© Geoff’s Rail Diaries 2012 We’d booked a holiday in France - nothing too energetic, a comfortable 80 miles south of Calais, in a gite roughly half-way between Abbeville and Saint- Valery-sur-Somme. The latter is noteworthy for being William the Conqueror’s departure point for Hastings in 1066 - and home of the largely metre-gauge Chemin de Fer de la Baie de Somme - the Somme Bay Railway, in other words. Given that we were less than 5 miles from the railway, which runs every day, we were able to see at least some activity most days - in addition to the two days on which we took a ride. The CFBS is the oldest part, and surviving part, of the Réseau des Bains de Mer. It extends from Le Crotoy, on the north side of the bay, via Noyelles-sur-Mer (which isn’t...), to St Valery. Here, the line continues from St Valery Ville to Cayeux-sur-Mer, whilst a short branch extends to St Valery Quay (or “Port”) - the terminus of most trains from Le Crotoy. The expression “largely metre-gauge” may have puzzled some readers. Metre-gauge trains can run the whole length of the line - but the line is mixed gauge from Noyelles to St Valery Quay, and the railway possesses a small amount of standard gauge stock. In 2009, the Kent and East Sussex Railway’s P class 0-6-0T no. 753 visited - and ran between St Valery and Noyelles. This line probably has more termini that any other preserved railway! The obvious limits of the line are Le Crotoy and Cayeux-su-Mer - but the station at Noyelles, junction with SNCF. forms the stem of a “Y” - all trains must stop and reverse here! St Valery Quay is also a terminus. Our first sight of the railway came on the Saturday - we had driven to St Valery for some essential provisions, but would check out the railway too, to get our bearings for the following day’s outing. Our first encounter was the modern bridge across the canalised Somme - my wife takes pride in the fact the she was the first to spot the train - there it was, on the quay, ready to depart behind ex-Reseau Breton 4-6-0T no. E332. Duly recorded, we made our way to St Valery Ville - just in time to see 2-6-0T no. 15 depart with a train to Cayeux. An excellent start to our holiday... Beside the Somme - E332 (Fives-Lille 3587 of 1909) departs... ...and crosses the bridge over the river No 15 at St Valery Ville - ready for off No 15 (Haine-St-Pierre 1316 of 1920) sets out for Cayeux-sur-Mer ...and away we go Sunday - a ride to Cayeux The whole network is in use throughout July and August - but outside that peak period, the line from St Valery Ville to Cayeux-sur-Mer sees more limited use - a diesel-hauled train on Sundays being the standard model, though there are days when steam operates (the previous day being one such...). We also intended to visit the Froissy - Cappy - Dompierre railway - “Le P’tit Train de la Haute Somme” - which only operates on Sundays at this time of year. It’s going to be a busy day... We arrived at the station in plenty of time - to see a short train arrive from Cayeux (couldn’t see it on the timetable leaflet...) - two four-wheeled coaches hauled by a diminutive German-built 4- wheeled diesel, no 2. Would this form our train? Apparently not - a rather quaint- looking 0-6-0 diesel, no 351, clanked across the bridge hauling a van and three rather nice wooden coaches. With wooden seats... Built in 1951, the locomotive is only slightly older than no 2 (1953), and saw service on the pre-preservation Baie de Somme railway. The ride to Cayeux is pleasant (what a lot of level crossings!) - the train climbs gently from St Valery, before descending gradually through open farm land to the intermediate station of Lanchères - Pendé. We now traverse low-lying land, with numerous drainage ditches and water birds, before arriving at our destination - “sur-Mer”, though we can’t see the sea from the station, and there isn’t time to go looking for it... The run-round is completed efficiently, and we’re away again behind the growling and rumbling diesel, back to St Valery in plenty of time for lunch and the drive out to the Haute Somme... No 2 KHD (Klöckner-Humboldt-Deutz 55486 of 1953) arrives from Cayeux Diesel No 2 at St Valery Ville Arrival of 351 (VFIL Lumbres of 1951) "With wooden seats..." No 15 sneaks past St Valery Ville Lanchčres - Pendé - no passengers today Arrival at Cayeux Cayeux-sur-Mer Brighton Plage Morning trains The off-peak weekday timetable consists of two out-and-back trips from Le Crotoy to St Valery. With lazy mornings planned, I was able to take a look at the the train before lunch, with activities elsewhere for the remainder of the day. On Monday, a shopping trip to St Valery provided an opportunity to look at operations on the quay (”St Valery Port” in the timetable), where a modern electrically-operated turntable