I am not sure who was more exited the children or their grandparents when I booked tickets to visit the Day Out with Thomas event at The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway in the Lake District. Well that’s not true actually, I’m pretty sure it was granddad first, then possibly me, followed by my daughters.
Sometimes when an event is built up over weeks and even months, it cannot always meet the high expectations. But I can honestly say our visit was one of my favourite family days out and as you can probably tell from the pictures, during my snap with Thomas I was living the dream.
I grew up with Thomas The Tank Engine stories and the adventures of cheeky Thomas, mighty Gordon and the vain James. So for my dad and I it was a trip back in time 30 years and meeting the Fat Controller was like meeting, well, a complete legend. My daughters are six and four and love reading the stories with their granddad and my four-year-old in particular was completely immersed in the characters – she still talks about Daisy the Diesel: “there was a train and the train had EYELASHES!!)
Fun, laid-back, well-organised, top-quality and surprisingly non-commercial, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day from start to finish.
Expecting it to be busy, we arrived about 15 minutes before it opened at 10am. There were still spaces in the car park, but it soon built up and people who arrived much later needed to park down the road, or are advised to try the other end of the line at Lakeside instead.
There was just a slight queue and we didn’t have to wait long at all until we found ourselves back in time standing on the traditional platform.
With a train already in the station we decided to hop straight on and headed on the short journey to Lakeside. The children enjoyed the excitement of being on a train and before long we were pulling up at the next platform.
Here there was then a short queue to climb in to a brake-van to go for a quick ride up and down the line. Seeing the queue we took the chance for a hot chocolate break in the cafe, which overlooks the lake and then went for a wander around to enjoy the beautiful views. If it hadn’t been such a sunny day and we weren’t in a hurry to get back and see Thomas, I think we would have also visited the Lakes Aquarium, which is right by the station http://www.lakesaquarium.co.uk/
We then seemed to have timed it nicely and jumped on the brake-van for a quick ride and the children loved being out in the open and watching the steam engine in action.
We then took Bulgy the old-fashioned double decker bus back to Haverthwaite to check out the rest of the activities on offer and of course to see the main man himself.
A storytelling session was just beginning as we arrived, with the Fat Controller and the engines acting out a short story. Honestly, the children were captivated and hooked on the Fat Controller’s every word. There was lots of interaction, with the children invited to come and collect coal in their buckets to power the engine.
Once it was finished the crowds spread out and we were just able to wander about amongst the engines and clamber on them for the compulsory pictures.
I thought it might be a bit of a struggle to get a picture with Thomas himself, but while busy, the atmosphere was all so relaxed that everyone just took their turn and there was not much waiting around for anything.
As well as getting his picture taken with the Fat Controller, a highlight for my dad was climbing aboard Thomas and tooting his horn. The schoolboy grin on his face was fantastic.
The setting of Haverthwaite station itself is lovely and you really do feel like you are stepping back in time. We were lucky to have a beautiful warm, sunny day and we crossed over the railway bridge to have a picnic by the line, watching the bustling station and waving as the trains went past.
After lunch we headed to the events tent where there was a Punch & Judy show, a miniature railway ride, a few arts and craft and birds of prey experience. The girls both loved holding the owls and stroking their super soft feathers.
Another storytelling session was just starting so my children tore off to get front row viewing spots. This time it was even better and brilliantly interactive, getting all the parents and children to try and pull one of the engines. Great fun.
Finally, after another quick visit to Thomas and a crazy mum pic with a friend who had also travelled over from the North East with her to children (well kids can’t have all the fun can they?) it was time to head home.Sometimes after I’ve spent a long time at a children’s event I admit I can feel a bit worn out by the noise, the battle with queues, the commercialisation, even the lack of places to eat a free picnic. But there was none of that here. Everything, apart from the hot chocolate and if you wanted to buy a memento from the gift shop, was included in the price, and as I mentioned earlier, although it was busy, it didn’t feel crowded.
So a big thanks to Haverthwaite & Lakeside Railway and Day Out with Thomas. This family had a truly lovely day and took home lots of special memories.
While Thomas may only visit a few times a year, there’s lots of fun to be had on the line all year round. The initial train ride to Lakeside runs throughout the year and in itself would have been an enjoyable day out for the children, as the excitement of steam trains just seems to fascinate them.
The heritage railway has an intriguing history for trains buffs too and fulfils its promise of recreating a “distant memory of bygone years”.
The train journey can also connect to a steamer cruise along Windermere if you want to extend it to a longer day trip.
Combined tickets, including a visit to the aquarium, are available.
To find out more visit http://www.lakesiderailway.co.uk/
Thomas will be back at Lakeside & Haverthwaite on November 7th & 8th 2015. To book tickets or find out about other places he will be visiting see: