Will the Middy go off the rails?
ONCE again, there’s trouble afoot on the Mid Suffolk Light Railway —or, to be precise, what remains of it. One of the last products of the railway age, the Middy was always in trouble. Indeed, it led to the bankruptcy of the local MP, who didn’t grasp that a railway wouldn’t make money if opposition from local clergy and gentry stopped it from reaching its intended destinations. The line just meandered through the Suffolk countryside at some distance from population centres and ended inconsequentially in the small village of Cratfield, barred from linking with the main East Suffolk line by the mighty Heveningham estate. Nevertheless, locals loved it and mourned its closure back in 1952.
It was hardly surprising, therefore, that when enthusiasts resurrected Brockford station in 1991, relaid a small part of the old line and began to raise steam again in the heart of East Anglia, the neighbours generally welcomed it and the public soon turned it into a popular destination. Nostalgia for steam is a deepseated British longing—that’s why Thomas the Tank Engine could only have been born in Britain.
Perhaps it’s because the railway age marked the high point of our imperial power but, true or not, in this glorious summer of ‘staycations’, few attractions have been more popular or more immediately accessible to small boys of every age than our steam railways. To Ffestiniog and Talyllyn, to the Watercress Line, the North Norfolk and the Mid Suffolk, the customers have flocked. The lure of steam continues even to a generation far too young to remember the Mallard or the Flying Scotsman. These railways have been saved by their very remoteness and revived by thousands of enthusiasts recovering and rebuilding engines and carriages, selling tickets, arranging excursions and, above all, driving trains.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has recognised the value of these local rural enterprises and it was reading of one of its recent grants that led Agromenes to discover the genuine excitement of the Middy. Still very remote, it takes some finding, but it’s worth every twist and turn of the journey. The enthusiasm of the volunteers is palpable as they tell of raising money to restore the line and engines, their delight at the HLF grant and the recognition of the quality of their museum, as well as in their hope of extending the line another quarter of a mile so they can give an even greater thrill to their young visitors.
Sadly, that’s the catch. Nimbyism has reached even this corner of rural England. Despite all the support of their neighbours and of the local landowner, a grumpy incomer seems determined to frustrate the plans for extension. The Middy’s only open 30 days a year from 11am until 5pm. Most people would see it as a real enhancement of the rural scene, a contribution to the village and a source of delight and revenue. Not so Mr and Mrs Grumpy. Theirs is another example of people who come into the countryside and demand that all activity should cease just so they can enjoy their rural idyll. They’re one with those who complain about church bells and cockerels, farm machinery and rural smells. We can only hope the local planning committee will tell them to shut up and suggest they celebrate a fine example of rural enterprise.
‘Thomas the Tank Engine could only have been born in Britain
Follow @agromenes on Twitter