It must be something about the lovely, rolling landscape of Kent that makes its steam trains so family friendly. Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam and Peppa Pig all regularly call into Kent's vintage stations. But there's also plenty for heritage railway enthusiasts and volunteers to get excited about. Have a look at these, for a start:
About The Kent and East Sussex Railway The railway was original built to serve farmers in the rural areas of South Kent to the East Sussex border. It was built cheaply because it was expected to be lightly used. And by the time a preservation society took over the line's operation in 1974, it had suffered through bankruptcy and neglect. It's restoration involved work on the tracks and the reconstruction of a bridge over the River Rother. As with most heritage railway companies in the UK, it is largely maintained and operated by volunteers.Some services are operated at least occasionally every month of the year, though the main steam and heritage services operate June through September. Most of the stock are vintage British Rail carriages. The line also has a Pullman dining car.
Where Does it Go? The line travels 10.5 miles through the Rother Valley, south of the River Rother, from Tenterden in Kent, through stations at Rolvenden, Wittersham Road and Northiam to Bodiam in East Sussex. Most of the stations are little more than period passenger shelters. Tenterden Town Station is the headquarters and has most passenger services as well as a museum and carriage workshop. Special events include visits from Thomas the Tank Engine.
Highlights Bodiam Station, the line's terminus, is about a third of a mile walk to Bodiam Castle, a fairy tale moated castle built in 1385 and now owned by the National Trust.
About The Spa Valley Railway This company runs heritage steam trains and classic diesels April through the beginning of November, with special excursions on selected days throughout the year. Billing itself as the South East's "friendliest" steam railway, the organization has a full program of special events including a Real Ale Festival and children's events - visits from Thomas the Tank Engine, Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Peppa Pig, among others. There are Swinging '60s and 1940s shindigs. The volunteer run railway has 11 heritage steam engines and 10 diesels.
Where Does it Go? The line travels 5 1/2 miles through the Kent and Sussex Weald from Royal Tunbridge Wells to the mainline junction at Eridge, with stops at Groombridge and High Rocks. On weekends, it's timed to connect with Southern trains from London and Uckfield (check National Rail Enquiries).
Highlights Eridge Station, a still-operating mainline station, was built in 1868 and still has all its original buildings and canopies. There are good country walks and country pubs near all four stations.
About The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway This little steam railway has been running its fleet of one third-size steam and diesel locomotives along tracks a mere 15 inches apart since 1927. For many years it was the smallest public railway in the world. All the locomotives were built between 1927 and 1935. They run safely at 25 mph and, yes, you can sit on them or in the carriages they pull for a great ride across the Romney Marsh.
The line was the product of two rich men's' fantasies. Captain J. E. P. Howey, a dilettante racing driver, millionaire landowner and miniature railway aficionado joined Count Louis Zborowski, a rich and well-known racing driver. In the 1920s Zborowki owned and raced a series of Mercedes he called Chitty Bang Bang that inspired "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" the book, film and musical of almost the same name.
Where Does it Go? The miniature railway runs for 13 1/2 miles along the otherworldly Kent coastal region known as the Romney Marsh. It begins its journey in Hythe, one of the original Cinque Ports towns established by Royal Charter in 1155. Stops include Dymchurch, St. Mary's Bay, Romney Warren, New Romney, Romney Sands and Dungeness.
Highlights All of the stations are within a short walk of the Kent Coast's sand and shingle beaches.
More Steam Trains and Heritage Railways in Kent
You might also like to check out these steam and vintage train enthusiasts railways in Kent: