Heritage Railways

Five best heritage railways

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Railways make for an amazing day out with the family. They’re one of the best ways to explore local heritage, taking you to those hard-to-reach places in comfort and style.

A day spent riding the tracks on board vintage trains appeals to all ages and generations, with leisure travel by train exploding at the start of the 2000s and continuing to grow in popularity. Many lines sit on tracks affected by the infamous Beeching cuts of the 1960s, which closed down many provincial lines to commuter traffic.

It’s fantastic to see these lines that were once the heartbeat of the communities they served continue to serve a purpose for tourists. The railways have been reinvented as a great way to travel and an enticing attraction in their own right. Here is our list of the best heritage railways in the UK.

West Somerset Steam Railway, Somerset

West Somerset Steam Railway, Somerset

In true Beeching style, the West Somerset Steam Railway has past glory as a commuter line from Minehead to Bishops Lydeard. Whether you’re looking for a nostalgic ride back in time or just a journey through the lush countryside, the line is full of fascination. At 20.5 miles, it’s the longest standard gauge independent heritage railway in the UK.

You’ll pass through the scenic Quantock Hills, the cliffs and coast of the Bristol Channel, Dunster’s imposing castle and end up in coastal Minehead. Services are operated by a mixture of preserved steam and diesel locomotives which pull former British Rail Mark 1 coaches painted in a chocolate and cream livery. It has all the ingredients to make it one of the best heritage railways in the UK.

Bure Valley Railway, Norfolk

Bure Valley Railway, Norfolk

This scenic railway runs through the heart of Norfolk Broads, itself one of the greatest spectacles in the UK. The line will take you from the historic market town of Aylsham south to Wroxham, not far from Norwich on what used to be the East Norfolk Railway.

The 18-mile round trip runs through the pretty Bure Valley countryside following the meandering River Bure through meadowland and ancient pasture. Along the line are wayside halts serving the picturesque Broadland villages of Brampton, Buxton and Coltishall. You’ll be transported on some lovingly named locomotives, with Mark Timothy’s Madderlake Red colour being a particular favourite of ours.

Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, Kent

Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, Kent

A particular childhood favourite of this writer. Sentimentality isn’t the only reason for its inclusion on the best heritage railways in the UK though! This miniature steam railway will have you coming back time and time again. The line operates a 13.5-mile route along the Kent coastline from Hythe down to Dungeness, which we think is one of the UK’s most bizarre places.

A massive ecological site plays host to cute huts and a quaint station, with the imposing nuclear power station in the background. There are four stations in between these contrasting destinations, each just a short walk from a beach. You’ll fall in love with the cosy locomotives that pull you along the Romney Marsh. Make sure you look out for the sidings at New Romney station!

Bodmin and Wenford Railway, Cornwall

Bodmin and Wenford Railway, Cornwall

The only railway on this list to have a connection with the actual national railway network. There is something about the connection between heritage and commuter railways that we find cool! The line itself closed to workers in 1983 and quickly reopened for leisure in 1990. It has been a staple of local life ever since. When you jump on at Bodmin Parkway, the line takes you north past Colleslogget Halt and Boscarne Junction to the terminus at Bodmin General.

A combination of steam and diesel locomotives will transport you on the 8-mile round journey in this picturesque part of Cornwall. Grab a glimpse of the rolling hills and Cornish countryside as you chug along the track.

Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway, Lincolnshire

Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway, Lincolnshire

It's easy to see why this coastal railway consistently crops up as the number one tourist attraction in Lincolnshire, and that’s reason enough for us to include it on this list of the best heritage railways in the UK. A line with a chequered history, the railway has been running in one form or another for over 70 years, with an injection of investment making the last 20 its heyday.

Not only does the two mile return journey offer a relaxing way to enjoy beautiful views along the picturesque Humberside Coast, the line also doubles as a transport link for beach lovers. We couldn’t write about the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway without mentioning the aptly named Signal Box Inn pub, ideal for a refreshing pint and a bite to eat.