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I was excited about my trip to the Isle of Wight and spent some time looking at things I could do there. I am interested in history and heritage and liked the sound of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. I do like steam trains and thought it would be fun to travel on one – the last time I did this was as a child on holiday.
The Isle of Wight Steam Railway is what remains of the original railway on the Isle of Wight: the rest of it either no longer runs or, in the case of the Island Line which runs down the east coast, has been electrified. The steam railway runs from Smallbrook Junction in the east (where it meets the Island Line) to Wootton Station in the west, passing through the village of Havenstreet. Along the way it passes through 5½ miles of countryside.
*A Brief History* The first railway on the Isle of Wight opened in 1862, over 150 years ago. By 1890 an extensive network of railways served the island, but from the fifties the lines were gradually closed. The Isle of Wight Railway Co. Ltd was formed in 1971 to buy the stretch of track between Wootton and Havenstreet, later extending to Smallbrook Junction enabling an interchange with the Island Line.
From the earliest days of the railway, it was rarely possible to afford the newest trains and therefore the equipment used on the line was already old by the time it reached the Isle of Wight. Therefore, many of the steam trains used today were used on the island in the early twentieth century, but actually date from the mid to late nineteenth century. The oldest train dates from 1876 and some of the carriages date back to 1864.
*My Experience* I bought a day ticket which combined unlimited travel for both the Island Line and the Steam Railway, costing me £14. I spent part of the day before and after my steam journey using the Island Line and exploring the towns along the line, taking a break in the middle to explore the Steam Railway.
I used the timetable to plan my day: this is really important as some of the times appear slightly random, and if you want to match up steam train times with Island Line times you will need to inspect the timetable closely. I managed to work out the best time to arrive at Smallbrook Junction and transferred across to the other platform, which was easily visible as I exited the electric train. I had to display my ticket to get on the platform. Though it was a bright, warm day in August, there weren’t many people there – only three or four on the platform with me – and all day the railway didn’t strike me as particularly busy.
The train soon arrived, steam pumping out of the chimney, and the carriages waited on the track while the engine rumbled along to the other end of the train. I climbed into a carriage by myself; I’d paid for a third class ticket, but the carriage seemed luxurious enough to me! It was very comfortably padded with wooden panelling and shelves and old-fashioned advertising. The carriage was clean and a lot of care had clearly gone into restoring it.
I was able to open a window slightly, which let in a lovely breeze when the train began to move (might be slightly less pleasant in the rain!). I l really enjoy train travel anyway but there’s something about steam trains that is especially nice. I loved looking out the window and seeing the woods and the countryside rush past.
After about twenty minutes, the train reached Havenstreet station. Havenstreet is the central point of the Steam Railway and there is plenty to keep you occupied here, including a woodland walk, children’s play area and even a falconry experience (although this does cost extra). I spent about an hour and a half here: I had a look at some of the engines on display and browsed the small museum. The museum was dark and slightly shabby, but there was some interesting information about the history of the railway as well as photographs and artefacts. I also had a look around the shop: there were many model trains and toys, and other souvenirs of the kind you get in all touristy places: pens, keyrings, fridge magnets etc.
I had lunch in the station café. It wasn’t the most amazing café in the world but it was pleasant enough, clean with decent food. There were quite a few families there, with children happily enjoying the play area.
I got on the train again when it turned up, travelling all the way to the end of the line at Wootton and back again to Smallbrook Junction, which took about forty minutes, I think.
I enjoyed my time on the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, although it was rather a shame I was by myself and I think it is best suited for families. I am sure families would enjoy it, although it is a little pricey unless you go for one of the deals. Personally, I feel that the price I paid for both Steam Railway and Island Line travel – £14 – was very reasonable.
*Accessibility* Full disabled access is available at Havenstreet Station, and most trains have an adapted carriage in use for wheelchair users. It is best to contact the Railway for further details.
*Facilities* Toilets: Havenstreet, Wootton and Smallbrook stations have toilet facilities.
Food: There is a café at Havenstreet, and there are pleasant picnic areas at Havenstreet and Wootton.
History: There is a museum, displaying artefacts from the Isle of Wight’s railway history, and a Carriage and Wagon Workshop, home to heritage stock undergoing restoration, at Havenstreet Station.
Shopping: There is a gift shop and a small second hand book shop at Havenstreet.
Outdoor entertainment: A children’s play area and rambling Woodland Walk can be found at Havenstreet. There is also a falconry centre, offering hands-on experience with falconry, though there is an extra charge for this.
*Special Days Out* Special days are organised throughout the year, including ‘A Day Out with Thomas’ and ‘Santa Specials’ for children, wine and real ale festivals for adults, and historic theme days out. I also noticed that on 1 January this year there was a ‘hangover special’ trip! Prices for the days out may vary from those quoted below.
*Getting There* By car – There are free car parks at Havenstreet and Wootton stations.
By train – The Island Line stops at Smallbrook so you can change onto the Steam Railway from here.
By bus – Services 29 and 33 (Wightbus) stop at Havenstreet Station and Service 9 (Southern Vectis) stops at Wootton.
*Opening Times* The railway operates daily from June to October, frequently in March, April and May, and on several days in October, November and December. Full details and timetables can be found on the website.
*Ticket Prices* Includes an entire day’s travel Adult £9.50 Child (5-15 years) £5 (Kids go free in August) Infant (0-4 years) free (maximum of two infants per fare paying adult) Family (2 adults and 2 children) £24 Dog £3 These prices are for third class travel; first class tickets are available but are more expensive.
Access to Havenstreet station without travelling is £3.
A ticket combining travel on the Steam Railway with travel on the Island Line is £14 for adults and £7 for children.
Isle of Wight Steam Day Rovers can be purchased from most staffed railway stations in London and the South East. They cover: return rail travel to Portsmouth Harbour, catamaran return travel to Ryde, a day’s travel on the Island Line and a day’s travel on the Steam Railway. They cost: Adults £23.40 Children £11.80
*Contact Details* The Railway Station Havenstreet Isle of Wight PO33 4DS United Kingdom