Spirit of the South: The steam railway showcasing the beauty of the Romney Marsh

ITV News Meridian's John Ryall takes a trip on the railway through the Romney Marsh

The South is a special part of the country with stunning coastlines, wonderful woodlands and waterways.

ITV News Meridian is celebrating this part of the world with our annual series called 'Spirit of the South', showcasing the region and some of the hidden treasures it holds.

Romney Marsh on the Kent/Sussex border has some of the best beaches in Britain,  fourteen medieval churches, a nuclear power station and many more sheep than people.

It is said that the sky there is always three quarters of the landscape and millions of people have viewed that striking landscape from a miniature railway, whose trains are now steaming towards their 100th birthday.

It was the vision of a racing driver and a millionaire businessman who paid for its creation, and it opened in 1927, when The Queen was one.

The one-third full size steam and diesel locos running on the 13 and a half miles of 15 inch gauge track between Hythe and Dungeness are the originals.

Travelled on again and again by generations of children, with some returning as adults to work here as volunteers and salaried staff.

Alan Botting was a Westminster driver for three Prime Ministers before joining the team Credit: ITV News Meridian

Alan Botting rode the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway as a child on seaside holidays to Greatstone.

He went on to work as a Westminster driver for three prime ministers - Margaret Thatcher, Gordon Brown and John Major.

Alan said: "The great thing about this is the public. They come here to enjoy themselves. That's the difference between this job and my last job, people come here to enjoy themselves.

"We would come down here and I used to buy a weekly ticket. My mum and dad would leave me at the station in the morning and pick me up in the evening and I used to ride up and down the line.

"I started in the shops and worked my way up, dispatching on the platform, signal boxes, then diesel driving, then steam driving. Not everyone makes it that far. I was lucky. I did.

"I've been driving it for nine seasons now. This has been my office for eight years now. We know each other quite well."

Neil Horrocks rode the railway as a child Credit: ITV News Meridian

Like Alan, Neil Horrocks rode these trains as a child - now he directs them.

Neil said: "It was coming on this as a child and thinking 'this railway was built for me - it's my size, it's purpose-built for me'. Then as you get a little older you realise the history of it. It would never be created now.

"I can't see Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen getting together and building this, but that's the equivalent of what happened.

"Just now people asked me it they are the original locos. When I said they were from the 1920s they were stunned that they're still working, still doing what they were built to do."

Lockdowns and Covid restrictions have hit passenger numbers and income hard, but the team of 30 who run the railway say it runs on steam, diesel and determination.

Richard Chapman, Retail Operations Manager, said: "For the staff and volunteers who operate the railway it really has been challenging.

"Some would say it's turned the railway into a roller-coaster. We've had serious ups and downs as we've gone through the pandemic but at each stage as restrictions are lifted we've opened up little by little towards what you see today - an open railway where you can hop on and hop off as well as pre-book."

Credit: ITV News Meridian

As it approaches its 100th birthday there are plans to run all 11 locos in celebration - trains that have delighted millions of children over the decades.