Saturday 1st June 2019
There’s a lovely railway branch line which heads in a north/south direction across the centre of Kent where Southeastern trains shuttle up and down all day between Tonbridge in the Weald and Strood in the more industrial north of the county. It’s a quiet backwater line weaving its way between the main commuter lines heading east/west linking East Kent with London
It takes just over 50 minutes to travel the full journey from one end of the line to the other. Southeastern deploy two trains in the off peak every hour between Tongbridge and Strood with an extra train adding a half hourly frequency between Maidstone West (situated in the centre of the line) and Strood. In peak hours trains don’t make it all the way to Tonbridge but instead run every half hour between Paddock Wood (the station after Tonbridge and where there’s a little bay platform to turnback) and Strood.
Rather than being a dead-end branch line, the Medway Valley Line provides passengers with handy connections at both ends to High Speed Trains whisking you off to Ebbsfleet, Stratford and St Pancras International at Strood and at Tonbridge (or Paddock Wood) trains connect to London Bridge, Waterloo East and Charing Cross.
There are also connections at Tonbridge to the hourly Southern service via Edenbridge to Redhill; where there are connections south to Gatwick Airport (and Brighton) as well as west to Dorking, Guildford and Reading on the GWR diesel train service.
What a shame, now bi-mode trains are becoming fashionable, it isn’t possible to join all these east-west connections up and run a through train from Reading to Redhill, Tonbridge, Maidstone and on to Strood every hour; a bit like a railway M25.
There are two stations in Maidstone on the line, the one after Maidstone West (towards Strood) is called Maidstone Barracks even though the Invicta Park Barracks complex in the county town is a little way north east of the station the other side of the main A229 to Rochester and ironically closer to the main station in Maidstone called Maidstone East on the Victoria to Ashford line. The Barracks are scheduled to close in 2027 but I doubt the station will be renamed.
The best feature of this lovely branch line is the way it follows the course of the River Medway for most of the route once it turns off the main Tonbridge to Ashford line at Paddock Wood and the tracks head north continuing past such lovely stations as Beltring, Yalding, Wateringbury and East Fairleigh to Maidstone West. The line continues along the course of the River Medway north of Maidstone West but it becomes more urban and industrial in nature.
There’s a designated 28 mile walk all along the River Medway from Tonbridge to Rochester called appropriately enough the Medway Valley Walk; it’s part of the Long Distance Walkers Association portfolio of recommended walks.
I’m not energetic enough to tackle a walk of that length, but I’d noticed the delightful views of the Medway on previous train journeys as I travelled along the line and have long wanted to take a bite-sized walk to savour the views and the tranquil atmosphere alongside the river.
In fine sunny weather last Thursday I got off the train at Yalding which is where the rail tracks begin running alongside the River and took the footpath along the River’s west bank to the next station up the line, the aptly named Wateringbury. It didn’t take long and I was in plenty of time to catch the next northbound train an hour later.
Yalding and Wateringbury have small boat marinas on the River Medway close to both stations which make for a picturesque addition to the scenery.
This line is a real gem in Kent’s busy rail network. It’s why I ranked it No 29 in my Hundred Best Train Journeys at the end of last year. It’s overseen by the Kent Community Partnership who have produced a very informative video on their website about the line and do their best to promote it and share its delights, as I’m doing now.