* Prices may differ from that shown
Having visited the National Railway Museum in York several times with our train mad son we thought we would take him to the off shoot of this called Locomotion in Shildon on a recent trip to my mum's. What I do have to say is we went on a wild windy day and actually missed a few bits that were not in the main area as we didn't realise they were there. This included some junctions, a workshop and a few others out buildings I didn't pick up a map of the place as I couldn't see one and we were not handed one but in future I will ask to ensure we see the bits we missed. We spent the majority of our time in the main collections area and on a steam train trip and in the children's play area. This was certainly enough to keep us entertained for about 4 hours.
Where is it
The museum is well serviced by public transport in that there is a train station at Shildon and various buses from Darlington the nearest town run to here. We travelled by road you take the A68 and the A6072 to Shildon. Locomotion is 1/4 mile southeast of Shildon town centre there are plenty of brown heritage signs. To follow and what I would say is if you are taking the car park to the collections centre make sure you go fully up the hill as there is a confusing sign that takes you to some derelict land which I did by mistake. Once into the car park there is plenty of space at the top of the hill for parking and at the bottom of the hill close to the collections building there is disabled parking. It is a matter of a few minutes to walk to the collections entrance from the car park and it has the added bonus that you don't have to pay for parking.
Main collections building
This is the main area with a lot of train engines and carriages for you to see into. These are mainly taken from the glory days of steam when the carriages were something to sit in comfortably and a waiter would serve you a table rather than the modern day cramped conditions on trains. Some of the engines you can climb into the front section to see what the drivers would have had to do to drive the train and the coal tender to the rear. In the main collections building there is also a conservation workshop were you can watch people repair a train. They were not working the day we were there but the workshop was still available to see and you could see an engine stripped back ready to be worked on. The various exhibits are all well signed to tell you about them and there are a lot of interactive exhibits for children to learn more about the railways there too. One of the most popular was an interactive button pressing game to match the signals as quickly as a train driver would have had too and this seemed to cause a lot of sibling rivalry to see who could get the best score. Whilst we visiting there was an art exhibit being shown too and for you to vote on the best train picture for the Guild of railway Artists annual competition. The collection was also starting to put together the exhibit for the Deltic fiftieth exhibit in an October 2011 to celebrate 50 years of these trains on the north east line. The train that we saw was this huge blue train that my son thought was Chatsworth from Chugginton and you can certainly see why with its blue and yellow lines.
For the price of £2 per adult and child free on the weekend we visited (I am not sure how much it is other times but imagine it would be a similar price to the adults) you can take a shuttle steam train ride. The train runs between the collections building and one of the groups of out buildings with further exhibits in. This is where we made our mistake and should have jumped off the train to have a look around here before taking the train back. Unfortunately we all thought it was just a station there and nothing to see so we remained on the train like a lot of other passengers. The train was the highlight of the visit for my son I think as he loved riding the train and looking out of the carriage as we went. The train it self was an old steam train that is run by a group of steam enthusiast. The trains are rotated around so you may find it is a different on to the one illustrated on the web site. The carriage is a very old style carriage with a redundant coal heater in it and benches on either side. These are not the most comfortable to sit on but most people were stood up in the open sections at the front and back of the carriage to watch the scenery go by and see the steam from the engines. If you are over 18 and love trains you can actually by a special ticket which allows you to travel on the footplate which I believe is behind the steam engine and this I think would make a great present for any steam enthusiast.
There is the number 7 café in the main collections building this is a buffet style café for you to queue up and take your pick of drinks, sandwiches or hot food. As we had already had a Sunday roast before arriving it was just drinks and biscuits for us which was served by friendly staff. The hot food on offer such as lasagne looked lovely and fresh and we would have been tempted by it on another occasion. My only grumble was there was no Hot Chocolate on offer which is what I really fancied after being windswept. There was plenty on nice clean high chairs on offer to use if you had little ones and the chairs were not fixed to the ground unlike some places so it would be easy to get the amount you need around a table for your party.
The museum is very child friendly I think there are lots of interactive exhibits which kept our three year old and other children entertained as they tried to fill up correctly train trailers for loading, or feel what lost property had been left by passengers. These are all at a nice height for a child too meaning you don't have to strain your back to lift them up to the exhibits. There is also an outdoor play park for children that is well designed and provide a lot of fun for my son. If you are taking a picnic to the museum there is also indoor and outdoor tables for you to use. On the indoor tables when went some of them had art and craft items for children to do such as to colour in a train or to make something to take home such as a paper train. As we had gone on the bank holiday the museum had laid on over the weekend a children magician who was performing tricks and making balloon animals which also seemed to entertain my son but not as much I have to admit as the train ride. It is worth checking the events calendar on the web as there are lots of child activities being run at the museum
The shop is any train mad youngest versions of heaven as there are simply loads of different trains to buy including the Bigs Jigs and Thomas the tank engine merchandise. They have lain out a small train table for youngsters to play with too and this captured the attention very well. It is situated just by the entrance so you can't miss it really and if I am being cynical it is placed there so your child will drag you in with full on pester power. For the train aficionado there are also some serious books about train's history and other memorabilia too.
