Grab your ticket to ride into Norfolk by rail
Norfolk boasts some of the country's most scenic railway lines, running through beautiful countryside, alongside marshes, estuaries, coastline and picture-postcard villages. STACIA BRIGGS discovers the county by rail on Norfolk's main and heritage lines.
THE BITTERN LINE
Greater Anglia's train lines offer passengers the chance to see hidden corners of Norfolk which are inaccessible by car or, in some cases, foot.
Through isolated halts and small market towns, the Bittern Line traverses broads and waterways and passes through picture-postcard undulating arable landscape to the unrivalled beauty of the North Norfolk coast.
It is about 30 miles long and a regular, almost hourly service operates along the line, which has been name-checked in a list of the 50 most scenic lines in the world.
There are guided walks that spread from each station on the line, links with the North Norfolk Railway and Bure Valley Railway heritage lines and cycle routes that encourage rail passengers to explore this beautiful part of the world.
The train departs from Norwich on its journey to the coast, passing through the tiny station at Salhouse into Hoveton and Wroxham, on to the once-thriving medieval village of Worstead, famous for wool, through North Walsham to halts at Gunton and Roughton Road and finally to the seaside delights of Cromer, West Runton and Sheringham.
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From the storybook Victorian platform canopy at Salhouse, held aloft on intertwined cast-iron spandrels, to the views of the marina at Wroxham and Hoveton, the church towers where flint flanks flash in the sunlight near Worstead to the grandeur of Gunton station and the beautiful gardens at West Runton, this is a train journey that is just as spectacular as the destinations it takes you to.
Steeped in history and offering the kind of stunning views that simply can't be accessed by road or foot, the Wherry Line shuttles between Norwich, Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth.
The line is a wonderful way to enjoy the beauty of the Yare Valley with its lazy rivers, marshes, estuaries, villages and wildlife and even offers the opportunity to see the skeletal remains of a wrecked wherry just south of the River Yare, near Brundall.
At Brundall, the line divides taking passengers to either Great Yarmouth or Lowestoft. The Lowestoft route passes Buckenham, where you can get off to visit Buckenham Marshes RSPB, and then travels through wide open expanses of marsh and fen to Cantley, dominated by the sugar beet refining factory.
Reedham is next on the line, offering panoramic views of the River Yare, the village and the marshland where, in the 1800s, hundreds of drainage mills worked constantly to pump water into dykes to reclaim land for grazing.
Here, the line splits again, one track heading north-east to Breydon and the other south-east, over a swing bridge, to Lowestoft. Through wetlands dotted with the conical brick ruins of old mills, the next station is Haddiscoe, passing The Bell Inn, one of the oldest licensed premises in Norfolk, and then Somerleyton, the most northerly station in Suffolk.
Onwards toward Oulton Broad, the southern gateway to the Broads National Park, and to Lowestoft, Britain's most easterly point and the centre of the Sunrise Coast.
Passengers taking the mainline to London often overlook that their journey takes them through some truly spectacular scenery that offers a trip past one of Norfolk's most enchanting forests.
First stop is Wymondham Station has been beautifully restored and offers a small glimpse of a bygone era from the train window. Onwards through Spooner Row, which boasts the lowest platform on the rail network, and Attleborough and then Eccles Road, which takes its name from the now-abandoned village of Eccles which used to lie a mile to the south.
Trains sometimes stop at Harling Road, which is the ideal place to stop off to wander along Peddars Way, Angles Way, Iceni Way or Hereward Way, before heading into the typical Breckland landscape of heathland, bracken and woodland with belts of heather broken only by dark pine belts, lazy meres and rabbit warrens which pock the ground.
Thetford Forest gives way to industrial development and housing near the town itself on a journey that is often made, but rarely appreciated and given the recognition it deserves.
t For more details on Greater Anglia routes, timetables and fares visit: www.greateranglia.co.uk
t Norfolk Community Rail Partnership has launched a pioneering mobile phone app for the Bittern and Wherry lines which offers up-to-the-minute travel and visitor information. The free-to-download app is available from the Appstore and Google Play for Android users. Users can also download the Greater Anglia app from the Community Rail Norfolk app which offers them the opportunity to buy tickets.
