Branch Line Britain - celebrating Britain's minor railways

Southern - Paddock Wood review 1


Strood to Paddock Wood 13/3/08

Cost of ticket: £4.20 (Cheap Day return - Strood to Maidstone West)

£3.60 (Cheap Day Return - Maidstone West to Paddock Wood)

Dept: Strood 11.30    Arrive: Maidstone West 11.52. 

Dept: Maidstone West 12.24    Arrive: Paddock Wood 12.44

Journey time: 46 minutes

Distance:  21 ¼ miles    Weather: cloudy

Train type: 2 car Class 466 EMU unit / 3 car 508 EMU unit

(double track all the way)

Railway company: South Eastern

Frequency of trains - one every half hour to Maidstone / every hour to Paddock Wood


I was originally going to get the midday departure from Strood straight through to Paddock Wood, but as I got to Strood station earlier than I thought I caught the 11.31 to Maidstone West instead. This meant that I had half an hour to quickly visit Maidstone and take some extra photos there. Strood station is perched high up above the street and so the train I was getting could be seen from the car park across the road. It was standing on platform 3 where it does a shuttle all day long between Maidstone and Strood. It was a 2 car 466 unit. Strood station is a bland grey modern building overlooking the river Medway and has an island platform next to a single platform. My train leaves on time and continues straight on whilst the mainline to Margate veers to the left, where it joins up with the Bromley/Victoria track, which we go under. You can see Rochester Castle and Cathedral on the other side of the river, which we run parallel to for most of this route. On the other side of the track are several industrial units and we speed up to about 50 mph before we go under the M2 motorway and the newly opened Channel Tunnel rail link. We then slow down to stop at Cuxton, which is right next door to a paddle steamer that obviously takes day-trippers for cruises on the Medway. The original red brick building is still standing, but is boarded up. There are two grey coloured bus shelters on both platforms and the original cast iron footbridge. We move forwards into a cutting that has the odd daffodil growing on its slopes. The river Medway now becomes narrower here and there are fewer houses to be seen. There is a brick works on the right and some old sidings to the left, before more houses appear and we arrive at Halling. Again there is an original station building here - this time it's yellow brick. It's also boarded up and again there are two bus stops on the platforms, though the cast iron footbridge adds some colour, being painted in blue and white.  We move into another cutting, which has had all its vegetation recently cut back. There's another set of disused sidings as more industrial units appear on the right, with some new housing, as we come into Snodland station - great name for a place! It has a lovely two-storied building, which is sadly neglected and boarded up, though I can't see any bus stops here. This time the footbridge is painted yellow and white. There's also a level crossing and signal box here looking after a busy road crossing. There's a water treatment works on the right as well as a lot of industrial units, both old and new on both sides. Next we see some gravel pits, now filled with water on both sides of the track. Then more industrial units come into view as we arrive at New Hythe. The two original station buildings have both been boarded up, whilst the station itself is surrounded by a large paper recycling plant. Aylesford Newsprint has some sidings here as the track bends sharply to the east and we soon arrive at Aylesford station, which has recently been refurbished in a Tudor style. There's also a level crossing and box here. It is still very industrial and the M20 is next to the railway on the right. The train speeds up to about 60 mph as we pass through some woodland though light industry is never very far away. We then pass under the M20 and more sidings on the right, before moving into a cutting. We see the river Medway on the left, as houses spring up indicating that we are now on the outskirts of Maidstone. We go under the railway line from London to Ashford via Maidstone East and come into Maidstone Barracks station. Originally an army barracks was here, but now it's a builder's yard on the left with lots of container units piled high on the right. There's no station buildings to be seen here - just a single bus stop. There's plenty of new housing as well. We move off slowly through a brick lined cutting and then through a small tunnel before emerging at Maidstone West station. It's a large Victorian station with four platforms, though only two seem to be in use nowadays, with a third track (for freight) passing right through the middle of the station. The original buildings seem to be in use as staff offices.

I get off the train as it terminates here and go for a walk in the centre of Maidstone, before returning half an hour later to take the 12.24 from Strood to Paddock Wood. It is a three-car unit and there are only five people in my carriage. Soon after it pulls away we are back by the side of the river Medway, which is on our left. We are soon out into the countryside and on the left edge of a slope covered in houses and trees by the riverbank. We pass some larger detached houses on the left as we arrive at East Farleigh station, which has two platforms split either side of a level crossing. It has a pleasant cream-coloured wooden station building and crossing box. We are now well and truly out into the heart of the Kent countryside and see lots of hop fields on the right. A little further on we pass an old pillbox perched on the hillside to my right - a reminder of the time when Kent was the first county in line for a possible invasion in the 2nd World War. We are only going around 30-40 mph now as we see plenty of boats moored below us on the river Medway to our left. The amount of new housing on the right indicates that we are approaching Wateringbury, which again has two separate platforms. There are two original station buildings here. One is nicely preserved as a private dwelling, whilst the other is all boarded up. There is also a nice signal box controlling the level crossing. As we move out of the village and into the countryside again, there are ploughed fields, with a converted oast house not far away. Next we pull into Yalding station, which has bus shelters and its original yellow brick building, though sadly all its windows are boarded up and covered with grills. There are some small industrial units on the left, but the countryside soon returns. We pass a gravel works and a ballast tip siding on the right and see the A228 Maidstone to Tonbridge road beyond that. Surprisingly in all this arable land I see some sheep grazing in the field on the left as we come into Beltring station. It's a small country station with no buildings or even shelters, with a "hollow" wooden platform with nothing below them. You can see more oast houses in the distance, but no hop fields. There are still some sheep grazing in the fields round here, then some hop fields do appear once more. There are lots of the sidings on the right as we come into the town of Paddock Wood. We pass a Network Rail training centre on the right as the we join the East Kent mainline. We then come into platform 2 of Paddock Wood station. We alight, but the train moves off towards to Tonbridge, presumably to be stabled until it is needed for a later return journey. Paddock Wood has just three platforms with platform 3 being a bay platform for the Strood trains. There are four tracks through the station.

Summary: An usual branch line of two halves - The first half is a busy northern section through industrialised north Kent to Maidstone, whilst the second half is a quieter, more traditional country branch line section, south of Maidstone. MC