The Isle of Wight is not just about touristy spots and amusement parks. There is much more to the island than meets the eye. For a casual traveller, the steam railway might also be a tick in the box of things to do on the Isle of Wight. But, a closer look at the Isle of Wight steam railway reveals a lot about the island’s railways and travel. Curious to know more? Come aboard the steam railway for a delightful journey through the countryside.
A Spring/Summer Attraction
If you are travelling to the Isle of Wight during spring and summer, you are likely to come across the steam railway. Although the island has a railway line operating between Ryde Pier Head and Shanklin, the star attraction is its heritage steam railway. It is a multi-award-winning heritage railway located in the heart of the Island’s countryside. This is a short line of around 5-miles. The main station is Havenstreet and from here you can board the train, which will take you to Smallbrook and then to Wootton.
Steam Railway – A Journey that Takes You Back in Time
As you park the car at the station’s car park and walk to the entrance, you start to feel the excitement. The board with the train’s picture just outside fills your heart with childlike glee. And the ticket counter with its rustic feel makes you believe you have stepped back in time. After collecting the ticket you proceed to the station, which is abuzz with activities. (We visited during Easter break and so, a special Easter egg hunt was a part of the program). There are uniformed guards decked up in traditional railway attire welcoming you and you feel the excitement building up.
The train was already on the track, waiting for its locomotive and passengers. Soon a beautiful, shiny steam locomotive was attached to the carriages and the passengers were urged to board. The engine reminded us of the trains from ‘Thomas and Friends’. We wouldn’t have been surprised had the fat officer suddenly appeared in front of us.
Anyway, soon we were seated in our respective carriages and the train chugged along its way to Smallbrook. It passed through picturesque countryside and it was lovely to see the woods and the wildflowers along the way – a treat to the eyes. We saw several farms, ponies, cattle, and more before the train stopped at Smallbrook. It was time to move the engine to the other side. As the driver and the guard got busy with the task, we deboarded and enjoyed the view of the station. One of the island line trains whizzed past us as we waited to board again.
A Piece of History
As we sat in the century-old carriage, we reflected on how marvellous it was. Here we were on a steam train – a locomotive that is around 120 years old and a carriage that is a hundred years old. However, everything looked so neat and clean, functional as if they were brand new. The decors reminded us of a time bygone and the whole train had an old-worldly charm to it – perhaps that’s why this journey felt so nostalgic and unlike any other.
We’ve always loved train journeys – whether the days-long trips from the south of India to the North (and vice versa) or the metros and intercity expresses that we occasionally travel in. There is something about a train journey that awakens a kid in you – an excitement that something special is happening. The journey on the steam train was similar. There was this unbridled excitement of travelling on an old train in the beautiful countryside. It was like taking a piece of history along with us to cherish forever. Any train lover would agree that it is something special.
Havenstreet – A Heaven of Steam Trains
We passed through Havenstreet to Wooton and then, after one more engine change, travelled back to Havenstreet, where we alighted. This cute station reminded us of some of the stations in India. That, again, is something special about the trains and stations. No matter where you are, the trains, tracks, and stations have a degree of familiarity – a feeling that you’ve known this place before, that this is not an unknown place.
Perhaps that’s why trains are more endearing than any other mode of transport. As it whistles past us, we are transported to our childhood where we stood by the side watching the trains pass by and often counting the number of carriages. Sadly, such joyous moments are unknown to the children of today…
Train Story – An Unmissable Exhibition on Steam Railway
An unmissable attraction at the Havenstreet station is the Train Story, an exhibition showcasing the history of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. It tells us about the 150 years of the island’s railway history. It is a great place to learn everything about its wonderful train history. You can also see the work in action as volunteers work hard to restore and repair old carriages and locomotives so that they can keep the steam railway going.
Volunteers – Powering the Steam Railway
At one time, the Isle of Wight had an extensive railway line stretching over 55 miles. However, the lack of consumers, world wars, and withdrawal of steam engines in the 1960s, all resulted in its disuse and disrepair. But, a group of train lovers got together and started the Wight Locomotive Society, which then went on to secure old locomotives and carriages from different parts of the country.
The group repaired and restored the engines and carriages and in 1971, the first steam train was put on tracks, opening a new chapter in the island’s railway history. If you are interested to know the history of the Wight Locomotive Society in detail, check out how it all began.
The Steam Railway and the Train Story is run and managed by a 300-strong volunteer group. They are the driving force that keeps this whole operation on track. Most of them are driven by their love and passion for trains and railways and they selflessly work to give us the most memorable rides. We had a chance to chat with a young volunteer who hopes to graduate as an engine driver eventually.
We could see the passion reflected in his words and in the manner in which he explained how things worked. It was an eye-opening and humbling experience to listen to him and to see the volunteers in action. You would’ve never guessed they are not real, full-time employees of the railways. The passion and enthusiasm they bring to the job and the entire place is contagious. We came back with our hearts and minds full of happiness and hope.
Falconry Bird of Prey Centre
Close to the Havenstreet station is the falconry bird of prey centre. As birdwatchers, we don’t like seeing birds in a cage. We love to see them in the open, wild. But the falconry was just a couple of minutes’ walk from the station so we decided to take a quick look. We did see some birds of prey that we wouldn’t have seen in the open in the UK or India. But truth be told, we didn’t feel happy to see them. However, this is a good place for kids to see some birds of prey up close. There were some other activities for kids where they could take a pet for a walk and see some insects and reptiles too.
Time to Bid Bye
By the time we finished our quick visit to the falconry, it was time to get going again. We had to catch the 2’O clock ferry from Fishbourne. We bought some sandwiches and the local special ice cream Minghella from the café near the station. Although we decided to eat the sandwiches later, the ice cream couldn’t wait and so we ate it before we headed to the car park. The Easter celebrations were going in full swing by then. There were many kids having fun hunting for Easter eggs, displaying Easter hats, and more.
We arrived at Fishbourne ferry terminal well in time. There was a slight delay before we could board the Victoria of Wight. Eventually, we boarded, parked the car, and went up to the lounge. We decided we will sit in the lounge, and not on the deck. By the time we were seated, the ferry had started on its way to Portsmouth. We watched the shores of Isle of Wight get farther and farther from us.
There was this strange feeling of sorrow, like bidding bye to a friend. We know we were there for just three days. But it felt special and we wish we could’ve stayed longer. Or at least come back sooner. We hope we will be back sometime soon because there is so much left to see and do at the Isle of Wight. Whenever we come back, we will tell you more about this charming place and the attractions it offers.
Until next time, take care and stay safe.
Here’s our vlog on the Steam Railway journey.
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