* Prices may differ from that shown
I have to compliment 'MisterReview' on his write-up on Didcot Railway Centre.
I am sure that his Summary: "A great day for anyone interested in industrial heritage, but telephone to check entry prices first." is very accurate, but my experience making enquiries by e-mail were more in line with his warnings and less complimentary comments:
"Didcot, the venue deserves five stars, but your some of your volunteers don't have a clue how to speak to PAYING customers. 3 stars because of this." and comments made to him by staff at the venue "Well you should have read the website more carefully".
This was also my experiences. The e-mail replies were rude and uninformative. I just had the feeling that I was an irritation and when I attempted to reply, the message was blocked and not sent???
I may well still visit the attraction but will be cautious about interacting with the staff, who I suspect may consider paying visitors to be an inconvenient necessity in order that they may play trains.
My 2 children (Katie aged 6, and Jack aged 4), my 2 middle-aged uncles and I, visited Didcot last month on an Enhanced Steamday and had a great day. Following is a list of aspects that I feel were crucial to our enjoyment:
1. Firstly, all the staff we met on our day out at Didcot were helpful, knowledgeable, friendly and easy-going. It was obvious that they enjoy their work and are proud of the Centre. In particular I found that the information some of the staff shared with us about the workings of the trains contributed enormously to our understanding of the World of the Railway, and therefore to our enjoyment of the day.
2. The accessibilty and parking at Didcot are good, and the grounds on which the Centre is built are well-cared for, and set out with visitors' comfort in mind. There are both interior and exterior eating areas; well-equipped toilets; and a shop that has a good selection of gifts and souvenirs.
3. The wide variety of attractions ensures that there is something that will interest everyone visiting Didcot. The air-raid shelter, miniature train-set, interactive area, museum and engine shed were an unexpected bonus, as we were expecting to see only the trains themselves.
4. The map provided at the entrance booth contains vital information about the invention of the train, its progress and its uses over the years. Information boards around the Centre provide further detail into the World of the Railway, without which I would have been a little lost!
5. The overall lay-out of Centre is delightful. I thoroughly enjoyed having to walk through the wooded areas, across the train tracks, and through engine sheds and the like to reach each point of interest. It was almost like a following a treasure map, with a new discovery just around each corner.
6. I felt honoured to experience what is must have been like to travel in one of these magnificent machines all those years ago. The ones we rode in were finished to a very high standard, and it was lovely seeing how the different classes travelled. It was especially interesting to be permitted into the cab on the broad-gauge engine as it travelled, and to converse with the driver and guard, who were happy to explain how it all worked and even allowed us to ring the bell!
7. The entrance fee is very reasonable, and we definitely got great value for money at Didcot. It was lovely that we were allowed to ride on the trains as often as we liked and at no extra cost. On the day we visited there were 4 trains running almost all day, which gave us plenty of opprtunity to experience the fun time and again.
8. I feel that allowing visitors access onto old engines and to be permitted to tinker about with the levers, knobs and bells adds greatly to the fun of being around the trains. I think it is wonderful that Didcot offers the opportunity to learn how to work and drive an engine, although, in my case it was unfortunately out of my price range.
9. The crowning glory of the Railway Centre must be, without a doubt, the trains themselves. These were in immaculate condition and the loving and painstaking work carried out on them was evident in how they had been restored to their former glory, both inside and out.
I consider my day at Didcot one of my top Days Out, and will always remember it fondly.
I hope to visit again sometime soon, and recommend an outing to Didcot to anyone remotely interested in history or trains.
This is a fantastic day out for most people, not just the rail enthusiast.
So what is the Didcot Railway Centre? Well yes it is bit of a Mecca for railway enthusiasts, though not being a rail enthusiasts shouldn't put you off coming here for a day out. Didcot Railway Centre was originally a depot for steam locomotives. this became redundant and the site was offered to the Great Western society in 1967. What you have now is a wonderfully preserved part of rail history which includes the architecture of a bygone age, the local rail infrstructure and a collection of steam engines.
You enter the rail centre via Didcot Parkway station, via an underpass. And after paying to get in (more on that later), the first building of note that you encounter is an old, small railway station building. This is where you will pick up a steam train (on steam days only) which will take you to Oxford Road Station, at the other end of this substantial site, where you can make your way back to the entrance. Alternatively you can walk through the site in the opposite direction. You are walking amongst rail lines, which may be in use on steam days, so it pays to look and listen for trains.
So what will you see? Well on non-steam days, not much activity. I have been on both steam and non-steam days, the non-steam days you will be able to take in the architecture and the engines and stock that is kept there. There is a wonderful building called a coaling stage, you can either follow the railway track to this or go up a steep set of stairs - carefully - they are steep and the handrail looks as if it is about to give up. This is a great building with a big arch for the train to get in to unload coal, which I believe is then tipped out into waiting engines below (remember the building is up above on an incline).
Come back down from there and walk up further and you will come to an area with a small museum, shops, toilets and a restaurant. I don't eat out too often, so I am not really up to date at what a reasonable price is, but expect to pay about £5 or £6 for a lunch with a drink. The food is nice, not brilliant, but welcome, especially when your visit is in the middle of a miserable February day, as was my first visit.
There are engine sheds and workshops, and here, as well as seeing the magnificent old preserved steam engines, you might see engineers working on the trains, most seemed happy to answer questions.
There seem to be two working lines - the first one I mentioned and another which runs between "Didcot Halt" and "Burlescombe Transfer Shed"
There is also a broad gaugeline, which I didn't see in action. A replica of a broad gauge train has been built.
If you have brought sandwiches there is a pleasant grassed area next to a rail turntable. I find these turntables fascinating. If you have never seen one it is essentially a length of railway track which rotates through 360 degrees about its centre point, so if you can imagine an engine sat on this length, it can be rotated through, for example 180 degrees to allow the engine to point in the opposite direction, or through any other angle, allowing the engine to transfer onto another track which may flow onto the turntable.
You might also be interested in seeing a WW2 bomb shelter, there is also a travelling Post Office and other centres of learning and interpretation.
Car parking is well signposted (not part of the site), though you have a little walk from the car park. Now admission prices! The website wasn't very clear on this - you will need to check the price for the day you are going on. This lack of clarity caused me to have words with the ticket issuer when I arrived, more because of his rude manner, rather than the lack of clarity on the website. On top of that AFTER I had paid for my ticket, they then insisted I give them my Postal Code - UH, no thank you! When I asked why, the chap muttered something which I didn't quite hear and didn't ask him to repeat, as I was more keen to get in rather than argue with someone about prices and my personal details. So if entry cost is a concern, phone them first - 01235-817200 - don't rely on the website.
You should enjoy a day here, though if trains and rail aren't your thing, you should be held interested for at least the afternoon. Personally I love to see British heritage preserved like this, and considering the size of the site the prices are reasonable, though vary depending on whether it is a steam or non-steam day, and from event to event, so to avoid getting told, with attitude:
"well you should have read the website more carefully"
you should ignore the website prices and make that call!! (Perhaps I should have read the website more carefully - perhaps they should make the prices obvious!)
Considering I wasn't provocative, that was a shocking way for him to speak to a paying customer. So I repeat - make sure you telephone for prices for the day you intend to travel there.
Didcot, the venue deserves five stars, but your some of your volunteers don't have a clue how to speak to PAYING customers. 3 stars because of this.
A collection of Great Western steam locomotives and exhibits based around the old Great Western engine shed