This walk starts at Tenterden railway station because it is both easy to find and has a car park attached. The station is no longer part of the national rail network, but is instead the northern terminus of the Kent and East Sussex Railway. This privately owned line runs steam trains for families and enthusiasts to Bodiam.
There had been plans for a railway to Tenterden from Ashford or Hastings as early as 1852, but various attempts all fell through either because the military wanted a more southerly route or because of worries that the financial returns would not justify the cost. In 1896, a new law came into effect allowing railways to be built to a lower engineering standard if they were intended for rural areas where light train loads and infrequent services could be expected. This allowed railway companies to build lines more cheaply, making routes to small towns such as Tenterden more likely to be profitable.
The Rother Valley Railway, as the route was known, was approved almost at once and construction began within weeks. The line opened on 2 April 1900 running from the main line at Robertsbridge through Bodiam and Tenterden to Headcorn.
Although the line was at first a success, it began to lose money in the 1920s and by 1931 was heading for bankruptcy. A drastic reorganisation saw the line converted to using two Ford road busses mounted on metal railway wheels for passengers and cheaper goods wagons. The railway returned to a modest profit and was still struggling along when, along with all other railways in Britain, it was nationalised in 1948. The new British Railways decided it could do without such a minor line turning such small profits and closed it to passengers in 1954. The goods trains continued until 1961, but then they too were discontinued.
Almost at once a group of local railway enthusiasts put forward proposals to run the line as a part time holiday attraction. The government was unimpressed and laid its own plans to lift the track. Lengthy legal actions followed and after 13 years the Ministry of Transport finally gave way and agreed to sell the line to the charity set up by the enthusiasts. The ministry did, however, impose a condition. The line was to end at Bodiam so that the three level crossings between there and Robertsbridge would not be in use. The line reopened from Tenterden to Wittersham Road in 1973, but the need for expensive repair work to a bridge and other works meant that the full line to Bodiam did not open until 2000.
The line now runs steam trains and other excursions on most weekends of the year and on summer weekdays. There are also special days with various themes. These can vary at relatively short notice, so check the website on www.kesr.org.uk or phone the railway on 01580 762943 if you are intending to ride the trains.