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Getting Steamy at the Weekend
Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Isle of Wight)
Member Name: cmh4135
Isle of Wight Steam Railway (Isle of Wight)
Advantages: Bits are free
Disadvantages: Travel is expensive
Steam railways seem to have a way of dividing people. They're either fascinating or boring. Whichever camp you fall into there's no denying that some railways are better than others. Some will appeal to those who love scenery (the Welsh narrow gauge railways spring to mind). Some will appeal to those with a head for heights (try some of the Austrian alp railways). Others will appeal to kids (the Thomas experience in Swindon) and others to pure historians. The Isle of Wight railway is a bit different and there may just be a little something for everyone save for the ardent hater of steam and metal.
Based out of Havenstreet and with trains running between Wooton and Smallbrook Junction (for connection with the Island Line) the IOW steam railway is a little bit of preserved history in action. The largely volunteer-run railway has established itself as one of the foremost attractions on the Isle of Wight.
Most passengers will join the railway at either Smallbrook having arrived by the islands electrified fleet of trains (mostly ex-Northern line underground trains) or will drive to Havenstreet and pick up the railway at the main station. Either way, no visit to the railway would be complete without a trip on the trains.
To be honest, the train journey is probably the least exciting thing about the IoW steam railway. The journey through the IoW countryside is not really that thrilling. There are no mountains to see and no great views of the coast. You'll see a few cows, go across a couple of level crossings and through a couple of tunnels (one of which is long enough to plunge you into pure and total darkness) but that's about it. You go for the ride, for the noise and the bouncy seats (those over 30 reminiscing about the old BR days). You go for the smoke and just to say you've been on a steam train. It's not going to convert non-railway enthusiasts.
What might appeal more is the set up at Havenstreet. The railway museum situated behind the shop is only for the anoraks - the few exhibits are poorly laid out and there are only so many lamp styles one can see before one gets tired of lamps (if indeed one were ever excited by old lamps). The shop itself will be a pestering kids' paradise and every parent's nightmare. Again it's not particularly well set out, nor is it attractive, but if it's about trains or edible you'll probably find it in the shop!
Havenstreet is kitted out 1940s style. As such, the whole place is a step back in time. Whether it's a tea from the canteen or a look at the toys and games of the time that you are after it'll be in period. If you are lucky then all of the staff you encounter will also be attired correctly.
Facilities are fairly basic. Period lavatories, a basic canteen and a children's play area should satisfy most visitors but don't expect excessive comfort or much in the way of a nod towards modernisation!
The IoW Steam Railway really comes alive when events are held, however. At their most basic these can just be "living history" days designed for local school children. At their height it might be a day with Thomas (although Thomas himself doesn't give rides), and Ale festival, a 1940s experience (complete with bands and dancing), a Wizard Week or even a Santa Special. At all these events the volunteers pull out all of the stops to make the day quite magical.
If you're from the Mainland then these events are actually really good value as tickets are available inclusive of ferry travel from Portsmouth for around £20 for adults and £10 for children (Thomas is slightly more expensive). Compared with £10 and £6 for tickets once you're there you'll agree that this allows a day trip to be very good value.
I'd recommend the special events on the railway and also a straightforward visit to the railway as a pleasant way to spend an hour or two. It probably won't change how you feel about steam railways but there's just enough to stop you being bored to tears! What's more, if you don't ride the trains, as long as it's not a special event day then access to the Havenstreet facilities is free!
Summary: A mix n match attraction with something for everyone but nothing for someone