I grew up with a hearty respect for steam locomotives – my dad was a train enthusiast and we were often carted off to steam fairs and model railways and other such wholesome delights. In my neck of the Sussex woods, the Bluebell Railway is queen. Hop over to Hampshire, where I’ve lived for 14 years, and the Watercress Line is king.
So when I was contacted about a Day Out With Thomas event, held on the Watercress Line, I went all misty eyed with nostalgia. True, my eldest is more familiar with Paw Patrol than Thomas the Tank Engine, but she needs to get back in among the classics and sharpen up her Thomas trivia.
The pre-event blurb sounded awesome: all day travel on the steam trains which run 10 miles between Alresford and Alton stations, with lots of activities at each calling point. Even if you’re a Thomas-hating heathen, the scenery in this part of Hampshire is gorgeous and so the Watercress Line makes a cracking trip out at any time of the year. Ride with Santa is particularly special but let’s not talk Crimbo yet.
A Day Out With Thomas didn’t disappoint – we could see the billows of steam rising above the trees before we actually clapped eyes on the blue wonder, pulling into Ropley station and picking up assorted happy passengers. We collected our tickets and the girls were each given various stickers, a Thomas passport-style activity book, and a certificate which we were told the Fat Controller would be happy to sign.
Add in a flag and a temporary tattoo, and we were ready to hop on board.
Actually, rewind – do you remember a Rosie train? I do not. But it seems that between me hitting adulthood and my children entering the world, a GIRL arrived in Sodor. Hear bloody hear, it was all a bit testosterone heavy and women can totally do the same jobs as men. Hurrah, Rev. W. Awdry. We’re wearing our Rosie tats with pride.
Where was I? Ah yes – first up HAD to be a ride on Thomas, no question. He pulls passenger carriages up and down a fairly short stretch of track, meaning that he did absolutely loads of trips and we went on him a few times.
After that, and a quick picnic lunch under some extremely weighty clouds, we decided to head onto one of the other trains and take a trip out to nearby Alresford. Here, we saw a lovely little model railway of the Watercress Line, and peeked into one of the Imagination Stations for some colouring and general calm-down time after the borderline hysteria of riding in a “really really old” train. Ah, that sweet adoration for a style of train that I genuinely remember still being in service (just) on the Brighton to Seaford line in my yoof.
One last go on Thomas, a quick obligatory mooch around the shop, a teacup ride and a bag of candyfloss later, and us adults decided that we were probably done. You know that point, on a day trip, where you quickly realise it’s better to bow out on a high rather than risk a sugar crash and mega paddy, resulting in crying (me) and hushed effing and jeffing (him). You’d think, with a four year old, that we’d have learned EXACTLY where this tipping point is…but you’d be surprised how many “lovely” days out end in calamity.
And we were all home in time for a comforting bowl of watercress soup. Nah, just kidding, I’d got some eye-wateringly expensive chicken sausages so we had them with posh brioche buns and chips. Classy.
A Day Out With Thomas runs from Saturday 5th to Saturday 13th August, between 9am and 5pm. It really is a lovely day out (er, especially if the weather is vaguely favourable) and, without wishing to sound like a naf tourism rep, there is something for everyone here. You can buy tickets in advance here, or just rock up on the day.
Fares are as follows:
Child (age 2 – 16 yrs) £12
Family (2A+2C) £54
Child under 2 yrs FREE
You should also check out the Wizard Weekend at the Watercress Line in October, if you’re local – it’s Harry Potter-esque and sounds a bit good.
-SJW August 2017
Disclaimer: My family and I were given a day ticket to visit this event and provide a review. All opinions and views expressed are my own. For more detail about my work with brands, please take a look at my Disclosure Statement