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Mid-Norfolk Railway: the historic railway from County School to Wymondham Abbey

by Paola Bertoni
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Thuxton station, Mid-Norfolk Railway

East Anglia has some of the best historical railways and during holiday you can get the chance to ride on a real steam train. The Mid-Norfolk Railway has its headquarters at Dereham and offers the experience to travel on vintage diesel and steam trains travel along its tracks, sitting in some splendid original carriages from the last century.

Mid-Norfolk Railway: what it’s like to travel on a historic railway

Travelling by an old train on the Mid-Norfolk Railway train was a great experience for my son and I. Dereham railway station is perfectly preserved and renovated according to the original style. It was were decorated with bunting, as all the carriages. Our train was set up with three historic carriages from different eras and a Class 47 580 diesel engine.

Also the coupling system of the engine on the Mid-Norfolk Railway is completely original, i.e. fully manual. It takes the workers about 20 minutes to hook or unhook it to take it to the head of the train. In fact, for this very reason, we stopped in Thuxton and during this maneuvering time we visited the old signaling booth and discovered how rail switches are manually moved.

We found it really interesting to discover the mechanics and exchange systems of historical lines. Climbing aboard a Mid-Norfolk Railway train allowed us to traverse part of the English countryside, from Dereham to Thuxton. We felt like we were aboard a train straight out of a costume TV series, like Downtown Abbey.

By continuing to read this article, you can find out what the Mid-Norfolk Railway is, how it was renovated and how you too can travel on a vintage train in Norfolk.

Class 47 580 diesel engine at Dereham station, Mid-Norfolk Railway
Class 47 580 diesel engine at Dereham station, Mid-Norfolk Railway

What to see at Dereham train station

Dereham Station is open whenever the historic Mid-Norfolk Railway trains are in operation. Inside there are the historic ticket office, a lovely tea room, a small museum and a souvenir shop. Here you can find several volumes on the historical English railway lines.

The museum is located on the tracks and collects many materials on the history of the Mid-Norfolk Railway. Photos and newspaper articles on display illustrate the history of the railway line from its opening in 1846 until today. The nicest part, however, is certainly the actual station because it seems to take a leap in time.

Sign at Dereham station, Mid-Norfolk Railway
Sign at Dereham station, Mid-Norfolk Railway

The stations of the Mid-Norfolk Railway

Although the headquarters of the Mid-Norfolk Railway is in Dereham, basically in the middle of the original track, the historic line ran from County School to Wymondham. At the moment it is only possible to travel on part of the line, but volunteers are working to restore it completely.

The original stations are:

  • County School is in the condition of the thirties of the last century. It houses an exhibition on the former Watt naval training school, for which it was built. You can also see a miniature railway, grun by the North Norfolk Model Engineering Club.
  • North Elmham was part of the original line from Wymondham to Wells. The station opened in 1857 and closed to passenger service in 1964.
  • Dereham is home to the headquarters of the Mid-Norfolk Railway and is a restored Victorian station in the style of the late 1950s when Dereham was a major rail hub. Inside you will find vintage ticket office, tea room, souvenir shop and a small museum.
  • Yaxham includes the stationmaster’s house. On special occasions, the adjacent Yaxham Light Railway, a private historic narrow-gauge railway, opens to the public.
  • Thuxton is a classic Tudoresque-style resort. The original signal cabin was demolished before 1955. However, the new cabin is equipped with a 1904 McKenzie and Holland 26-lever chassis, recovered from the Seven Sisters signal cabin in London.
  • Hardingham was opened in 1847, but is now privately owned and is only open to the public on certain days of the year. The signal booth was recovered from Snettisham station and required eight years of restoration by the station’s current owner.
  • Kimberley Park until 1923 was known only as Kimberley, but changed its name to avoid confusion with Kimberley Station in Nottinghamshire. At the time of this writing there is maintenance work in progress.
  • Wymondham Abbey is currently undergoing maintenance. It is located in Wymondham, a historic city famous for the Wymondham Market Cross, a wooden building from 1617, and the Abbey from 1107, with an unusual structure with two towers. Wymondham Main Line Station is a 15 minute walk from Wymondham Abbey and is connected to Norwich, Thetford and Ely.

The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust has already restored almost all of the stations, preserving as much of their original features as possible. Thanks to this immense work of managing the railway heritage, you will truly feel like you are stepping back in time as you travel by train through the idyllic Norfolk countryside.

Sign at Thuxton station, Mid-Norfolk Railway
Sign at Thuxton station, Mid-Norfolk Railway

About Mid-Norfolk Railway

The Mid-Norfolk Railway runs through beautiful Norfolk countryside and is the longest historic standard gauge railway in East Anglia. Managed by the Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust, the Mid-Norfolk Railway is owned by its members. Some members actively participate as volunteers to preserve and keep it running.

At the time of writing the Mid-Norfolk Railway headquarters is in Dereham. The line runs to Thuxton Station, with an on-demand stop at Yaxham Station. The tracks are already accessible up to Wymondham Abbey Halt station and undergoing restoration towards North Elmham. The goal is to get the entire historic Mid-Norfolk Railway back into operation up to County School station.

History of Mid-Norfolk Railway

The Mid-Norfolk Railway was born during the so-called Railway Mania period, when railways were being built frantically across Britain. In 1845 the Lynn and Dereham Railway and Norfolk Railway companies both obtained permission from Parliament to build rail lines to Dereham.

Between 1847 and 1848 both companies brought the tracks to Dereham, Wymondham and Lynn. The new railway was very successful with transporting people and over 10,000 tons of coal in the first year alone. However, the cost of construction had been huge. For this reason, the Norfolk Railway was leased by the Eastern Counties Railway, a railway company that practically held a monopoly on the railways in East Anglia, the eastern part of England.

Following the merge of the Eastern Counties Railway with other railway companies on the Great Eastern Railway in 1862, the Mid-Norfolk Railway line was extended to its present length and doubled, to prevent trains from reversing at certain stations.

At the time of its heyday, the railway line was crucial to the economy of Dereham and the surrounding area. Everything that was produced in or around the city was moved by train. The line was also widely used during the First World War.

Unfortunately, the Mid-Norfolk Railway received little investment between the 1920s and 1930s and began the gradual decline of the line. The railway was still used during World War II, but the modernization plan of 1954 was not very successful due to competition from road transport and the increase in the use of private cars. The line was then definitively closed to passenger service in the 1960s.

Train conductor waiting to board the train at Dereham station
Train conductor waiting to board the train at Dereham station

Useful information for traveling on a historic Mid-Norfolk Railway

Mid-Norfolk Railway trains depart from Dereham at regular times depending on the season, as well as for special events. Before going to the station, therefore, carefully check the information on the railway’s website.

Mid-Norfolk Railway with children

My son, 3 and a half years old at the time of our visit, thoroughly enjoyed the ride on the historic Mid-Norfolk Railway. As a true enthusiast of railways and locomotives, he observed with great curiosity the release and repositioning of the engine, as well as the track switches at Thuxton station.

On the train there were other families with children, many grandparents with their grandchildren. After a moment of shyness, my son did not hesitate to make friends with an English girl sitting on the nearby seat, thanks to the common passion for taking pictures (this is his camera).

Traveling on a historic train was a real pleasure. It’s an experience for both of you so if you have kids I really suggest a trip on the Mid-Norfolk Railway. In an hour or so you can enjoy the Norfolk countryside on a vintage train.

Paola Bertoni's son on an historical carriage of Mid-Norfolk Railway
My son waiting for our ride sitting in an historical carriage of Mid-Norfolk Railway

When historic trains work

You can find when the historic trains work on the calendar on the Mid-Norfolk Railway’s official website. Here you can also read informations about which locomotives will run, if diesel or steam powered. During the summer, trains run regularly several days a week, and then reduce the hours in winter and close for maintenance after The Polar Express Train Ride Christmas event.

Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust volunteers go to great lengths to raise awareness of and appreciate the historic heritage of this railway. They also regularly organize various special events, from dinners on historic trains to themed days dedicated to music, food or festivals. If you want, you can even rent an entire train to celebrate your wedding or birthday.

How to get to Dereham station

Dereham Station has a large car park, but it may be busy during events. However, there are other car parks nearby within walking distance, including the one of Morrisons supermarket. Check how long you can leave your car parked for.

Mid-Norfolk Railway
Railway Station – Station Rd
Dereham NR19 1DF

Ready to plan your trip on a historic Mid-Norfolk Railway train? Please, let me know in the comments if you’ll like to travel on these historical trains.

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