Norfolk is blessed with some truly magnificent heritage railways which put previously-disused lines into regular use and offer passengers stunning views of the county's countryside.
NORTH NORFOLK RAILWAY
Take a trip through Poppyland on the 10.5-mile round trip through some of Norfolk's stunning coastal countryside and experience the old-fashioned glamour of traditional train travel.
Historic stations, a museum of the railway's history, a children's activity carriage, the chance to travel on a steam or heritage diesel train and plenty of unique events are on offer at this Sheringham-based railway line.
From the beautifully-restored station at Sheringham – next door to Greater Anglia's mainline station – it's full-steam ahead to Weybourne, with its tearoom, picnic area and direct access to the Kelling Nature Trail and then on to the halt at Kelling Heath Park and through to Holt, the western terminus.
The Holt Flyer, a London Routemaster bus, meets most steam trains in the summer to take passengers into the town.
BURE VALLEY RAILWAY
Norfolk's longest 15in gauge lines runs between the ancient market town of Aylsham and the capital of the Norfolk Broads – Wroxham.
The 18-mile round trip runs through the picturesque Bure Valley countryside following the meandering river through meadowland and ancient pasture, stopping at small country villages such as Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall.
The steam and diesel trains pass through scenery which is as varied, interesting and beautiful as any to be found on any railway journey. The journey includes 17 bridges including a 105-foot-long girder bridge over the River Bure at Buxton, and the long tunnel under Aylsham bypass.
With plenty of special events, such as driver experience days, the popular Teddy Bear Express, Santa and Halloween specials, trains run throughout the year.
At Whitwell, south of Reepham, the former M&GN station has been lovingly restored and reopened to the public in 2009.
The Lynn & Fakenham Railway was originally granted permission by an Act of Parliament in 1880 to build the Whitwell station and it first opened in 1882.
British Rail made the decision to close the majority of the line in 1959, leaving Whitwell open for freight until 1964. Following the lifting of the track through the station, the track bed was reused as part of the Marriott's Way but the station was reopened in 2009, nearly 50 years after it was closed.
Next to Marriott's Way, there are short trips available – including steam-hauled – on the 1,500ft stretch of restored line. There's also a station refreshment room and a chance to see restoration take place and details of the work which has been carried out.
The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust has bought and restored the formerly-disused line between the Norfolk market towns of Dereham and Wymondham and now offers journeys through some of the county's most attractive countryside.
With a long-term aim of eventually reaching Fakenham, the trust offers regular passenger services to Wymondham in a fleet of heritage locomotives.
The experience and journey is enjoyable whether you're a railway buff or just someone who fondly remembers the bygone age of railway travel. If you've got children, the journey is a fun experience. Even if you just want to watch the countryside glide by there is plenty to spot.
The line, which is entirely volunteer run, has a fleet of heritage diesel locos but also hosts regular steam days and visits from steam locos. A lively programme of events runs throughout the year, including Christmas Santa, Easter, Halloween and Railway at War specials, dining train experiences, jazz events and fish and chip steam specials.
WELLS AND WALSINGHAM LIGHT RAILWAY
The railway reached Wells-next-the-Sea with a line from Fakenham in 1857. Passenger traffic stopped in 1964. Lt Cmdr. Roy Francis, who had already built the Wells Harbour Railway, turned his attention to a more ambitious project to build a miniature railway from Wells to Walsingham.
Now the longest 10�in narrow gauge steam railway in the world, the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway offers passengers a spectacular way to see the countryside of the North Norfolk coast.
A scenic journey from the seaside town of Wells to Walsingham, a centre of pilgrimage for centuries, takes in five bridges, halts at Warham St Mary and Wighton and offers passengers the chance to explore both towns and enjoy refreshments in a restored signal box at Wells.