If we go away anywhere in the UK we always try to find a local heritage railway. Steam trains are a real favourite for the small boy and we are very happy to indulge him. This year part of our summer holiday was spent at Burnham on Sea in Somerset, so naturally we checked out the local steam train scene and settled on the West Somerset Railway. We were not disappointed.
We travelled by car to Bishops Lydeard, parked up and bought our tickets at the bustling station. Children under 5 travel free and a day rover ticket for an adult is £18.50, which I think is great value, especially if you want to spend the day hopping on and off exploring the various stops and stations.
West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England and runs from Bishops Lydeard to Crowcombe Heathfield, Stogumber, Williton, Doniford Halt (request stop), Watchet, Washford, Blue Anchor, Dunster and finally Minehead, and back.
The twenty mile journey from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead takes around 90 minutes and is a lovely, restful chug through pretty Somerset scenery. From the window you can spy the Quantock Hills as well as farms, pretty villages, historic buildings and the coastline, including the pretty harbour at Watchet.
Of course the real star of the railway are the trains themselves. On the way from Bishops Lydeard to Minehead we travelled on one of their diesel trains. West Somerset Railway generally run more steam trains than diesel, but we thought we’d try them both, on our return journey we came back by steam train. It’s always quite charming to see the soft puffs of steam stream by as we speed through the countryside.
The diesel was a handsome engine and the heritage carriages were clean, comfortable and well maintained. The railway boasts ten stations, all of them well kept, attractive and bedecked with flowers. The steam train was equally comfortable, but had the added charm of being a steam train, with all the romance that steam travel conjures up (Brief Encounter anyone?).
We got off at Minehead, not really expecting to find anything but a slightly tacky seaside town, but we moved in the opposite direction to the throng and walked towards the pretty harbour, which is nestled under North Hill. We were hungry, so stopped off at The Old Ship Aground pub on the harbour. The pub was a brilliant discovery, serving an interesting menu of local, seasonal and very delicious food. Round the corner from the pub, at the back of the harbour is the Minehead Lifeboat Station, where we sheltered from the wind and rain and had a good look at the lifeboat and learned a bit about the work of the RNLI, which the boy particularly enjoyed. We were charmed by Minehead and we will be back.
We raced back to Minehead Station to catch the steam train home, we were all tired from our walk and full from our fantastic lunch. We were glad of the comfort and warmth of the carriages and both boys dozed off while I enjoyed a bit of peace and some pretty Somerset scenery.
It was a really wonderful way to spend a rainy day, with over three hours of combined train travel time, beautiful English countryside and a proper heritage railway experience, all three of us woke up the next day wanting to do it all again.
Note: We paid for our tickets in full, this is just a personal reminder of another one of our railway adventures.