First visit to the SKLR by sound artist Jim Whelton

I’m very excited to be making my very first trip on the SKLR. Laura from
Arts Transmission and Daniel the BRFM presenter have kindly offered to act
as my guides.
We’re riding the Santa Special from Sittingbourne Junction up to Kemsley.
Steam piling and curling above us in an impossible bouffant, we pass along
the viaduct, just one of the impressive pieces of engineering that comprise
this railway. Daniel, who knows the area well, fills me in on changes to the
local landscape that have accompanied the passing of the old paper mill. Our
carriage is filled with sound, all manner of metallic clanks, rickety clunks
and clamorous rumbles accompany our progress along the line and attempt to
drown out the energetic chug-chug-chug of the engine ahead of us. It’s a
radically different soundscape to that of the high speed train that brought
me from London.
At Kemsley, we are met by a young volunteer, the knowledgeable Dan. He leads
us on an involving tour of the site ­ the station, work sheds, museum, coal
bunkers, shop ­ not forgetting the café where Liz and Bob provide a welcome
cup of tea, (reasonably priced as the detective character in David Lynch’s
memorable TV series Twin Peaks would have said). Along the way, I start to
get an inkling of the magnitude of the task required to keep the engines,
carriages and tracks in operational and in peak condition.
The sight of the beautiful engines in the yard; ­ some in active service,
some awaiting restoration alongside stoical museum pieces, momentarily bring
to life how the paper mill and railway were intricately woven into the lives
of the people who lived and worked here. I close my eyes briefly and try to
imagine the rich mix of sounds that would have comprised a working day in
this amazing place.

post by sound artist Jim Whelton


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