Will the Middy go off the rails?

Country Life Every Week - - Letters To The Editor -

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

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