Apparently I travelled on the Bluebell Railway as a child, I don’t remember it, which I know does little to recommend it, but as a nearby attraction on a rainy day we thought it was time to check the fully functioning steam railway out as adults - and take our 3year old along for the ride – maybe he’d even remember it!

For some reason I thought it would be a rarefied attraction, with little to tempt day-trippers and tourists. But on pulling into the full car-park on a wet Sunday I was proved wrong. It was full of families like us and rather well-heeled, well-dressed pleasure seekers arriving for their authentic Sunday lunch dining-car experience. We had no idea such delights were on offer and made do with our plain tickets to ride one of the steam trains up two stations and back again.

The station we boarded from – Sheffield Park – was incredibly ‘real’ for want of a better word. It looks, feels and smells exactly like you think train stations still do – but they don’t. The still, wooden waiting rooms with shiny enamelled green paintwork and pot plants, the old-fashioned WCs with sash windows and high-level cisterns are all long gone, but are lovingly recreated here. Apart from the modern refreshments stand serving sausage rolls and tea trainside everywhere you looked there was something to evoke a bygone era, right down to the posters on the wall, buckets of sand and the cigarette adverts!

The impressive train was huge and loud and steamy and hot and smelly, fantastic, and there was a frisson of excitement as it pulled into the station. And as with the station, authenticity was everything and apart from some very modern no-smoking signs everything was as per Brief Encounter on board. We steamed through the mid-Sussex countryside with everyone waving at us as we chugged by – we even caught sight of a herd of deer and some lesser-spotted train-spotters (who were anxiously recording every puff and noting the numbers).

My boy, who knows nothing about trains apart from what he has learned watching Thomas The Tank Engine probably assumes that all trains make such noises and spent most of the time pulling an imaginary whistle going ‘WooHoo’ and making realistic chugging puffer noises.

After passing through a second authentic looking station and its assorted station-masters who obviously take their job incredibly seriously and really look the part (think the Fat Controller) we eventually arrived at our destination – Kingscote – where we had time to explore the station world a bit further and have a cup of tea before embarking on the journey home. The round trip of about an hour meant that our three year old was slightly bored by the end of it but this time next year am sure he’ll get a lot more out of it. Husband and I loved the whole atmosphere and the attention to detail and it is obvious how much the staff and volunteers love the Bluebell Railway life. I’ll certainly remember it this time!

DISCLAIMER: My family and I all purchased full-price tickets and did not approach any member of staff to declare my interest in writing about the venue for this blog. Neither do I know anyone who works for the Bluebell Railway or is any way affiliated with it, nor will I forward this post onto them in the hope of getting a free ride in the future. Feel free to read safe in the knowledge you are not being sold to, I am merely passing on the information about our experience.

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