Bust my buffers! The original Thomas the Tank Engine books are a less than a riveting read, aren’t they? I have a feeling they’ll nevertheless continue to be demanded nightly after not one, but two visits to ride on miniature railways recently, which only seem to fuel the Thomas obsession.
These two trips take you a little further afield if, like me, you live in East London. But perhaps you live closer or, again like me, can fit in these toddler-pleasing pit-stops en route to or from somewhere else. Alternatively, to find a miniature railway near you, click here.
Bekonscot Model Village and Railway, Warwick Rd, Beaconsfield HP9 2PL
Years ago, I heard Will Self (someone I never thought I’d reference on this blog) talking on the radio about one of his favourite places, Bekonscot Model Village – it inspired him to write a short story called Scale. It sounded like a weird/quirky/interesting place to go, but with it taking upwards of an hour/an hour and a half to get there by car or train, I never went. Then over Easter we passed it on our way elsewhere and seized the chance to visit a few days later on the way home.
My toddler had a great time and if I lived closer I would definitely go back soon. It’s actually quite a small tucked away site, but we were happily occupied for a few hours there. When you arrive, you buy your entry tickets from an old train carriage and (for an additional £1) get your ticket to ride the miniature train. We went twice. You hop on the back of the little train and do a strange looping route that makes the short distance you actually travel slightly longer. “Again!” my toddler demanded when we were back at the beginning.
Once we managed to separate ourselves from the train, we went to the playground where my toddler occupied a ride on Thomas the Tank Engine and refused to dismount. No worries there – Mummy and Daddy could eat their sandwich on the picnic benches in peace.
THIS IS THE ONLY PLACE ON EARTH TO PROVIDE A DUSTPAN AND BRUSH WITH EACH PICNIC TABLE AND A POLITE REQUEST TO TIDY UP AFTER YOURSELF!
We decided our trip round the model village itself would be less stressful if our toddler had an ice cream in her hand. I feared otherwise she might break into the model village and start rampaging through the delicate figures and buildings. It was a good move. We got to walk round the model village in peace – enjoying its weirdness.
In all honesty, I’d have guessed it was Nigel Farage’s favourite place rather than Will Self’s because the model village itself is a depiction of an England that probably never existed – everything is neat and tidy and everyone is going about wholesome activities like going to school, church, sailing boats, going to the funfair etc. There’s even a tiny Marks & Spencer. It’s so immaculately done and detailed it’s hard not to be fascinated. If you like dolls’ houses, you’ll like this. It draws you in – in the same mini world way. My other half, who claims to be blind to all forms of flowers/greenery remarked on how amazing the gardening was, because all the bushes and flowers are part of the village. There are also multiple trains (too tiny to ride on this time) running through.
The whole thing is hard to describe, so perhaps photos are the best.
Where? Warwick Rd, Beaconsfield HP9 2PL (For map and directions, click here)
When? Closes for Winter (Check here for more details)
How much? At the time of writing £10 adults/£6 children/under twos free (Check here).
Facilities and access There is parking or it’s a short walk from Beaconsfield station. There’s a cafe, baby change and a place to leave buggies so you can walk round the model village
Swanley Park, New Barn Rd, Swanley, Kent BR8 7PW
Swanley Park is a 45 minute or so journey from Bow, East London, mainly along the A2 – it’s a short distance from Bexley Heath or Dartford if that helps you get your bearings. From Easter weekend onwards, its miniature railway is open and takes you from the car park to the playground. It’s a few joyful minutes on the back of a miniature train in the open air for the toddler in your life and, perhaps, not worth the journey for that alone unless you have a serious train enthusiast in your life. Thankfully, the park offers more than the train for entertainment.
From Easter (roughly) onwards, the paddling pool is open for business and is very toddler friendly. There’s a cafe, picnic area and a decent playground. There’s also a lake where you can hire boats and feed ducks. I’ve visited twice and each time there’s been a bouncy cafe but you need to be a little older than my toddler to go on.
For an overview of what’s on offer, click here.
For the park’s Facebook page, click here.
For the railway’s Facebook page, click here and website, click here. The train seems to run weekends from Easter to the end of the summer, plus every day during the school holidays but check the website first.
What? Swanley Park and Swanley New Barn Railway (See write up on Trip Advisor)
Where? New Barn Rd, Swanley, Kent BR8 7PW
When? The park is open year-round but springs to life in Easter with the miniature train, paddling pool etc. (Check here for train running times)
How much? The park is free and, at the time of writing, a round trip on the miniature train is £1 for children and £1.50 for adults (Check here).
Facilities and access There is parking, a cafe, toilets – the train has a carriage to take pushchairs and bags.