Berney Arms is one of those stations that everyone, even some outside railway enthusiast territory, knows about. When travel journalists compile their lists of deserted and beautiful stations, Berney Arms features. However, it is not the least used station on the Wherry Lines, and neither is it even in the least used stations list proper. The annual patronage of this station hovers around the 1000-1500 figure. The last time is fell below 1000 was in the '06 to '07 figures. Buckenham is the true shack on the Wherry Lines. It is only served during weekends and is used by about 100 people each year, even though it is actually located near a settlement. The settlement is called Buckenham. (Surprise!)
Journey 1: To Buckenham
With a very limited service on Saturday (1 train in each direction), the best day to visit Buckenham is Sunday. It enjoys 4 trains per day in each direction. Berney Arms also has the highest service level of the week on a Sunday. Therefore, a fairly early start from London took me up to Norwich in time for the 11:36 service, calling at both Buckenham and Berney Arms. The guard came bombing up the train, asking if anyone needed the request stops. I requested Buckenham and got the response “I'm already stopping at Buckenham.” Odd. As we approached, I got up, and went to the door. We stopped at Buckenham, and I got out, along with a couple, who I guessed were walkers.
I filmed the service departing from Buckenham, with the couple hovering behind me. I then decided to cross the railway line, in an attempt to get away from them. They followed me across. I then put my bag down under the pretence of drinking some water. I did this, and watched as they walked off down a path back towards Brundall. I then surveyed Buckenham Station.
Having a station straddling a level crossing is not weird. It is a fairly normal layout to have one platform on one side of the level crossing, with the opposite on the other side. This is a fairly logical platform layout. What is not logical is having one platform 100m down the track from the level crossing.
On the Lowestoft/Yarmouth platform, lies the old station house, which is now a private residence or two. These have doors right onto the platform, which is something that is fabulous. I would like a house with a door onto a station platform. The other facilities on the platform are a bench and a noticeboard.
The Norwich platform has a bench and a shelter.
The main set of information is on one side of the lane that connects the station houses to the main road. There is also a help point on the Norwich platform path and some other signs on the opposite side of the level crossing.
Journey 2: To Berney Arms
50 minutes later, the same service returned from Great Yarmouth, and I flagged it down. I boarded, sat down for 4 minutes, and then got off at Brundall. I sat down on a bench on the platform, and ate some of my pie and grapes. As a dog approached and had a wee right next to me, I lost my appetite for some reason, and walked to the other end of the platform. A train to Lowestoft arrived, and I boarded, changing again at Reedham to pick up the service to Berney Arms. It arrived, the same service that had taken me to and from Buckenham, and I requested Berney Arms from the same conductor who I had requested Buckenham from. He informed me that I was to get off from the front door. I stood by it, and he arrived to unlock it and let me off. As I got off, he asked me if I was going to get on on the way back. I responded that I would be here for a few hours and get another service. We wished each other a good day, and the train left.
Berney Arms has a good reason for being a “bucket list” station. (Goodness me I hate that phrase. If anything else, it's a waste of a good bucket. Or the list gets sandy or wet.) The station is brick, wood and crushed tarmac. The only facilities are a noticeboard, a help point, two things to chain bikes to, and a very large station sign. The main station information is on the path by some bushes. The way to get from the platform to the main walking route is by a gravel path protected from the track by a fence. The nearest road is 10 minutes away, and even then it is just a mud track.
The name Berney Arms is shared by a pub and a windmill. I walked down to the nearest river (the Yare) where the windmill was located. On the way, I had to pass a swan at caution. The swan was not pleased to see me, and hissed when, at one point, I had to dodge around a thistle.
I got to the windmill unharmed. It was closed to the public and fenced off. I doubt it has been open for a good long time. I continued along the river towards the pub, which I found. It was closed, and clearly had been for some time. The hut next to the pub was occupied by a topless man with a beard. He looked like a Conservative's cartoon drawing of a member of the Green Party minus the cannabis pipe.
