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Full steam ahead at the Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway. Picture: Alan Crotty.
Full steam ahead at the Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway. Picture: Alan Crotty.

“I suppose you could say it’s a hobby which has got out of control.”

Bill Best, an 83-year-old retired insurance loss adjuster, has a “back garden” most railway enthusiasts could only dream about.

“Back garden” is something of an understatement, as it comprises around 25 acres in all and is home to him, his wife, Irene, and to the Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway. It’s a hidden gem, tucked away in the North Downs a few miles from Sittingbourne.

You could say that Bill and Irene live in a giant train set, though the trains are not models but working locomotives.

The railway is not a restored line but was built from scratch as a labour of love when a group of 15 friends with a mutual interest got together in 1975.

“They were from all walks of life,” said Bill. “We didn’t all play with train sets when we were young. Some were railway nutters but others just had an interest in machinery.”

At first, a small industrial steam engine was purchased, soon to be joined by others, but it was not until 1979 that Bronhilde, the group’s first steam locomotive arrived. Since then the enterprise has developed into a fully operational narrow gauge railway, with an infrastructure worthy of a much larger system. There are now 10 steam locomotives, with emotive names such as Victory, Armistice and Zambezi, with several dating back to the end of the 19th century.

There are also three diesel locos. Many of the foreign-built engines were used in sugar cane plantations, while the several British locos were mainly used in quarries.

The selection of locomotives brought to Bredgar has expanded over the years and now represents narrow gauge systems from all over the world.

From the left, Lewis Bennett, 8, and Sue Black, watched by Fabienne Hughes, Bill Best, Paul Brunton and John London with Zambezi. Picture: Andy Payton.
From the left, Lewis Bennett, 8, and Sue Black, watched by Fabienne Hughes, Bill Best, Paul Brunton and John London with Zambezi. Picture: Andy Payton.

The group builds its own coaches, an expensive undertaking which requires a variety of skills and craftsmanship.

“Four or five of us are engineers, some are good at painting and we have several carpenters,” said Bill.

“In 2009, we won an award from the Heritage Railway Association for the best coach built in the UK. The locomotives cost a fortune to restore and we are certainly not in it for the money. In fact, the railway is a money sink. We do it because it’s a worthwhile thing to do.”

A steam roller and a beam engine are among the site’s other attractions, along with a collection of vintage cars, steam driving courses, a model railway, gift shop and a tea room.

The Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway's next public open day is on Saturday, August 4 from 10am to 4.30pm.

Admission is £10 for adults, £4 under 15 and under fours free. Admission price includes unlimited train rides.

For more details call 01622 884254 or email: stopem@stopem.net.

For directions to the Bredgar and Wormshill Light Railway, visit www.bwir.co.uk

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