England’s Heritage Railways - Short Tour Breaks
- See England by Heritage Railway
- Experience England’s railway history
- Nostalgic, scenic journeys
- Bluebell Railway
- Severn Valley Railway
- North Norfolk Railway
- North Yorkshire Railway
- The Lake District’s steam heritage
- The English Riviera by rail
Heritage Railways around the world have become major tourist attractions, drawing in over hundreds of thousands of visitors annually who wish to immerse themselves in lovingly recreated time capsules and travel through some scenic landscapes. England boasts many historic railways across the country and they provide a wonderful backdrop from which to create short breaks for for families or groups that wish to tour and explore the various regions of England by heritage railway.
As rail tour experts we can adapt tours to suit all requirements, whether you are a group of rail enthusiasts, who wish to ‘go behind the scenes’ of England’s heritage railways, or simply seek to experience these railway gems of a bygone age and enjoy a taste of life at a gentler pace, relaxing as you pass through pastoral and stunning scenery.
We have selected some of England’s most popular heritage railways and suggested short breaks that you may be interested in taking. For the enthusiasts we can also include workshop tours and footplate rides on some of the railways. So if you would like to tour the country by heritage railway then let us the experts plan all your travel, accommodation and sightseeing. Our historic rail break options include the Severn Valley Railway in the East Midlands, the North Yorkshire Railway, North Norfolk Railway, Bluebell Railway in Sussex, railways along the English Riviera and we even hop across to the Isle of Wight to experience its steam railway.
Railways of the North
The North of England is home to some famous steam railways and with beautiful countryside as the backdrop boasts some of the most scenic parts of the English railway network. We can offer a 7-day tour that begins with a leisurely boat trip on the Leeds and Liverpool Canal before arriving in Skipton and soaking up the magnificent Yorkshire Dales scenery on the Embsay & Bolton Abbey Steam Railway. Next stop is the ‘Railway Children’s Railway’ - the Keighley and Worth Valley line - travelling through Bronte landscape and stopping for a guided tour of the Museum of Rail Travel at Ingrow. The Settle and Carlisle line journey takes us through some of the more remote parts of the Yorkshire Dales, making it one of the UK’s most scenic railway routes. From Carlisle you continue east along the Tyne Valley line, also known as the Hadrian’s Wall line! A stay in Durham would not be complete without a visit to the Beamish Museum where you can enjoy an exclusive ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the Waggonway and railway station. A journey along the Esk Valley line to Whitby will give you a taste of the Yorkshire Moors before boarding the wonderful North Yorkshire Moors Railway, spending a full day savouring its wonderful steam engines, beautiful rural stations and visiting the familiar Goathland station famous as Hogsmeade Station in the first Harry Potter film and Aidensfield in ITV’s Heartbeat. This is a wonderful way to explore the North’s railway heritage. Elements of the tour can be taken to create shorter breaks – contact us to discuss further.
The Lake District
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of the Lake District is also blessed with some wonderful steam powered travel options. Spend a day enjoying the Lakeside and Haverthwaite Railway where hard working steam locomotives haul carriages to Lakeside on the steeply graded former Furness Railway Branch Line. You can enjoy a shed tour before continuing to nearby Old Hall Farm which still uses historic working methods, where horses work alongside steam and early vintage tractors. Another full day can be spent at the miniature Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway, one of the oldest and longest narrow gauge railways in England, known affectionately as La’al Ratty meaning “little railway” in olde Cumbrian dialect. It was 105 years ago in April 1913 that the original 3ft line closed and in 1915 the new 15in La’al Ratty was born. Travel behind the steam locomotives and visit the Railway Museum which tells the story of the railway. No trip to the Lakes would be complete without a lake tour. A wonderful way to cruise along famous Coniston Water is on board the steam-powered National Trust Steam Yacht Gondola. The cruise is accompanied by a colourful history of the Gondola and how she was rescued from a watery grave on the lake bed. You will also hear about Donald Campbell and his pursuit of the world water speed record on Coniston Water.
