while the engine swapped ends ready for the return journey, plenty of time to stretch our legs and explore.
Green station doors and windows matched the shiny green benches and retro lamps, with potted plants aplenty. Red fire buckets hung above dozens of blooming pink hydrangeas.
Facilities include WCs, a shop and buffet selling souvenirs and refreshments, a ticket office, a miniature railway and the William Marriott Museum. William Marriott built the railway in 1887 and ran it until 1924, and is often referred to as The Father of the Midland & Great Northern Railway (M&GN). The museum itself is a replica M&GN goods shed. The goods yard is a treasure trove of old vehicles and restored wagons including a distinctive yellow Colman’s Mustard wagon.
For a few weeks in July and August, a vintage bus service runs between the station and Holt town centre, over a mile away. It’s easy to spot the bright red ex-London Transport Routemaster bus parked near the station.
It was time to board the train and return to Sheringham. There is an optional stop between Holt and Weybourne at Kelling Heath Park, available on request and only on the Sheringham-bound train.
The carriage doors closed, the whistles blew, and the train eased out of the station, taking us back to where our journey began, taking us home, back to the 21st century and back to reality.
North Norfolk Railway
T: 01263 820800