Welcome to the Bluebell 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 Bluebell Railway
Bluebell Railway in Sussex is a full on steam train experience, often with so much more on than you can fit in during one day. The line runs from Sheffield Park through to East Grinstead, having had an extension that opened in March 2013 (after 39 years and £11m). At 11 miles it is a lengthy trip to do the full journey, but the Sussex Weald offers great countryside views, there is lots for the kids to see in terms of stations and rolling stock, and the longest tunnel for a heritage railway in the UK. It is great line to visit from London.
As would be expected of a larger preserved railway there are plenty of shops and places to eat, as well as special days that are put on to entertain kids through to steam enthusiasts.
What you will see
There is so much to see you will need to plan well. First, the stations are impeccably restored to different eras. Then there are many engines, rolling stock and other paraphernalia for kids to lose themselves in. If there is a special event on then this makes the railway that much busier, but still with six or seven departures a day usually quite manageable. When we last visited it was quite busy due to school holidays, a modelling event and the visit of Peter’s Railway author Christopher Vine.
The line starts just a short walk from the National Trust garden and it feels like you travel through similar for most of the 11 miles. Woodlands and green countryside is the typical view with the odd level crossing and a great tunnel that is around half a mile long. When you come towards East Grinstead it becomes more urban, with the station at that end situated just off from a large Sainsbury’s.
Bluebell Railway stations
Starting with Sheffield Park, the first thing that will strike you about the Bluebell Railway is the care taken on the approach to immediately immerse you in a bygone era. Specifically the station building has been restored to what it would have been like in the 1880s, when first built to mainly serve the large house owned by Lord Sheffield. Having picked up your ticket at the booth and shown it to the inspector, you’ll immediately be on a (usually bustling) platform. The trains depart from this side, which also provides access to the restaurant (Bessemer Arms), shop and other buildings such as the locomotive sheds. The latter houses Stepney, who features in the Thomas The Tank Engine series. This is also where model railways run when special events are put on. The museum is across the other side on platform 2.
Bluebell Railway has cleverly restored Horsed Keynes, the main central station, to the 1920s era even though it was built in the 1880s too. This gives you and the kids a chance for a bit of spot the difference. Budding engineers can look over the carriage works at restoration efforts. There is also a smaller cafe here.
Kingscote is a smaller station, restored to the 1950s design, but not always stopped at and probably one to miss with kids.
Completing the travel through time, East Grinstead station is platform 3 with the modern Southern trains visible from there. There are toilets and a converted carriage – The Grinsteade Shop and Buffet. This is also where the engine will run around the train which is always good for kids to watch.
A video to get the kids excited
Special train events for kids
Bluebell Railway is decent for children’s specials. There is a week – usually early August – dedicated to kids with events such as Punch & Judy, Circus Skills, a Beach Day (including donkey rides). There are also reindeer and Santa specials. However, for better or worse, the line does not do the more commercialised end of things, such as Days Out With Thomas or visits from Peppa Pig.
The Stepney Club is also a subscription based club that gives various treats like a birthday card and discounted travel.
Bluebell Railway doesn’t appear to do specific parties. However, a safe bet would be to pre-order Stepney lunch boxes and tickets, meaning you can spend most of your time on the train.
Sheffield Park has the best eating option within the railway itself, with picnics also possible a little way from the platforms or a little further next to the River Ouse). The other two main stations have smaller cafes for snacks and light lunches. Another option is a brisk walk to Sainsbury’s before the train returns from East Grinstead – or a walk into town if you’re happy to catch the next one. All the main stations have baby change, while pushchairs can be taken on the trains.
When to go
The line is running about three quarters of the year and has daily services pretty much from spring to autumn. There are lots of events so make sure to plan if you want a quieter visit.
Bluebell Railway is not cheap and there is little saving to be made in shortening the trip, but does regular Kids For a Quid. It runs third and first class sections as a nod to the past but third is perfectly good.
|Full return (third class)||Half return (third class)|
Getting to Bluebell Railway
If arriving by car, starting at Sheffield Park (TN22 3QL) makes most sense due to its large overflow car park and the amount that goes on there. Horsted Keynes (RH17 7BB) also has parking in a field during the peak season. East Grinstead there are various public car parks.
Key links and contacts
The Bluebell Railway,
Sheffield Park Station,
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