Return train trip to Leiston took me back to my childhood

The Charity Railtours' "Mayflower" train arrives in Leiston. Picture: RON GEATER

The Charity Railtours' "Mayflower" train arrives in Leiston. Picture: RON GEATER - Credit: Archant

Back in the early 1960s as a very small boy, one of my pleasures in life was being taken on a train trip from our home in Saxmundham to our relations’ home in Leiston.

Crowds at Leiston watch the special train pass over the town's level crossing. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Crowds at Leiston watch the special train pass over the town's level crossing. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

It was a pleasure that was snatched away from me on September 10 1966 when the Aldeburgh branch line closed – thanks to Dr Beeching and Barbara Castle.

I never thought I’d ever make the journey again, even though the line to Leiston survived thanks to the Sizewell power stations and the need for rail access.

But 52 years after my last trip in the line, I was back on a slow train to Leiston at the weekend – a Charity Railtours special that also gave passengers the chance of a rare trip along the freight-only branch to Griffin Wharf at Ipswich Port.

That was fascinating, especially as I’ve been down to the New Cut many times on stories. I must have driven under the Wherstead Road bridge more than 1,000 times over the years, but I’d never been across the top of it . . . until now.

The Charity Railtours' "Mayflower" train leaving Leiston. Picture: RON GEATER

The Charity Railtours' "Mayflower" train leaving Leiston. Picture: RON GEATER - Credit: Archant


You may also want to watch:


But however much I enjoyed the trip to Ipswich docks, it was the chance to travel through Leiston behind a train that really excited me and persuaded me to buy a ticket for the trip.

The planning for the trip did not all go as smoothly as hoped. It was supposed to be a steam trip with the train pulled by the LNER locomotive Mayflower to the end of the line in Leiston.

Most Read

Sadly a combination of difficulties in ensuring the gauge of the train north of Woodbridge and over-running repairs to the locomotive meant that the train ended up being top-and-tailed by a pair of diesel locomotives.

However these were both over 50 years old themselves – and the growing number of diesel enthusiasts ensured the trip was a great success.

Paul Geater at Saxmundham station during a short stop after the train had visited the Leiston branch

Paul Geater at Saxmundham station during a short stop after the train had visited the Leiston branch. Selfie: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

They left the East Suffolk Rail Line at Saxmundham Junction, just north of the station, before heading along the four-mile “siding” to Leiston – stopping at every level crossing en route!

Charity Railtours was set up seven years ago by Ipswich-based Dennis Barnes, whose day job is as a locomotive driver for one of the largest freight companies operating in the UK at present.

Each trip aims to take in some rarely-used lines, and to raise money for a chose charity – this trip was on behalf of Macmillan Cancer Support.

Mr Barnes has not completed all the paperwork yet, but is confident it will bring in at least £6,000-£7,000 for the charity – possibly reaching five figures eventually.

Leiston's former station has been converted into homes - no passengers have caught trains from here

Leiston's former station has been converted into homes - no passengers have caught trains from here since 1966. Picture: PAUL GEATER - Credit: Archant

He said: “The loss of the steam element of the tour was very disappointing, and some of the people who had bought tickets early were a bit unhappy about that – but there are quite a lot of diesel enthusiasts out there and we got a flurry of sales over the last few weeks which is why the train was so full.

“I think most of the people on the train really enjoyed it. It kept really well to time which is almost unheard-of for a railtour going over some quite complex routes like this.

“I have to say the local Network Rail and train organisers were very good for us.”

Mr Barnes only runs about two trips a year because their organisation has to be fitted around his full-time job – his next trip is from London to Gloucestershire on August 4.

I’ll be waiting to see where his next trip to this part of the world will be – and will I ever go back to Leiston by train? Never say never!

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter