Along the Branch
Enjoy the Essex Countryside, and the ancient Epping Forest, from the comfort of your seat!
Our branch winds its way through some of Essex's finest countryside, tackling steep gradients as it goes. Each of our stations and stops is unique, and serve great rural locations. What's more, you can enjoy it all from your seat aboard your train, experiencing what it would have been like for passengers to travel on the line all those years ago...
We start at Ongar, our award-winning and Grade II listed Great Eastern Railway station, believed to be the only original operating station to retain GER colours. During restoration, the colours were painstakingly researched and scientifically measured to ensure an exact match was produced. LU features have been removed, exposing the original architectural features, and modern fittings have been suitably designed and sourced so as to blend in to the 1880s atmosphere as seamlessly as possible.
Inside the building is situated the “Buffer Stop” buffet, which offers a selection of hot and cold drinks and confectionaries to enjoy between trains. There is also a small gift shop you can peruse, which offers a selection of books, toys, model railways and more!
Also at Ongar, in the former Ladies Waiting Room, is The Penny Salon micro-gallery which offers an interesting and entertaining selection of presentations throughout the year. Entry to The Penny Salon is free and the gallery is open whenever trains are running. Do make sure you take time to visit.
Chipping Ongar itself is a historic market town, with good selection of shops, pubs, restaurants and historic buildings; the High Street still contains many small independent shops.
Also nearby is the ‘Essex Way’ footpath, which covers 82 miles between Harwich and Epping. Along its route, it passes through vast woodland, fields and picturesque historic villages.
We start our rail journey from the main platform. At the buffer stops can be seen the marker “0.0” and this refers to distance in kilometres. This became the “datum” point for measurements on the present Underground network in 1972 and remains so today even though our Railway ceased to be part of the network in 1994. The distances are measured from here in 0.2km increments and these markers can be seen on the left-hand side of the track (direction of travel from Ongar).
Zero kilometre post and Ongar signalbox, formerly at Spellbrook, and restored by our volunteers.
Moving off on a slight downhill gradient, we pass the up and down sidings and Ongar Signal box, which was previously sited at Spellbrook on the main Liverpool St to Cambridge line. This houses the original Ongar lever frame, which is back doing its intended work of controlling train movements into, out of and around the station.
Ongar to Blake Hall
Near Bilsden's foot crossing
Once clear of the trackwork at the station throat, we pass over the 5-arch Cripsey Brook Viaduct. The Cripsey Brook is a tributary of the River Roding and rises near Harlow at Hastingwood and eventually joins the latter just south of Ongar near Marden Ash.
Once over the viaduct the line begins to climb at an average of 1 in 70 nearly all the way to Blake Hall, passing Bridleway underbridge. The path crossing underneath intersects with the Essex way to the south which offers great vantage points for photographers - remember to be respectful of private farmland and properties. Our dedicated Walks guidebook details the routes of these footpaths to help you explore further.
Continuing, we pass under Penson’s Lane bridge before the train sounds its horn/whistle for Bilsden’s foot crossing: this path also intersects with the Essex Way. The line here runs through open agricultural land forming a patchwork of fields over undulating country, next passing over Perrill’s underbridge, before entering a shallow cutting on the approach to Perrill’s foot crossing - this footpath also intersects with the Essex Way.
Here the gradient relents to around 1 in 300 downhill and the 3 arch Station Road overbridge heralds our approach to Blake Hall station, which was closed by London Underground on 31st October 1981. Although the building remained, the platform was removed by London Transport when they heard that, despite the formal closure, some trains were still dropping off passengers. The platform has now been part reinstated, though the building is now a privately owned house. As such, visitors are unable to board or alight here.
Blake Hall to North Weald
Blake Hall station
As the main operating hub of our railway, North Weald is where our workshops and motive power depot are based. Once in a state of disrepair, our volunteers have worked hard to restore the station to 1940s London North Eastern Railway condition, complete with period lamps, footbridge and signage. The original 1888 signal box and lever frame, located on Platform 1, has also been attended to and restored.
North Weald station
Break your journey here and enjoy a light bite in the “Anglia Buffet” coach, or browse the well-stocked gift shop and find that perfect souvenir of your visit.
Alternately, jump aboard one of our many vintage buses and travel out to Epping, Ongar or Shenfield in vintage style and comfort.
North Weald to Epping Forest
Continuing our journey westwards towards Epping, on departing North Weald, we pass the motive power depot yard and headshunt (right) before passing immediately over Kiln Road and starting the final climb to the summit of the line at 1 in 73. The lineside scenery changes dramatically here, as Epping Forest encroaches on the line and dense trees replace open fields in the shape of Roughtalley’s wood (left, where there is a Humanist Burial Site) on the approach to the M11 underbridge. Here you will notice there is a significant dip in the track; this is because when the M11 was constructed in 1973, the headroom of the bridge was such that only tube sized rail vehicles could pass underneath. When heritage operations wanted to commence, the track needed to be lowered by three feet to accommodate the change in rolling stock.
Coopersale Bridge - the summit of the line
Resuming on through the northern edge of Epping Forest, the gradient eases to 1 in 900 and the line curves gently to the left before rising again briefly at 1 in 117 to cross Coopersale Common. This is the summit of the line and was once the highest point on the old Great Eastern Railway system at 340ft above sea level. The hamlet and pub (The Garnon Bushes) are visible, left.
From here the line now begins its descent toward Epping, initially at 1 in 117, but steepening to 1 in 70 on the approach to Watson’s lane footpath overbridge. After this, the lineside opens out and to the left are good views across the Roding Valley looking toward Abridge and Passingford Bridge.
The line returns to being in a cutting at Stonards Hill 3-arch overbridge. Note the yellow “fixed distant” signal on the left bridge pier as the train then begins to slow for the final stop at kilometre post 9.4 with just 100 metres between the end of our running line and the end of the Central Line(the buffer stops can be seen at the boundary – although the track is still physically connected to the London Underground network). Our train has now terminated in rich woodland, which boasts a diverse selection of wildlife. For now, the train must stop here, and return back towards North Weald.
Passengers cannot board, or alight from, trains here. An extension project to take the terminus closer to Epping station, with a platform, is realistic and achievable, and the EOR is keen to work with other stakeholders to enable a new platform to be built to the immediate north-east of the existing station, and to be a viable and attractive interchange both for visitors and local people to use our services.
A full history of the line can be found in our updated guide book, which is available from our gift shops and ticket offices now.
We also run frequent vintage buses on all operating days. These connect Epping Underground and Shenfield Main Line Stations to our own Ongar and North Weald.
Heritage bus route 339 at Epping station
Route 339 is the primary route, operating between Epping and North Weald via the B181 (Epping Road), with some services running on to Ongar via Blake Hall Gardens and Zinc Arts Centre, before terminating outside 'The Two Brewers' pub.
In addition to this, we have also started running services on to Shenfield Station, making getting to our railway even easier for visitors travelling long distances. This route passes Brentwood High Street, and passengers can board and alight from all bus stops along the way.
During the Summer months we run route 381, which also connects North Weald and Epping, travelling out via Blake Hall and Toot Hill. Check our timetables and leaflet for information on when this service is operating.
The buses can also be used by non-railway visitors for a single fare; check with the conductor for the cost of this, which is dependant on your destination.