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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Things To Do in Oxfordshire: Didcot Railway Centre

In contrast to yesterday's Living Rainforest trip, we skipped over the border (from Berkshire into Oxfordshire) and back in time to visit the Didcot Railway Centre. Entering the centre from Didcot's actual current railway station, you walk through the subway, a sort of time tunnel, which brings you out into an era of rail travel dominated by steam engines. There are a few photographs included below, but you can see the whole lot at flickr. There are some good'uns, I promise.

This train, on 'running days', will lug you up and down the museum's length as many times as you like.
The Railway Centre is a museum, but not of the usual type: this one's a living, breathing museum of engineering masterpieces. By 'living' I don't mean there are people in period costumes wandering around pretending they're actually in the period you're learning about. Instead, this is an actual half-mile of railway with working locomotives hauling carriages up and down the track. The best bit is that riding in these carriages is included in your ticket price (which is about £8 for an adult).

See the countryside flash past in more comfort than you'd find on a more modern train.
Upon arriving we jumped onto the train, which seemed the obvious thing to do, and we're taken to the other end of the museum, which featured an old station whose purpose was to transfer goods from standard gauge trains to Didcot's broad gauge vehicles.

Didcot's railway comes from a time before track widths were standardised.
Wandering along the length of the track there are engine sheds, a shed in which old carriages are being repaired and restored, a turntable, a museum, shop, cafe, and other assorted attractions including an old air raid shelter and a railway carriage that has been converted into an educational centre primarily aimed at children, and focusing on the science of how steam engines work (this was made accessible by way of a series of interactive stations which really engaged me, and should therefore hold the appeal of many younglings).

Science! And trains! The science of trains! And I got an I. K. Brunel T-shirt. Awesome.
There are plenty of information boards dotted along the site, which is mostly open to the elements so bring a brolly if it's wet and sun cream if it's dry. You can walk or ride from station to station- it's not far, so not too hard on your feet, and you can ride the train as much as you like, so that's not hard on your wallet.

I include this not only for train fans, but also fans of a certain short-lived science fiction TV series.
At the end, we arrived back at the beginning (don't all the best stories?) and, as a quick plot-twist, jumped on the train again to experience one of the first class carriages up and down the track. It was a bit like what you might get if you put your grandparents' living room furniture in a booth on the Hogwarts Express.

You don't get upholstery like that in trains these days. Not even in first class.
Then we grabbed some dinner at the Prince of Wales pub across the road from the station (just in case you're worried about food- there wasn't a lot of choice at the Railway Centre's station cafe).
I snapped this mostly because this stone was laid exactly a year to the day
before I was hatched.
Coincidentally, it's also the same date that Alex Drake's parents were blown up.
If you want more info, here are some links: