Sunday, 27 February 2011

Rye and Camber Tramway Trail

Golf Club Halt
A little known lost railway in Sussex is the former Rye and Camber Tramway, which operated for 44 years as a passenger service from 1895 until the outbreak of World War II.  At that point the railway passed into military hands for use with the PLUTO project designed to supply the front line troops for the D Day landings.  Sadly the state it was returned to the owners in meant that it was no longer in a fit state to carry passengers and it was therefore closed for good as the cost of renewing the track was prohibitive.  Yet, at its height this remarkable railway carried as many as 18000 passengers during a six month period.  Designed and built by the famous light railway builder Colonel Holman Stephens, the railway ran for about three miles from the eastern edge of Rye to a rather inconvenient location at the western edge of Camber.  It was intended to carry passengers to the seaside, but also to a nearby golf club for which an intermediate station was built.
End of the Track

As with many Colonel Stephens’ railways, the line was built on a shoestring and this rather contributed to its untimely end.  It also meant that once gone, few reminders of its existence still remain.  Yet, remarkably despite all this most of the trackbed is still available for walking and I had decided quite awhile ago that it would make for an interesting return journey from my final leg along the Sussex Coast.  I did the journey in reverse of most travellers, who usually originated from Rye.  Apparently most travellers actually got off to play a round of golf so it was only the hardiest of passengers that continued on to Camber for the delights of the seaside.  I hope that the terrain was rather different then, for the sand dunes now hide the original site of the station at Camber and no trace remains of the old terminus.  The path itself is not so easy to find from this end of the track but eventually I found it nestled among the sand dunes near to the coastguard cottages at the western end of town.
Site of Former Terminus

The first few hundred metres of the path crosses the furthest extent of the golf course that the tramway served, although I believe this part is a later addition and wasn’t part of the course then.  Some of the holes looked quite interesting, being squeezed in between the sand dunes and in one case being protected by its very own pillbox!  At first I thought it very surprising that there were so few golfers around, given that it was a lovely day.  However, as I approached the shelter that is the nearest structure to the old station I could see that I was very much mistaken!  The golfers were aplenty further on, just on different holes…
Trackbed Through The Golf Course

From the no doubt welcome shelter (it’s very exposed here!) the former trackbed suddenly becomes apparent, although it is actually only a matter of a couple of metres above the surrounding ground and barely worthy of the title ‘embankment’.  Nonetheless it felt good to head along a rather different old railway line than I’m used to.  This is an airy path with plenty of fantastic views all around – no tree lined tunnel here!  In my immediate surroundings of course were the army of golfers, the likes of whom used to be such important clientele for this line.  Now, I’ll wager few of them even know that a railway line used to pass here.  Away in the distance, my final destination of Rye loomed on the horizon, while closer in the rather secretive Martello tower at Rye Harbour was also visible for a short time. 
Rail Formation

I soon reunited with my earlier path at the River Rother and proceeded the final few yards into Golf Club Halt, the only intermediate stop on the route and surprisingly still intact.  Very few of Colonel Stephens’ station buildings survive now, principally because they were built on the cheap and used quite temporary building materials such as wood and corrugated metal, as in this case.  The halt is virtually complete, although I’m not quite sure of its use these days, for the windows were covered inside.  I believe it is a storehouse for the golf club.  Amusingly, Colonel Stephens provided a urinal for male passengers needing the toilet, but no ladies facilities were available.  As a lifelong batchelor, perhaps he never thought that ladies would either visit the golf course at all, or wasn’t sure what needed to be provided?
Embedded Tracks

The former trackbed at the station has been covered in concrete, laid by the military in World War II to improve access to the eastern side of Rye Harbour for various activities to do with D Day preparations and transport shingle around.  This road laying had two effects; the first was to make it extremely costly to replace the rails at the end of the war leading to the eventual closure of the line, and the second was to preserve these rails as relics of a bygone era.  In the station area, the old passing loop and even a siding are perfectly preserved in the rather cracked concrete that appears not to have been relaid since.  Nowadays dog walkers and boating cars use the yard as an unofficial car park and it proved impossible to get a picture of the old place without at least one vehicle in place!
Approaching Halfway House

Heading on from Golf Club Halt the road/ railway line coincide for about quarter of a mile until eventually the road headed off sharp right and the former line carried on, past what used to be known as ‘Halfway House’, a very substantial looking house with a large garden now covering the trackbed.  Old pictures of the line suggest that the line actually passed right by the house – I guess the owners were fairly happy not to have that continue following the War.  Beyond the house, the line is obliterated for a very different reason – what was once solid land is now an enormous lake filling in a disused gravel working.  I had to detour along the nearby road, which wasn’t as unpleasant as I expected, courtesy of a nice cycle path that has been built alongside the road.  I also encountered some very courteous golfers who were quite happy to wait for me to pass before getting on with their game.
No Way Forward

I was reunited with the trackbed on the far side of the lake, although in truth this last little section heading into Rye needed a bit of imagination.  Although the path clearly follows the former route, there are no features giving any clue of its former use.  The only possible hint of a railway was the vegetation that grows up through the tarmac of the path, that somewhat resembles the width of the track.  To be honest though, that might be more to do with me wanting that to be the case!
On Guard

The old station at Rye is no more – it used to be sited between a school and a pumping station.  There was no connection to the Marsh Line that connects Rye to Hastings and Ashford and in fact passengers would have faced almost a mile walk across town to get to this station.  It is surprising then that the line lasted as long as it did and probably says a lot about the quality of early bus services here.
Approaching Rye

For me, now that I had explored everything about the line, it was left only to explore more of Rye in the last half hour or so of my parking ticket.  By now the earlier clouds had gone and the late afternoon winter sun showed the old place off at its very best.  Although the crowds can spoil Rye during the summer months, on winter days like this it truly is a delightful place.  The old tramway walk is equally enjoyable and gives a really good reminder of how tourism used to look!
Former Terminus at Rye

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