Most of our trips are as a family unit but there are times when my teacher wife’s marking pile is so tremendous she just needs to crack on and have us out of the house.
Such occasions allow me to indulge in a touch of dad geekery. I’m talking about those destinations that wouldn’t much interest my wife but which Tilly and I can enjoy. As she’s a fan of Thomas I reckoned a trip to a local steam railway would go down well.
One great benefit of accompanying a toddler is it allows for legitimate visits to places that you wouldn’t otherwise think you could go to, where you can indulge in nostalgia, fun or a spot of geekery. Miniature villages, fairground rides, touristy bus and boat trips and steam trains are all easily justified when they’re entertaining children.
We have a couple of steam railways about a half-hour drive away but the inclement weather combined with teddy bear specials meant that the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway was the choice pick for today’s trip. The line runs from Chinnor station nearly as far as Princes Risborough, which is on a current national rail line. I believe there are aspirations for the steam trains to run there one day but for today’s trip the train goes as far as the junction then reverses back; a 40 minute trip in all and ideal for keeping out of the rain.
I’d expected a small, volunteer-run railway have rather makeshift parking arrangements but not a bit of it. It appears the road has recently been upgraded by the station in expectation of future developments in the old quarry site and the railway has a spacious and well laid car park just next to the station itself.
The station itself is small – Chinnor is a modestly sized village after all – but it’s presented with all of the vintage trimmings you’d expect. The station shop also houses the ticket office, which provides proper old-fashioned train tickets. It cost £11 for my ticket and nothing for Tilly, as children with teddy bears travel free, although at two years old she’s below the age for paying anyway. The platform also houses a cafe situated in an old railway carriage, although we didn’t have the opportunity to pop in on this visit.
Before long a hissing noise could be heard from down the line and a tank engine came chugging into the platform, pulling three carriages behind it. “It’s like Thomas” commented Tilly, which was just the familiarity I hoped she’d show towards it. Owing to the weather the train was quiet so we hopped into one of the carriages. As Tilly was being noisy I proposed we had a walk through the train. It turned out the middle carriage is the coveted first class carriage with individual compartments, however these had all been occupied already, so we opted for a quiet part of one of the open carriages.
Come the departure time and there was the unmistakable note of a steam whistle before we gradually moved out of the station. The ride was a leisurely one, passing over various crossings that require volunteers to open gates along the route.
Located deep within the Chilterns, the Chinnor & Princes Risborough railway passes through idyllic countryside that was glowing with spring colours during our visit, despite the rain. Happily this included the opportunity to spot horses and livestock along the way, which is one of Tilly’s favourite activities alongside munching through the contents of her lunch box.
We sat in the rear carriage which also contains the shop, from where a trolley service offering refreshments operates through the train. While the train is ideal for bringing your own picnic along to, the choice of hot drinks and snacks is welcome. There wasn’t much for a toddler on a low sugar diet but we shared some biscuits.
As we neared the end of the railway’s route the distinctive white cross that sits above Princes Risborough could be spied on Whiteleaf Hill as could the former railway line to Thame that now services as a popular cycling route between the two towns. After a few moments and some clunking from the end of the train, hissing could be heard and the steam locomotive passed our window to connect with the front of the train for the return journey. We took the opportunity to swap sides of the carriage as it was quiet to spy more animals from the opposite window.
All in all it made for a nice trip out and at 40 mins it’s a good journey length to occupy little ones without them getting bored, while grown ups can imbibe the sights and smokey smells of what felt like a more gentile era of travel. Well behaved children might be allowed a visit to the shop on arrival back, which stocks a range of gifts for visitors and enthusiasts alike. Tilly opted for a Thomas flag which she proceeded to wave in the car all the way home.