By Tony Ridd
There are many ways of viewing the countryside around us, but few can be more nostalgic and romantic than seeing it from a steam train.
I am lucky enough to have clients whose land is adjacent to the Havenstreet railway line, and when working there, love watching the spectacle of the highly prized steam train pass by, with it’s passengers leaning out of the carriage windows, absorbing the wildlife and countryside around them.
What’s particularly good about train travel is that you get an elevated view of the countryside. Lorry and tractor drivers get this anyway but for the majority, cars tend to be lower than hedges so you never really get to see what’s on the other side.
As a passenger in a smart, clean and comfy carriage, more than a hundred years old, you have the advantage of this lofty position passing through some of the most unspoilt scenery on the Island and you get the chance to really appreciate what is around you with a sense of going back in time.
Just down the line to Havenstreet is Briddlesford Copse, owned and carefully managed by the People’s Trust for Endangered Species – over the last couple of years we have planted more than 7000 new trees and coppiced several acres of deciduous woodland.
Access is limited to the copse, as it is used for research by the trust, but luckily the train passes through a large part of the wood giving you the chance to glimpse some of the work that has been taking place. It is a native, deciduous woodland with some parts being classified as ancient. This means that it has been continuously wooded for more than 450 years.
Further west towards Wootton you pass through an area known as Littletown, where apart from the railway line being laid in the late nineteenth century, the small field system is still the same, divided by hedges and grazed by sheep or beef cattle with calves in tow.
The train stops at Wootton station with the engine uncoupling itself from the front and swapping ends so that it can pull the train back towards Havenstreet, where it stops before continuing east. Travelling on through a mixture of grazed field and more woodlands towards Ashey station, which is now a private residence. There is a small bus-stop like shelter and platform on the opposite side that serves as a request stop for passengers. If you are quick you can just make out the curved line of the hedge, heading towards Ashey Downs where chalk was once quarried and brought down by track to be taken away by the train.
The countryside appears more open, with far reaching views southwards over large fields and then a little more woodland before you get to Smallbrook Junction. A quick change around for the engine and then back towards Havenstreet.
As you travel on the train look down at the embankments. No fertilisers or pesticides are used on these species-rich grass verges and with a yearly cutting programme and raking up of the grass by a team of dedicated volunteers.
There is a wonderful display of spring and summer flowers that attract all sorts of wildlife from butterflies and birds to different coloured rabbits and the occasional dark red fox.
This is a novel way of seeing some of the Island countryside that you would miss driving around, and if we had had a little more foresight 50 years ago, you never know what you could have seen, had your trip taken you all the way through Newport and on to Freshwater.