The main collections building is wheelchair friendly with it being on a level and some ramps to some of the exhibits but some of the trains you won't be able to get into as it is steps only up to them. There are paths to some of the out buildings but these are outside and may take a while to negotiate. There is a also a shuttle bus to some of the out buildings for the disabled visitor but your are advised to ring before hand to check it is running.
There is a wide range of events running through the year from the festival of steam in late September to Father Christmas visiting some of these do carry an additional charge. I think we will probably visit again during the festival of steam as I think my son would like a trip on the miniature steam engines too. The website lists these all in detail with the charges applied. http://www.nrm.org.uk/PlanaVisit/VisitShildon/WhatsOn.aspx
I would definitely recommend this as trip out the museum whilst smaller than the National Railway museum in York and having fewer trains to see is still worth a visit. The museum is family friendly with lots of activities aimed at the younger visitor there is also plenty for grown up steam and train enthusiasts to see. I would like a better laid out map to let you know where everything is and think this is something that should be included in your visit so you don't miss parts of the exhibit as we did. We will certainly be returning and for this museum I am giving it 4 stars as I am deducting one star for how we were unable and unaware of how to find everything there.
Opening Times and Prices
* Daily 10:00 to 17:00 (Summer: 4 Apr - 2 Oct).
* Daily 10:00 to 16:00 (Winter: 3 Oct - 3 Apr). During Winter, building 8 (Collections) is open daily; buildings 1 to 4 are open Wed - Sun. See map
* Closed 22 Dec - 3 Jan
The main exhibits are free of charge
Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon
Co Durham, DL4 1PQ
Telephone: 01388 777999
Fax: 01388 771448
The town of Shildon in County Durham, 11 miles north of Darlington, is known as the 'Cradle of the Railways'. The world's first passenger rail journey took place between Shildon and Stockton-on-Tees via Darlington in 1825 and the Stockton and Darlington railway established workshops in Shildon in 1826, giving rise to the rapid growth of the town. This is commemorated by 'Locomotion', part of the National Railway Museum, (NRM), which opened in 2004. The former 'Timothy Hackworth Victorian Railway Museum' was incorporated into the site, which is designed as stops along a line that ends at 'Collection' - the main exhibition hall.
I've visited Locomotion on three occasions so far, the most recent being earlier this month. I'm not a train enthusiast so I apologise to anyone reading this who would like more vehicular detail, I can tell you that exhibits are regularly rotated with items from the NRM in York. This review is more of an attempt to show how the attraction stands up as a family day out.
There is free admission and free parking. The parking is a little strange. There are three car parks dotted about, (one is for disabled visitors), and it's easy to get confused if you haven't visited before, I've been mildly confused each time I've visited. There is a welcome hut at the start of the line and it's possible to get a steam train ride from here straight down to the Collection building. There is a small charge for this, but I haven't been on it yet, the ride wasn't in operation on my last visit, dates on which it is available are listed on the web site. There's also an 'eco bus', (runs on biodiesel), to run visitors up and down the line every fifteen minutes for those who don't wish to, or are unable to walk along the path.
~Walk the Line~
It takes us about ten to fifteen minutes to walk from the first car park down to the main building, (this is with a small child in tow). It's nice enough in good weather, but not so great in the cold and rain. I wasn't really aware of the different 'stops' along the way being displays. After a look at the NRM website and at Wikipedia I realise we haven't been aware of everything included on the walk so I'll have to rectify that on my next visit.
The 'stops' along the line are: Welcome, Soho, Hackworth, Goods, Parcel office, Junction, Coal Drops, Light Engine, Play, and Collection. I have usually walked straight down here, fairly oblivious to most of the displays around me.
'Welcome' houses the original 'Sans Pareil', ( a steam locomotive built by Timothy Hackworth in 1829). I think you would go in here to board the steam train ride to the main entrance. Although open, it wasn't staffed on our last visit. I suspect there may be some problems with staffing levels, the museum seems to be staffed mainly, if not solely, by volunteers.
'Hackworth' is Timothy Hackworth's house, it's on the other side of the line to the one I usually walk down and I didn't know it was there until I read up on it for this review.
There's a regular train station along here too - Shildon station drops passengers off at about a three minute walk from the main entrance.
Coal Drops - you can't avoid seeing these, but I hadn't known what they were until I researched it online when I got back, (an elevated stretch of track with chutes for dropping coal down).
There seems to be a lack of information about the things to be seen on the way down to Collection, just a leaflet in the Welcome building would do - it's possible there was something and I missed it, but if so then that's probably the same for other visitors.
Light Engine - this is an interactive sculpture in the form of a tall pole which displays different coloured light sequences. These can be changed by sending locomotive name texts, so if you text 'Locomotion', for example, a new display begins.
