There is something irresistible about the attraction of steam trains, an amalgamation of sights, sounds and smells that assaults the senses. Maybe it’s all those Thomas the Tank Engine books we have devoured or re-runs of The Railway Children. Or perhaps we just hanker for a seemingly calmer, gentler time.
We live in an era where most rail travel is just a practical means of getting from A to B. But on the heritage Seven Valley Railway (SVR) line in England, it’s the journey itself that is the main point of travel. It’s a rail buff’s nirvana. A dream excursion for kids. The SVR’s 26km route runs from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster along the Severn Valley, crossing the Shropshire/Worcestershire border and shadowing the course of the beautiful River Severn for much of the way. It’s a perfect way to spend the day.
Like a giant metal dragon, the magnificent steam engine snorts, squeals and clanks its way into Kidderminster Station before coming to a screeching stop in a huge, hissing white cloud that envelops everyone standing nearby. The kids are a combination of stunned silence and chattering anticipation and once the station-master, clad in period costume, calls out “All Aboard’’, there’s no stopping them. A little cheer goes up as, with a shrill toot of the whistle, the train begins its journey. Little faces are flattened against the glass as the chugs get louder and we pass from railway sidings through the outskirts of town and into open countryside.
The railway line dates back to 1858 and for most of its life was part of the famous Great Western Railway, but it was never profitable and eventually closed in 1970 and the track north torn up. Luckily, it was rescued by volunteer railway enthusiasts who began the long and careful restoration of engines, carriages, lines and stations. Each of the smaller stations, like Arley and Highley, have been meticulously restored right down to the piles of period-luggage stacked up on the platform ready to be loaded, pretty gardens full of English cottage flowers and colourful hanging baskets. Most have wooden tables on grassed lawns where you can sit and have lunch looking out on splendid countryside and waving as the trains pass by.
The train makes the ideal transport for exploring the local countryside. The stations make ideal gateways to walks along the banks of the beautiful River Severn, with many people choosing to get off at one station and walk to re-join the railway at another. Highley is also home to the SVR’s impressive education centre, The Engine House. Inside there is some fascinating memorabilia, including around iconic events like the Great Train Robbery and a number of engines for the kids to scramble on. There’s even a luxurious Royal Carriage on which King George VI travelled. OK, it’s a museum but honestly, this one the kids are going to love.
During summer there are regular trains travelling the full route and you can get on and off at will. There are also a number of themed events, like who-dunnit Murder Mysteries and dinner specials while you travel. For more information go to http://www.svr.co.uk/