Welcome to the South Devon Railway entry in the Trains For Kids Days Out Guide. Below you will find everything you need to know about this railway attraction. This includes what to expect during a visit, what facilities there are to make the day with the family run smoothly and what special activities and shopping can be found there.
About South Devon Railway
South Devon Railway offers a great variety of things for children and their families to do. As well as a picturesque heritage railway ride alongside the River Dart between Buckfastleigh and Totnes, the railway offers a museum, miniature and model railways, guards van rides and much more. For an even more action packed day, combine your visit with the rare breeds farm and butterfly and otter centres.
What you will see
We started our visit at Buckfastleigh where there is ample, free parking. Having driven under the line to park it is easy to see which way to go to find the platforms, although you can go another way that takes you through the miniature railway that wasn’t running for our visit but does look like fun. The playground and picnic area are here too.
Crossing the footbridge, which gives a great view of the platform, station, signal box, sheds and water tower, you will be on the main platform from which the main train and brake van rides depart from. The station itself is kept very nicely with period signage, luggage and so on. Tickets for the main train ride – or joint tickets with Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and/or Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies – are bought in a little ticket office midway down the platform.
One thing to note about South Devon Railway is that there are only six or seven weeks in the summer when the full, nine services per day timetable is run. The standard service is four departures per day and so make sure you time your day around those.
That said, the volunteers really put themselves out to ensure you have a busy day. Visiting during a half term special, the boys were able to make craft ghosts for Halloween in the museum, where there was also face-painting for a small charge and a couple of small wooden train sets. The museum itself is also well set up for children, with them able to walk into the cab of a small steam engine. This filled some of our time before departure before we were encouraged by the staff to join the double-decker bus ride on board a 1960s London Transport Routemaster owned by the trust. This was a wonderful addition to the day, taking a 25 minute circular route to Buckfast Abbey and Buckfastleigh town and included a rendition of the wheels on the bus.
A top tip for the train journey itself is to sit on the Buckfastleigh platform side because the river and best views are on this side. There is usually a buffet car open in the central part of the train and a mix of carriages to choose from. For most of the seven-mile journey the track follows the River Dart with hills each side, running under a few bridges but no tunnels. The train stops at Staverton (be in the front two coaches from Buckfastleigh or rear two from Totnes), a quiet country station with riverside walks to the village and its 14th century church. Totnes is much busier and the mainline trains run into the town’s station nearby. The heritage station there has been rebuilt from Great Western Railway artifacts from around western England.
Back at Buckfastleigh we spent time in the playground, listening to the steam organ and going on the merry-go-round.
A video to get the kids excited
Special train events for kids
South Devon Railway has Day Out With Thomas once a year, typically in May, as well as Santa By Steam specials in December and a Halloween evening in October for older kids and adults. Children are welcome on the Rail Cruises. Watch out for special events during school holidays, including half terms, as we were really pleased with the effort put in by staff during the October half term.
South Devon Railway has trains and the bus for hire but doesn’t appear to formally do birthday parties. You could easily combine a lunch or tea at the Refreshment Rooms and a train ride.
The Refreshment Rooms at Buckfastleigh station serves hot and cold food, including children’s meals. There is also the picnic area.
There are two lots of toilets with baby change facilities at Buckfastleigh and one at Totnes.
Buggies and pushchairs can be left on the stations or carried in the luggage van of the train. However, as the sites are not overly large they may not be needed.
There is a large gift and model shop – Expressway Models – at Buckfasleigh station.
When to go
The museum is typically open everyday from mid-May until mid-September, and then on selected dates around Christmas and other school holidays. It is worth checking when trains will start running on the day you visit as hours are limited to 10.30-16.00 in winter and 10.30-17.00 in summer (except on special days like Thomas visiiting).
South Devon Railway is mainly open between late March and the end of October. However, there are some notable specials in December outside the main season. The three attraction visit allows entry to Dartmoor Otters & Buckfast Butterflies, and Totnes Rare Breeds Farm as well – though we felt this too much for the single day we had.
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Getting to South Devon Railway
Aim for Buckfastleigh station (TQ11 0DZ) where there is free parking. There is also paid parking near Totnes.
Key links and contacts
South Devon Railway
Tel: 01364 644370
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