Hop aboard some of Britain’s best-kept-secret heritage railways with the kids this half term and visit magical woodlands, model villages and fun farm parks.
We’ve taken our pick of some of the greatest world-famous steam train adventures from Julian Holland’s essential guide to Britain’s Heritage Railways. Chug along ancient tracks past patchwork fields and rolling countryside and experience an unforgettable day out for children and grown-ups alike.
South West England
South Devon Railway
Step back in time when you board one of the impressive steam heritage trains that run along the South Devon Railway. Start your journey at Buckfastleigh where you’ll find a family-friendly museum; children’s play area; café; gift shop and more. Rumble alongside the beautiful Devon hills of the Dart Valley, past the river and luscious farmland. On arrival at Totnes Riverside, why not spend an afternoon at the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, which is adjacent to the station? Or walk into the historic market town and visit the majestic castle.
Plan your adventure: www.southdevonrailway.co.uk
Experience the best of coast and country when you catch the Swanage Railway train from Norden through to Corfe Castle, Harmans Cross and the beautiful seaside town of Swanage. The trains on this historic line are a sight to behold – mainly steam hauled by a variety of locomotives that children are sure to love. Explore the Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum at Norden station or let your kids run around the wooden play area while you wait for your train. If you’re heading straight through to Swanage, you’re in for a treat. This spectacular coastal town boasts a Victorian pier, sandy beach and plenty of family-friendly activities.
East Kent Railway
Gather the troops for a four-mile round trip on the East Kent Railway between the idyllic villages of Shepherdswell and Eythorne. Surrounded by rugged countryside, this scenic heritage line offers an award-winning visitor centre to explore from its Shepherdswell base. Families will find an extensive model railway located in a restored LMS Stanier carriage and the Knees Woodland is also just moments away. Amble along one of the pretty walking trails here and discover a wonderful miniature railway hiding amongst the trees.
Plan your adventure: www.eastkentrailway.co.uk
Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway
At the heart of this historic line is the New Romney Station headquarters, where visitors will find an extensive model railway exhibition, museum, engine shed, turntable and workshop. There are 11 magnificent steam locomotives that operate this atmospheric route. Take a trip to the traditional seaside town of Dymchurch and dig into a box of fish and chips on the beach; or stay onboard for one more stop before departing to the coastal market town of Hythe. At the other end of the line is Dungeness with its historic lighthouse and some of the largest shingle banks in Europe.
Plan your adventure: www.rhdr.org.uk
Mid-Suffolk Light Railway
Come and visit the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway Museum, which stands in honour of the MSLR (affectionately known as the ‘Middy’). Despite facing financial difficulties and disrepair over the years before its closure, the memory of this historic line is now more prevalent than ever. Fun family events are hosted throughout the year including brilliant 1940 re-enactments with vintage stalls and vehicle displays.
Plan your adventure: www.mslr.org.uk
North Norfolk Railway
Huff and puff along one of the most beautiful historic railway lines in Britain. The North Norfolk Railway transports passengers from Sheringham to Holt, stopping at Weybourne and Kelling Heath Park on route. Rumble past heathland while the sea twinkles in the distance; alight at Sheringham for a spot of lunch and a trip to the beach; or make your way to Holt where your little ones can burn off some steam at Holt Country Park.
Plan your adventure: www.nnrailway.co.uk
Keighley & Worth Valley Railway
You may recognize this famous heritage train line, which stars in many film and TV productions including The Railway Children, The Railway Children Return (set for release in April 2022), Last of the Summer Wine, Peaky Blinders and more. There’s plenty to keep families busy and entertained at the six stations that run through from Keighley to Oxenhope. Take a seat on one of the impressive steam trains and buy a ticket to Ingrow where there are two award-winning museums to explore. Visit the Carriage Works and peruse the incredible display of historic railway coaches or tour the workshop and watch coaches being restored in front of your eyes.
Plan your adventure: www.kwvr.co.uk
Railway enthusiasts and families will delight in this fantastically fun and informative award-winning museum, which celebrates 19th-century life in Northern England. Though not strictly part of a heritage rail route, there is much of railway interest here including the 1867 Rowley station, goods shed and signal box. Discover a number of locomotives on display as well as 11 vintage electric trams and more. Children will love exploring the 1900s Town where they can learn how families lived in the years leading up to the First World War. Little ones can also discover how life was on the Home Front at the 1940s Farm.
Plan your adventure: www.beamish.org.uk
Written by September Withers, a freelance travel copywriter and marketing copywriter with a love of the British countryside.
Learn more about the best steam train family adventures in Julian Holland’s book Britain’s Heritage Railways, which is available to buy online now and at all good bookshops.