When I first introduced the concept of the A-Z Adventure to my parents, they instantly knew where I should go for D. They had recently been to the Didcot Railway Centre and suggested it as a potential candidate. My mother is a particular fan of steam trains, so when I decided I would go there, they felt a second visit would be worthwhile.
The Didcot Railway Centre is essentially a small stretch of land between two railway lines. They use the existing lines to run steam trains (and Thomas trains!) a short distance, and preserve the memory of such feats of engineering.
We selected a day when the centre were running two steam trains. The first thing we did when we arrived, was walk up to the platform and jump on a steam train. The good thing about them not travelling very far is that you don’t have to wait for long before it comes back to your platform. The other good thing, is that you can get on and off the trains as much as you like. If you wanted, you could ride up and down all day. If you’d rather, you can stand at the side and take pictures of the trains. We did a mixture of both.
It was fun riding on the train, although you don’t really get a sense of it being a steam train. Inside, they have the carriages as they would have been – with corridors and compartments. I like travelling in this style. It was very Harry Potter. Except for the bit where smoking is not only allowed but a brand is actively encouraged.
Along with the trains, and littered along the track, there are various things to see and do. There’s a museum with a collection of all different types of old railway memoribilia. Signs, lights, tickets, menus, even cutlery from the posh dining cars.
The carriage shed and the engine shed are two big spaces where they maintain and fix up the trains. The carriage shed was limited, you could wander up and down and peer in the windows but there wasn’t that much to see. The engine shed, though, you could walk between the trains, and really get a sense of how enormous they were. Some of the wheels came up to my head, and that’s before you add a massive train on top.
Some of the trains allowed you to get in and have a nosy about the controls. They look very complicated. Whilst the engine shed was one of the more interesting parts, I didn’t really like it as it was a bit oily and smelt funny. I’m annoying like that.
There was a small section where a train carriage had been adapted inside to provide learning materials and little games for children – teaching them how steam works and about the early development of locomotion. I have to admit that my mother and I spent far too long pressing the buttons and playing the games. My father stood outside, clearly embarrassed to be seen with us.
Alongside that, there was a World War II bunker, which I thought a bit weird. You went down the steps, into the air raid shelter, and a little radio drama type thing played out to give you a sense of what it was like. The lights flickered, and the noises were quite creepy. I wasn’t sure what this had to do with steam trains though.
All in all, this was a great day out, assuming that you like trains. It’s fun to ride on the steam trains and they really do give you a sense of what life was like when these trains were brand new, and not relegated to a museum. However, when you step out of the centre, you are immediately in the midst of a modern train station, and all illusions are shattered. Back to real life!