The first line of railway track on the Isle of Wight opened on 16th June 1862 and ran the 4 ½ miles between Cowes and Newport. Tracks continued to be laid and by the turn of the nineteenth century the Isle of Wight had a fantastic network of 55 miles of railway that served every town and practically every village. But by the end of 1966 all but a short section from Ryde to Shanklin had been closed with the remaining line being electrified and ex London underground carriages installed to run on it.
Luckily a group of railway enthusiasts formed the IW Steam Railway in 1971 and managed to acquire the mothballed rolling stock and within a few weeks they were operating a limited service on the 1 5/8 mile section between Wootton and Havenstreet. Then in 1991 they added a further three miles of track from Havenstreet to Smallbrook Junction where an interchange station was built and opened on 20th July 1991.
Walk the Lines
On Saturday June 16th, exactly 150 years since the first stretch of track was opened, the IW Steam Railway in conjunction with the IW Ramblers are organising ‘Walk the Lines’ from Cowes Station to Newport. The walk will start from Cowes and is scheduled to start at 8am – the time the first train departed 150 years ago and everyone is welcome to join in.
Then on the evening of Saturday 16th June it just happens to be the IW Steam Railway’s Midsummer Jazz open air festival of jazz and swing and this year it features the Alan Barnes All-Star Jazz Band and the Temperance 7.
Set in the natural tree-lined arena next to the railway, many people bring a picnic to enjoy under the stars and guests like to dress in the period of the jazz age with feather boas, flappers and cravats all putting in an appearance.
The 1940s Experience
If the war years are more up your street then make sure you catch the 1940s experience over the weekend of June 30th and July 1st when men in uniforms, spivs with goods for sale, silk stockings and military machines will be in evidence. Jitterbugging will be breaking out on the platforms and female trio ‘The Spitfires’ will be belting out songs of the period
You can relive the hustle and bustle of a country railway station where war time activities collide with every day rural life. A farmyard threshing machine will be working in the shadow of a magnificent WW2 fighter plane while soldiers prepare for active service and you can meet the ‘French Resistance’.
Over the weekend of August 4th and 5th it’s back to Victorian times for visitors as the forgotten world of Sherlock Holmes, Victorian maids, steam train travel, and ladies in bustle gowns are brought to life in a living, breathing historical experience.
You can be amazed by Mr Alexander’s Travelling Show featuring astounding acts of juggling, balancing, uni-cycling and all manner of skills. Watch as ‘Queen Victoria’ arrives from her home at Osborne by Royal train, and take a trip down ‘memory lane’ with nostalgic music from Fiona Harrison, while browsing the Victorian stalls offering a wealth of treasures.
The 38th Island Steam Show
For a bit of everything, the Island Steam Show from August 24th –27th has traditional fairground rides, beautifully maintained traction engines, vintage cars, motorcycles and old wagons. Mr Alexander’s Travelling Show features astounding acts of juggling, balancing, uni-cycling and all kinds of feats of skill and kids can learn circus skills with Circus Wizz. Or you might like to meet the Blackfoot Lodge in their Red Indian encampment or sample the ‘Sanctuary’ for a little pampering and indulgence. There are loads of country crafts and stalls to browse and a Real Ale Bar with a range of over 50 real ales.