Shortly before you reach the main entrance there is an outdoor playground. It's a bit different to most playgrounds with lots of wood and a railway theme going on. There's not much here for very little ones, but from around the ages of three to four up, there's plenty of fun to be had on the slides, swings and climbing areas.
Some vehicles are to be seen outside the museum hall, which has a wide forecourt that can be ground for further exhibits. On our first visit, there was a vintage fire engine display here. There's a wind turbine outside too.
Once inside everything is in one large hall, with only doors to meeting rooms and toilets off to the side. As you may have guessed, there are quite a few trains in here, a check online tells me that there are usually around 60 vehicles to see, although it didn't feel like that many to me. The trains act like corridor walls in way, as visitors walk up and down the different aisles with trains to separate the display areas. Each time I've visited it has been a slightly different experience. There are other displays besides the vehicles and as I said in the introduction, items rotate with other NRM displays.
To the left of the entrance is a well stocked gift shop with toys for little and not-so-little train enthusiasts. It's a Thomas the Tank Engine heaven. On my last visit there were three staff members working in the shop, but I had to attract their attention to buy something as they were gathered in a little gossipy circle with backs to the customers.
Chugging on, along the walls are various items of interest; plaques, historical documents and general paraphernalia. There are children's toys; a large Jenga type toy and one of those giant connect 4 style thingies, this is near to some window seats with tables provided for people to eat packed lunches, nice touch I think - we were able to tell our daughter that not only were we going to the train museum but also having a picnic there, double excitement, (plus combined with a trip to Shildon Soft Play around the corner a recipe for total toddler wipeout).
There's an 'eco wall' just past here which has touch screen information about the building and how it was built. A lot of effort has gone into making this an attractive venue for children. Colouring competitions with prizes seem to be a regular feature and there was a teddy bear's picnic and toy display on our first visit. There are also some permanent children's activities - an electronic shunting order puzzle which my daughter thoroughly enjoyed playing with, (easier done than explained), packing crates where children pack milk churns or parcels in a crate, (one of the parcels was missing), some of those 'hole in the wall' things for children to guess the lost property items - sadly this was a bit dilapidated, some items need fixing.
There were some working model train sets on display on our last visit which hadn't been there previously and an exhibition of old enamel advertising signs.
There are a couple of trains which it's possible for visitor's to board, but only when there is a member of staff available. I've never boarded any of the trains because either there was always someone in there and I didn't want to spend time waiting, or else these trains weren't staffed, as on our last visit. Other vehicles on show include a tamping machine (these work on track maintenance), and a tank.
One item on display that I hadn't noticed on previous visits (maybe it wasn't there, maybe I am remarkably unobservant), was a replica of Stephenson's Rocket. This is an old replica, built in the thirties, it was brightly painted and very attractive, even to a non train enthusiast such as myself. I would have liked to have been able to sit in it. Part of the front had been cut away so that you could see the inner workings.
On our most recent visit there was also a collector's fair, not just train related collections - although they were there, obviously, - all sorts of collections. My daughter was particularly pleased to meet a fellow cat fanatic and spent much time talking at the cat collection.
What was missing from the day for me was being able to board an old train and sit in a carriage. I appreciate that these are original vehicles and prone to damage, but I'm sure just one carriage could be renovated and given over to visitor's to explore, even if it was a replica rather than an original, it would still add something to the experience.
Last stop before the exit if you follow the logical route around the building is the cafe, called Platform 7. I have had tea and biscuits here before, but can't think of a great deal to say about it. It's all open plan so you can see across the museum, I don't recall prices being especially extortionate or the food and drink anything special - snacks and light lunches, they have a selection of highchairs, wooden chairs and tables and it was clean.
~End of the Line~
Locomotion has a lot going for it but there are a few areas that could be improved. Some of the children's displays were a bit tatty, there could have been more staff members around and the route from the car park to the Collection building could be better explained. On the plus side; the layout of stops along a line is inventive, I like the fact that displays change and there are lots of different events that take place throughout the year which stops it becoming stale. The fact that all this is done at no charge makes it astounding value, (whilst Locomotion is a free attraction, there are collection boxes which I think suggested donations of £3). With a little more effort Locomotion could be a truly outstanding attraction. I'm certain I will visit again.
Daily 10:00 to 17:00 (1 Apr - 4 Oct)
Daily 10:00 to 16:00 (5 Oct - 31 Mar)
Collections only on Mondays and Tuesdays in Winter
Closed 22 Dec - 3 Jan
The museum is fully wheelchair accessible, there is a leaflet full of information for visitors with disabilities which details levels of accessibility of each of the buildings - the main building has wide level access. The eco bus is wheelchair accessible, the steam train ride is not, but work is underway on a wheelchair accessible coach. Wheelchairs can be loaned and there are accessible toilets. Support dogs are welcome on the steam train and information in the museum is available in braille.
Locomotion: The National Railway Museum at Shildon
Co Durham, DL4 1PQ
Telephone: 01388 777999
Fax: 01388 771448