1 July 2023
Miniature railways provide an authentic experience for young children. Many are open air so kids can smell the coal or diesel. They get a feeling of speed and how power is generated. It’s a multi-sensory experience, not just a means for getting from A to B.
There are over 50 miniature railways throughout the UK. Powered by steam or diesel, petrol or battery, they operate on narrow, miniature, or minimum gauges. Children feel grown-up stepping onto them as many are built in proportion for a kid. The sounds, rhythm of the carriage over rails, the smell of steam or diesel, the stations, cuttings, level crossings and bridges they pass take children on a journey that is real to them.
In London, the Ruislip Lido is home to both a beach and Britain’s longest 12” gauge railway at 1,000 yards. Like many miniature railways, it is staffed by volunteers. They have six engines and one of them, Mad Bess was built in London. Four of the engines run on diesel but Mad Bess is a steam engine. Amazingly this locomotive is re-gaugeable so can travel all over the country.
At Lappa Valley near Newquay in Cornwall there are a variety of rides. A steam engine carries families through the countryside for 15 minutes and smaller lines take them for just 5 minutes around the park on diesel or electric lines. The train theme continues with a soft play housed in an engine shed. There is an amazing fleet of narrow gauge and miniature engines to see, some of which were built by the most renowned engineers in Britain. Each has its own history.
Some miniature railways exist because they had an industrial purpose when their tracks were originally laid. Brickworks Miniature Railway in Southampton is part of the Brickworks Museum. The trains were used to move heavy clay around the site in the 1900s.
Wester Pickston near Methven in Perthshire, Scotland occupies a seven-acre site bursting with railway delights. The miniature steam engines pass through woodland, a tunnel and over bridges before returning to a station and platform built to mimic the real thing. Books for all ages are available to buy.
Rhyl Miniature Railway in Wales is 1 mile long and Britain’s oldest running miniature railway. It has a museum where you can learn how steam engines work and sit in the driver’s seat. The steam trains were built in the 1920s for tourism and pleasure. The route circles Marine Lake and is nearly all flat.
Drumawhey Junction near Belfast has a variety of locomotives driven by petrol, electricity and steam. The ride is 12 minutes long and passes through all kinds of features like a station, cuttings and a level crossing inspired by full-sized railways. There is even a signal cabin and engine and coach sheds.
A day out to a miniature railway will fascinate and thrill kids of all ages. It will inspire a love of travel, adventure and engineering for life.