For parents of kids that love trains, it can become all consuming. Every day out seems to be to a heritage railway, a railway museum or a station just to watch trains. By contrast, every day out that’s suggested that doesn’t include trains kicks off with a whiff of disappointment, even if the children eventually have a whale of a time. Here are some ideas for days out that don’t just involve trains.
Steam rallies and country shows
There are thousands of steam rallies, country and vintage shows around the UK every year. Many of them can be found on this excellent site, while this is a great site if you want to ensure there are traction engines at the event.
There would be some model steam engines, tents from the local heritage railways and stalls selling railway toys, books and more. Enough on trains to spike the initial interest. However, there is lots more besides.
First, steam traction engines. They will be seen in a wide range of sizes from one-man (well, it does always seem to be men) ride on engines to giants with wheels twice as tall as the children. Some will trundle around the site or be shown off in the ring, others will put-put away next to a stall.
Others might be joined up to great saws to carve planks out of tree trunks. For kids that love trains, especially steam trains, it is a great way to capture their imagination on what else in days gone by has been powered in this way.
Next is the other vehicles that tend to be at these rallies. There can be everything from old fashioned cars and buses through to car and motorbike clubs showing off impeccable examples of the major marques.
There was also tractor pulling at the last event we went to. Although it was not quite as extreme as shown on the British Tractor Pullers Association website, nonetheless it was exciting for the boys to watch. We also giggled when one of the tractors broke down and had to be pulled off by – you guessed it – a rival tractor.
Add in fairground rides, car boot sales of grimy but irresistible metal knick-knacks and any amount of local variation (the Dorset Axemen, for us) and you have a great day out.
Walk or cycle on a disused railway
About a third of Britain’s railway network was closed after the publication of the Beeching report in the 1960s. About 8,000 miles were removed, but now an estimated 4,500 miles have been redeveloped as great walking or cycling paths.
My go to website for so-called Rail Trails is this one. Where you live or are holidaying will dictate which you might go on. Just bear the following few things in mind.
- How much does the path run along the railway?
- How long is the route and can you shorten it if little legs get tired?
- Are there any disused stations or other railway buildings you will be able to show the kids?
- What food and other facilities will you need and are they en route?
- Is it suitable for pushchairs?
- If cycling, the wider and quieter the trail, the more you can concentrate on scenery rather than collisions.
Of course, if you want to plan the ultimate reward, you could walk alongside a heritage railway and take the train on the way back. I do this regularly at Spa Valley Railway in Kent. Avon Valley Railway is also one of the best for this. Finally, I would suggest trying the Snowdon Mountain Railway to really challenge kids of about 8 upwards, but only in good weather.
Head to a multi-transport museum
Rather than going to a dedicated railway museum, why not go to one that covers multiple transports? If you’re in striking distance of London, the London Transport Museum is a must. The ticket you buy lasts a full year but is good value for a day visit alone.
Split over three floors, a lift first takes you ‘back in time’ to 18th Century London. It certainly surprised my eldest to see that buses and trains evolved from horse-drawn omnibuses. As is the case throughout the museum, there are plenty of chances for kids to look at or climb inside the vehicles, but also read information boards and play games related to the transport around them. This includes a Stamper Trail that my kids have never quite completed. The middle floor holds two lengthy trains, with one being a steam engine that previously ran along the London Underground. The bottom floor is the crown jewels though. There are a whole range of buses from different eras to climb on or drive, a craft area that is typically well staffed with things for the children to do, a London Underground section with modern trains and simulators and a cafe with wooden railways to play with.
If that doesn’t exhaust you and the children of energy and money, then the brilliantly stocked shop (posters, games, souvenirs, everything) certainly will.
National Trust/English Heritage sites
Depending on the location, a number of National Trust, English Heritage or similar sites are located near railways. Our kids love watching trains, especially going over bridges. The pearl we’ve found so far is the Godalming Navigations and Dapdune Wharf. Trains run across the bridge just a few hundred metres from the site. The wharf and dry-docked barge are fascinating in theirt own right and a great opportunity to explain how canals were used to transport goods (before partly being replaced by railways). You can also take a river boat cruise along the canal, passing underneath many bridges.
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