Although at the time I was far more interested in Welsh narrow gauge, the O-16.5 layout featured in Railway Modeller in June 1991 seemed to strike a chord and eventually became more direct inspiration many years later.
The High Weald Light Railway, built by Dave Holman, was a freelance layout occupying roughly the same geographical space as the standard gauge Kent & East Sussex Railway, except that “main line” ran from Rye to Maidstone via Tenterden and Headcorn. There were also branches to Camber (replacing the 3′ Rye & Camber Tramway) and Hawkhurst, which was the station modelled.
I think the appeal of this layout, at the time, was the considerable thought that had been put in to the history and route of the railway and the larger scale of the rolling stock used which gave a feeling somewhere between the Welshpool & Llanfair and the Irish narrow gauge. The scenic work was also excellent.
It wasn’t until I moved to Sussex in 2004 that I started looking at my new local area as potential setting for my own narrow gauge layout. Digging out the HWLR article again I started formulating the plan for Fairlight, which would inherit roughly the same concept but a slightly more constrained geographical spread. It would also take up a suggestion in the article and imagine the line had made it to the preservation era. Then something interesting happened.
Cranbrook Town, the successor to Hawkhurst?
At the 2006 Bexhill exhibition there was another O-16.5 layout, Cranbrook Town, which appeared to be a further development of the HWLR. The layout had changed ownership since being built, so I couldn’t confirm it, but it was clearly a “High Weald” line and the atmosphere was very similar. Later comparision with the RM article showed that the station building had been recycled from Hawkhurst, and maybe some of the stock too.
It’s a bit of a shame that I missed out on a connection to that inspirational layout without fully realising it, but it was great to see part of it at least. If anyone knows of further High Weald layouts, please let me know!