Standing on the platform at the little station of Northiam in East Sussex, a beautiful Victorian steam locomotive comes chugging around the corner. It slows to a halt and I jump onboard, as excited as a six-year-old on their first ever train ride. I’m on the Kent and East Sussex Railway, which dates back to the 1900s. It runs throughout the year from Tenterden in Kent for ten and a half miles, through the rolling countryside of the Rother Valley, stopping at Northiam and ending in Bodiam in East Sussex. Just the sound of these names takes you back in time. Northiam, for example, means north high village in Anglo-Saxon.
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Golden fields pass by the window as we make our way to Bodiam. Some of the carriages have first class compartments with a corridor down one side, much like those of the Hogwarts Express of Harry Potter fame. While there aren’t any Chocolate Frogs or Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans on the food trolley though – they are serving coffee and ice-creams.
Arriving at Bodiam, the engine is now at the wrong end of the train. I join a fascinated group of onlookers gathering around as the engine is unhooked, moved to a parallel track and then driven back down to the other end of the train which is now the front.
With a puff of smoke and a loud ‘woo woo’, it sets off, heading back towards Kent.
Apart from the lovely old trains themselves, another thing that makes the Kent and East Sussex Railway so special is that it ends just a short walk from the beautiful Bodiam Castle, which you can read about in my post, Journey back in time at Bodiam Castle.
The Cavell Van and the Unknown Warrior Exhibition
Having had a wonderful time exploring the castle, I arrive back at Bodiam Station a little early, and I am so glad I did. Behind the station is the Unknown Warrior Exhibition on display in the Cavell Van – two very moving stories from history. I stumbled across this quite by accident. Inside the carriage, I start reading about Edith Cavell, a British nurse working in Brussels when the German Army invaded in 1914. Today she is celebrated as a pioneer of modern nursing and is known to have saved the lives of many soldiers on both sides without discrimination.
Following the invasion she helped over 200 escaping allied soldiers but was arrested by the Germans in August 1915. She was executed by firing squad on 12th October that same year. There was a huge outcry around the world over her death. In 1919, her body was repatriated to England and transported from Dover to London in the carriage I am now standing in, reading about this inspirational woman, her courage and her determination to help others.
But what of the Unknown Warrior? A coffin lies in the middle of the carriage. Another display board explains… “The Unknown Warrior was chosen, at random, to represent the countless thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen who were killed in the Great War and had no known grave.” When the selected body arrived from France at Dover it was taken to London’s Victoria Station in the Cavell Van. It was later buried with great ceremony at Westminster Abbey, encased in soil brought over from the battlefields. It is now one of the most visited graves in the world. I’m sure many people visiting Bodiam miss this exhibition, but it is well worth seeking out. A simple but incredibly moving exhibition.
For more information visit the Kent and East Sussex Railway’s website.
Thanks to Visit 1066 Country for hosting my trip on the Kent and East Sussex Railway.
Adapted from an article originally published in TravelWithKat.com.