2 July 2023
Steam trains were invented in Britain and are held in high regard in museums and on tracks throughout the UK. Engines have been lovingly restored and preserved in museums but there are over thirty locations in the UK where you can still ride on a carriage towed by a steam locomotive. The sight, sounds and smell of a steam train are unforgettable. While adults regard them with romantic nostalgia, they provide visceral excitement for children.
At Leighton Buzzard Railway there is a small narrow gauge railway and lots of steam engines which were put to industrial use carrying sand and helped in World War I. The train ride passes around the town looking into people’s back gardens and has a 20-minute stop where food and drink is available to buy and there are toilets. It’s a great day out for younger children.
Wells and Walsingham Light Railway in Norfolk is the longest narrow-gauge railway in the world. It runs a public service between Wells-next-the-Sea and Walsingham in Norfolk. The steam train chuffs past cliffs, over and under bridges and past a hill fort for half an hour. Children under 4 travel free and dogs are welcome.
Loughborough to Leicester is the only mainline steam railway in the UK and is run by The Great Central Railway. Full-size steam locomotives pass each other as they did in Victorian times, when railways began to replace horses as the means to travel any distance. Children can feel what it’s like to drive a steam engine at the Locomotive Experience where they try out the regulator or throttle. The Railway runs special occasions, including a 1940s wartime Weekend Steam Galas and Santa Specials.
Snowdon Mountain Railway has both a steam service and a diesel service up one of the most scenic journeys in the world. With stunning views as far as Ireland, the thrills start when you pass a dramatic waterfall. Jaw-dropping glances over Rocky Edge keep you pinned to your seats as you climb over a thousand metres to a visitor centre near the top of Wales's highest mountain.
At Downpatrick and County Down Railway in Northern Ireland, it is possible to book a footplate ticket to ride with the driver of the steam train and watch him loading coal into the furnace. Although only older teenagers (18+) can do this, the steam train is a fabulous experience for younger children. There are Lapland Experiences in November and December. The trains are also available to charter for special occasions. What a spectacular birthday venue!
The Jacobite Steam Train runs a regular service of 42 miles from Fort William to Mallaig in the western Highlands of Scotland. It starts under Britain’s tallest mountain Ben Nevis and runs along sea lochs through ancient oak woodland to pass stunning views of the dramatic isle of Skye and the Small Isles: Eigg, Muck, Canna and Rhum. It crosses the stunning viaduct which featured in Harry Potter, with the steam train serving as the Hogwarts Express. This trip is rated as one of the greatest train journeys in the world.