Finish this short-break with a journey on the Settle and Carlisle Railway through the attractive scenery of the Yorkshire Dales and Cumbrian Fells passing famous Victorian architecture, huge stone viaducts, long tunnels and remote wayside station buildings.
Transport Tour of the Midlands
The transport gem of the Midlands is the Severn Valley Railway, a 16-mile heritage railway line that runs through Shropshire and Worcestershire from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster that follows the course of the River Severn for much of its route. You could begin your transport tour of the region in its capital Birmingham and visit both the ThinkTank Science Museum and the Wonderful World of Trains and Planes. ThinkTank alone boasts over 40,000 items in its science and industry exhibition, covering transport, engineering, machinery and tools. Enthusiasts can develop their model collection at the Wonderful World of Trains and Planes’ extensive model shop. Next day take a morning mainline service to Kidderminster before transferring to the Severn Valley Railway for a return journey to Bridgnorth where you could also visit the famous Bridgnorth cliff railway – Britain’s oldest and steepest inland funicular railway. Another full-day sightseeing option would be to explore the Black Country Living Museum - “one of the finest and largest open-air museums in the United Kingdom”. Take a ride on one of the vintage trams or buses, descend into the underground drift mine or step inside a full scale working replica of the world’s first successful steam engine, built by Thomas Newcomen in 1712. No transport tour of the Midlands would be complete with a guided canal tour. Travel the full 2888m length of the Dudley Canal on a guided 2 hour trip. The journey features a comprehensive tour of the limestone mines and caverns and offers an insight into the working conditions of the miners during the 18th Century.
Railways have played a large part in north Norfolk’s history and today the county boasts a rich heritage in this form of transport that offer visitors a wonderful way to explore the stunning north Norfolk coast and countryside. The charming towns of Wells, Sheringham and Holt are certainly worth a visit. The area’s railway diamond is the North Norfolk Railway; spend a day on one of the UK’s most scenic heritage railways as it takes you along the glorious coast and through scenic countryside. The line runs between the seaside town of Sheringham and the Georgian market town of Holt so hop off and enjoy lunch and a town tour en route. On another day you can experience an alternative way of seeing Norfolk’s famous Broads - on the Bure Valley Railway. The line runs through the heart of the Broads National Park, a narrow-gauge railway that begins at Aylsham and journeys through the countryside to Wroxham, the capital of the Norfolk Broads, where you can spend some time enjoying its waterside charms. Spend another day visiting both Wells and Walsingham courtesy of the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway. It is the longest 10-and-a-quarter-inch narrow gauge steam railway in the world so well worth the ride! The railway opened in 1982 on a former branch line of the Great Eastern Railway and a vintage loco travels along a four-mile line between Wells and Walsingham, providing an opportunity to explore both towns in one day.
South East England
A flavour of the South East of England can be captured by enjoying two heritage railway rides, a visit to stunning gardens and a fabulous ‘olde worlde’ steam funfair and museum. Start this tour in Sussex with a ride on the wonderful Bluebell Railway, a heritage line running along the border between East and West Sussex, taking you through beautiful scenery as you sit back in the comfort of a lovingly preserved steam train carriage. The railway is home to the second largest collection of steam trains and carriages in the UK – there is plenty for fans of the steam engine to view. The various stations en route have been restored to show different periods of the railway's life, so you’ll be taking a trip through time as you travel between 1960s East Grinstead and 1920s Sheffield Park. On arrival at Sheffield Park you can spend time at Wakehurst, a wild botanical garden with over 500 acres of beautiful ornamental gardens, woodlands and a nature reserve. Enjoy time strolling through the stunning landscape, visiting the mansion and its various world famous collections. Head across to the Sussex/Hampshire border to spend a day at the Hollycombe Steam Collection. Hollycombe is so much more than just a working steam museum; it is a place where the past comes to life. Immerse yourself in the atmosphere of a traditional steam-powered fairground, to riding a steam railways or enjoying a walk through the woodland gardens. It is home to a huge collection of steam-powered vehicles, rides and attractions. Head east to spend a final day steaming through beautiful countryside on the Kent and East Sussex Railway, regarded as both the country’s finest and first example of a rural light railway. The main station is in the charming town of Tenterden where you can about the history of the railway before stepping aboard a preserved steam or diesel train to travel a route that’s been used for more than a century. It was designed to serve rural villages when it opened in 1900 and originally ran between Robertsbridge and Tenterden. By the 1950s passengers were no longer carried on the line and trains stopped altogether in 1961 but it was not long before a team of railway enthusiasts got together and formed a society to preserve what they could of the railway – ten miles of track between Tenterden and Bodiam.