I walked back to the station, again avoiding the swan, which had moved to be closer to the bridge. I also spotted another swan and a load of cygnets. I was glad that I was cautious enough not to be ripped a new one by a protective and powerful bird.
Sitting on the platform, I admired the surroundings of the Norfolk Broads, the lack of people and basically everything around the station, including the station. I was startled by a loud cracking sound. It was the swan flapping its wings in an aggressive fashion. I was even more glad that I was cautious enough not to be ripped a new one by a protective and powerful bird. I watched the same train that had been with me for the whole day pass on the way to Great Yarmouth. 21 minutes later, it returned, and I flagged it down.
Journey 3: Back to Buckenham
Since I had only had 50 minutes at Buckenham, but over 2 hours at Berney Arms, it was fair I visited Buckenham again to explore the surroundings. Having boarded, the guard came through for tickets. I requested Buckenham again, to which he said, in possibly a joky tone “you've stopped us here and now you want to stop us there?!” I apologised because I didn't know what else to do.
“Are you on a request stop day or something?”
“Yes” I responded, because I didn't really want to get into a long discussion about why I was actually doing it, and he also had a job to do. Checking tickets.
At Buckenham, the train stopped. I got out as the same couple who had got off the first time I had been at Buckenham got on. I felt less guilty about requesting Buckenham, as the train would have had to have stopped anyway.
As I filmed the departure of the train, the driver poked their head and arms out of the cab window and made a silly face to the camera. I have no idea why they did this.
Apart from the 2 houses, Buckenham appears to serve another RSPB reserve (I say another, because Berney Arms is nearby Berney Marshes RSPB reserve). I walked the short distance down to river Yare. Oh yes, it is the same one, just further up its course. The viewing point was fabulous, but an angler looked at me, so I left.
Journey 4: Home
As I sat in the baking afternoon sun at Buckenham (the Yarmouth/Lowestoft platform has no shelter), the last train of the day from the station arrived. It was (yes, you've guessed it,) the same one which I had been on for the entire day. I flagged it down, it stopped, and I boarded. At Lowestoft, I got out, only to find that the same train would form the service I was getting down to Ipswich. I got back on. The East Suffolk Line gets very busy as one gets further towards Ipswich. Settlements such as Saxmundham should probably get a better Sunday service than 1 train every 2 hours. I arrived at Ipswich, and joined the entire train-load on the platform, waiting for the express service to London to arrive. It arrived, late, and I found my reserved seat. It was being occupied by a bag. As nobody was sitting next to the bag, I decided to find another seat, and on the non-sunny side of the carriage. There was. I sat in it. The service arrived in London Liverpool Street, late, and I continued my way home on the tube and other suburban rail services.
Buckenham station is there for walkers and other tourists. I doubt the residents nearby (all 3 of them) actually use the train. If you don't believe me, I refer you to the I-must-prove-the-size-of-my-physical-and-monetary-assets Porsche in the driveway of one house. I'm not sure a weekday service would do anything. The only reason I can see for Berney Arms having one is because of the pub nearby, and that doesn't exist anymore. It could possibly be because of the increased demand as it is a station that a lot of people want to visit because it is such a remote and famous place, but I doubt that would be much of a feature in management's thinking. However,, with Saturday as likely a day for a nice walk or visit to a nature reserve as Sunday, the sparsity of services on a Saturday at both stations is fairly odd. My guess is that it is to do with a shortage of units. The Saturday timetable for rural Greater Anglia services is basically the same as the weekday timetable. A lack of available units could be a feature. Although, Lowestoft services could serve Buckenham more regularly, so perhaps it is another reason altogether that I've not been able to work out. These stations really only exist for walkers and other nature tourists, which is fairly unique but also lovely.
The other thing to note is how well kept the stations on the line are. Everything is clean, and even Berney Arms had flower pots with flowers in. It makes a difference from the “cleaner to platform 2 for a code 3” that is usually the only accessory on a London station. However, a bench wouldn't go amiss at Berney Arms.
Author - Felix