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The first of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's
fleet of vintage buses

Vintage bus tours to Brindlecliffe

Heritage railways struggle to meet their costs. So the management has been advised to diversify. Starting next summer there will be vintage bus tours from Eaton St Torpid station to Brindlecliffe. An expert guide will be on board to draw attention to the town's significant history, including:
  • the distinctive geology (which gives the town its fictonym)
  • the day the king came for a paddle in AD 854 (allegedly – historians say it's just a legend); afterwards he lost his head, a wolf found it, and he became known as St Edmund (all makes perfect sense when it's explained proper)
  • a long history of 'free traders' attempting to evade Customs and Excise officers; sometimes it went badly wrong
  • the strange origins of the town (at least in name, even though actually anything but strange)
  • the world-famous Arts and Crafts houses which no one knows about but deserve to be famous (reasons to be famous 1, 2 and 3)
  • the rise (and demise) of the pier (the official Hunstanton Pier video)
  • the old lighthouse (nothing to add in parentheses, it's just a lighthouse that hasn't been a lighthouse since 1922)
  • the world's first parabolic lighthouse reflector built in 1776 (so it wasn't just any old lighthouse back then)
  • Brindlecliffe's fame as a Marconi wireless station (though not many folk know about it because it's next to an old lighthouse that's just an old lighthouse)
  • wartime Brindlecliffe (approximately 2,500 nights of blackout – just as well the lighthouse wasn't a lighthouse any more – plus a Zeppelin raid and a coastal battery* that, thankfully, never got needed)
  • the main event in recent decades (back in 1984, when the site of the former railway station was runner up in England's ugliest surface car park award; under 100 vehicles category)
  • the biggest tourism event in recent decades (well it was 16.7 metres long)

*: coastal batteries have nothing to with batteries as we know them. They are for hiding and firing large guns (i.e. discharging armaments not discharging electricity). Thanks to Ben Franklin (yes, That One, not the one who lives the other end of your street) for the etymology.


Brindlecliffe from the north

Brindlecliffe pier
A coloured postcard of Brindlecliffe pier in its heyday
Brindlecliffe lighthouse
Brindlecliffe lighthouse when the adjacent building was used as a Marconi wireless station (it is now a Coastguard Station); the houses on the left were built as homes for the wireless staff and their families

Just make sure the guide is not the management as he will endlessly regale you of one-day coach trips from Leicester during summer holidays in the 1960s. Not until he began flying to Europe regularly (with frequent delays in Airport Schiphol) did he experience worse episodes of boredom. Although, in truth, most of these trips were probably to Mablethorpe not Brindlecliffe. Recollections of childhood boredom have no respect for place or time.

nodding donkey
A 'nodding donkey' preserved at Duke's Wood Oil Museum, photographed in 2007.

The management's childhood also included summer holiday day trips run by the coach company advertised as 'mystery tours' which almost always went around The Dukeries in Nottinghamshire. Near Eakring these went past the 'nodding donkeys' (more correctly, 'Pump Jacks') pumping up crude oil. Nothing so exciting on the route to Brindlecliffe. When the Sandy Cove Sand Co museum comes into being the management hope to have a nodding donkey as part of the treacle mining exhibit. Though has to be said these Gimson beam engines would make more impressive treacle pumps.

Gimson beam engine
One of the four 1890s Gimson beam engines installed at Abbey Pumping Station, Leicester. They operate at up to 19 rpm and developed 200 brake horse power (about 150 kW). Until 1964 they pumped 208,000 imperial gallons of sewage an hour (263 litres per second in new money) – I think that's all four working together, not just one on its own, but I'm not sure. They would pump the same volume of treacle if the viscosity is the same as a sewage. Which would be a heck of a lot of tins of treacle… 
However water has a viscosity of 0.1 Poise (at room temperature) whereas treacle is in excess of 1,000 Poise. So, even allowing for sewage not being entirely composed of water, that means a lot less tins of treacle per second than you thought. Unless the treacle is very warm – which it wouldn't be because all this is about a treacle mine, not whatever you're thinking of now I've mentioned warm treacle. Just don't think about what is in sewage that's neither treacle nor water.
Here endeth the management's wanton digression.

You might regret that second cup of tea…

Ah yes, the reason for mentioning sewage. Please note these tours take place using vintage buses and coaches. They do not have toilets on board. However the driver may have remembered to put a chamber pot under one of the back seats. Just ask him nicely and he might tell you which seat you need to look under. But if he thinks he's got a rum lot of passengers and is in a grumpy mood then he may say he forgot to bring it, even though it's really there. So have a good rummage anyway.

Possible future vintage bus tours

If these tours prove to be a success the management hopes to run an additional tour from Friars Ambling Halt to Bishop's Snoring. Except the line from Eaton St Torpid to Frairs Ambling Halt is not expected to be built for Quite Some Time.

In addition to these secular tours the management have been asked to consider adding two pilgrimage routes. The first would be to Little Walsingham, terminating at the slipper chapel at Houghton St Giles (more correctly known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Walsingham, or the Chapel of Saint Catherine of Alexandria). The request specifically asked if there would be be room on the vehicle for a harmonium to accompany hymn singing there and back. The bus driver said only if the tunes are from the 1861 first edition of Hymns Ancient and Modern and not newfangled ones. The driver also said that anyone bashing on a tambourine while singing the hymns would be asked to run behind the bus.

The management is considering whether an open-top bus could be brought out of retirement to allow a full 'Sally Army'-style brass band to ride on the upper deck. The response of the driver suggests that this may not be an attainable option whilst his mortal coil is vital and vertical. The management has no intention of persuing the readily-apparent alternative approach. Though on the driver's tetchiest days there is an immoderate increment of temptation.

The driver said if he was expected to do pilgrimages to Walsingham then there should also be pilgrimages to Upwell (via Outwell and Wisbech). The attractive riverside road is, he waxed lyrically with a blissful smile and far-away look in his eyes, terra sancta as the locus of the immanent incarnation of Toby the Tank Engine, prior to beatification in the hagiographies compiled by Rev Wilbert Awdry. For once the driver and the management were in full agreement…

When word got out about the proposed pilgrimages, one of the commitee of the Eaton St Torpid and District Local History Society (who meet most months in the waiting room of Whittlecreek and Eaton St Torpid Heritage Railway's station at Eaton St Torpid) has asked if we could consider a bus tour to the Romanesque fonts in the area. The committee member explained that most of Norfolk's fonts from around the twelfth century are unremarkable apart from their age – just square or basin-shaped and decorated, if at all, with low-relief arcading. Only those in the north-west of the county also bear figural carvings. These include Burnham Deepdale (with the Labours of the Months), Fincham (with rustic Old and New Testament scenes), Sculthorpe, Shernborne, Toftrees and Castle Rising. They are among the best examples of Romanesque fonts in the country.

The management consider this might be a one-off tour rather than a regular event. Especially as the driver remarked 'I don't think I could cope with that many churches in one day.' But, who knows, it may prove to be the all-important money-spinner needed to keep the driver in gainful employment.

The 'top of the range' Romanesque fonts at
Burnham Deepdale (left) and Shernborne (right)

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Images and text copyright Bob Trubshaw 2018–2021