Devon & Cornwall Railways
Beginning in Devon’s county capital Exeter we can offer a 3-4 day tour that takes in some of the region’s railway highlights and more. Spend the first day on Devon’s north coast riding the lovely Tarka Line train to Barnstaple before a short coach drive to Woody Bay to join the Lynton and Barnstaple Railway. Enjoy a return journey to Killington Lane near Parracombe before travelling on to Lynton and Lynmouth where you can explore this delightful area and ride on the water operated funicular railway. Start day 2 with a railway journey to to Okehampton before a coach drive across Dartmoor to Launceston to visit the vintage transport and agricultural museum and take a ride on the steam railway, hauled by a Victorian locomotive from the Welsh mountains. A stay in nearby Bodmin enables the tour to spend a day travelling on the Bodmin and Wenford Steam Railway before a coach journey to the awe-inspiring Eden Project which you can explore at leisure.
Another 4-day short break option begins in Plymouth. We will provide a Travel Pass for local travel on First Great Western (FGW) services for the duration of this tour. You can use it to travel over the Hemerdon and Rattery Banks to Totnes for a return ride on the South Devon Railway to Buckfastleigh. Spend a second day travelling by coach to the western edge of Dartmoor to visit the World Heritage Site Museum at Morwellham Quay on the banks of the River Tamar. It boasts an impressive Victorian Quayside and a narrow gauge railway that takes you deep inside the Queen Charlotte Copper mine. The afternoon can be spent at the beautiful gardens at Cotehele before taking the Tamar Valley Railway over the stupendous Calstock Viaduct back to Plymouth. Stay in the pretty seaside town of Torquay to spend a full day on a “Round Robin” tour. It begins with a scenic journey by scheduled service from Torquay to Paignton before continuing by steam train to Kingswear. Later catch the ferry to Dartmouth for a boat cruise along the river to Totnes, passing the beautiful villages as Dittisham and Galmpton - of Agatha Christie fame. There will be time to explore Totnes before boarding a FGW service train back to Torquay. You can choose how you spend your time during your visits to Dartmouth and Totnes.
Isle of Wight
We have created a 4-day tour to the Isle of Wight because we believe its steam railway is worth a trip to the island at the bottom of England. We will arrange transport to Gunwharf Quays in Portsmouth where you will board the ferry to the Isle of Wight and travel on the Island Line to Shanklin, where you will be based. There will be time to enjoy this traditional English seaside resort. You will have a private carriage on the ‘Isle of Wight Steam Railway’ for your group (dependent on numbers) which will takes you on a return journey delivering views of the Island’s unspoilt countryside. A tour of the railway’s workshops and a visit to the Train Story Discovery Centre can also be arranged. There will also be a photo opportunity as you will be given a line-side view of the main running line. To make the most of your trip to the island we will organise a full day coach tour to Godshill, the quintessential English Village which boasts some of the oldest architecture on the Isle of Wight. You can also visit Godshill Model Village and the historic motte-and-bailey Carisbrook Castle en route. Another great day on the island would involve a coach ride to Alum Chine to join an open top bus service to the Needles Battery, a Victorian fort used throughout both World Wars and where British-made rockets were later tested in great secrecy. Here you can watch a glass blowing demonstration before continuing to Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s Royal Seaside Palace.
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