enables locomotives to turn and run round their trains. On Tuesday and Wednesday, a visit to Noyelles would fit the bill. There’s a turntable here, too - an old manual job - but the crews didn’t seem inclined to use it. On arriving at Noyelles on Tuesday - while I was parking the car - a lengthy freight (stone empties?) hurried through on the main line - hauled by EWS 66033. Not quite what I was expecting to see! I did manage a shot of a passing passenger - loco-hauled, I’m guessing a Boulogne - Paris train. On Wednesday, we’d driven beside the line on our way to Noyelles from St Valery - there might be a reasonable photo with a pool in the foreground. Yes, there might, but the train got there more quickly than I’d expected - so instead of the pool, there’s a flock of sheep... First sight of No 1 - the bridge over the Somme "a modern electrically-operated turntable" Turned Noyelles - BB6759 - Boulogne-Paris? Noyelles - no 1 arrives, ...takes water... Watering at Noyelles - No 1 "Aisne" (Corpet-Louvet 1092 of 1906) ...and departs... ...without being turned today. Following day - BB67523 No 1 arrives No 1 departs (not turned today either) I wasn't quick enough... The sheep should have been a pool Lunch in Le Crotoy The morning train from St Valery arrives at Le Crotoy at 1.00pm. Everything then stops until 3.30pm - the afternoon trip. That would leave us with 2½ hours - just right for a leisurely lunch (which was inexpensive and excellent). The weekday service had been in the hands of a little red 2-6-0T, no 1 “Aisne”. Presumably it would haul our train today? Tickets in hand, we made our way from St Valery Ville to the quayside to await our train. “Is that it?” A train made its way cautiously over the bridge - “looks like no E332 - the one we saw on Saturday”. It was, hauling a short rake of wooden-bodied coaches. not the stock we’d been seeing all week. To the consternation of (some) passengers waiting on the quay, it pulled into the Cayeux side of Ville station, and ran round. What’s going on? We didn’t need to worry for long. Shortly, “Aisne” appeared with the familar rake of coaches, trundled through the north side of Ville station and pulled up on the quayside. We took our seats in a relatively modern bogie coach, ex- Switzerland, and had a pleasant run to Noyelles. There was time to get out here for a photo or two, to see “Aisne” turned on that little turntable - and to see E332 entering the station with its special train. Definitely special - the tables in the coach which stopped opposite ours were laid with glasses of champagne. We were soon on our way to Le Crotoy. I’ve no idea what the special did after that. Lunch eaten, we made our way back to Le Crotoy station, where it was evident that the train would soon be full - we jumped on immediately behind the locomotive, in a little 4-wheeled saloon - to be treated to a driver’s eye view of the run back to Noyelles (our deafness from the frequent use of the whistle - lots of level crossings again - proved to be temporary) Start of the day - arrival at St Valery Running round at St Valery E332 on the special, St Valery Ville E332 arrives at Noyelles No 1 and E332 at Noyelles Turning at Le Crotoy Le Crotoy On shed - lunchtime at Le Crotoy Le Crotoy - ready to go Ready for off - Le Crotoy More coal Out on the line Driver's eye Arriving at Noyelles - a train passes on the main line Today we're turning at Noyelles Back a bit... Our jolly crew Crossing the salt marshes Passing through St Valery Canal Our last crossing The railway’s works and running shed are located across the tracks from the former station at St Valery Canal. Once or twice during the week, I’d noticed clouds of smoke and steam rising through the trees, and wondered what was going on. Today’s trip had taken us through the site - I’d better go and have a look. I found an assortment of railway personnel at the old station, and began to ask, in shamefully-poor French, if I could visit the works and depot to take a photo or two. Long before I’d managed to get the words out, I was interrupted with the question “Anglais?” “Oui” “No problème”. Merci beaucoup. No ‘elf and safety excuses here... No 3714 "Beton-Bazoches" Buffaud-Robatel of 1909 No 25 Corpet Louvet 0-4-0T 1672 of 1927 E332 on shed E332 and 351 No 15 at St Valery Canal Boilers 352 and railcar Standard gauge stock at St Valery Canal Au revoir Not that I’ve any immediate plans to return - but who knows? This is definitely a railway that would be worth another visit, perhaps when some of those other interesting locos are in action. It’s Friday - our last look at “Aisne”, beside that roadside pool, a view that sums up so much about the atmosphere of this superb little line. Link: CF Baie de Somme official website A last look at the CF Baie de Somme