Days out · Parenting · Play

A Festive Day Out With Thomas-East Anglian Railway Museum, Essex

Anyone who has read this blog to date would have probably noticed that there is one thing The Toddler loves  other than raisins, jumping on the bed, anything that isn’t his and that is trains (or more importantly Thomas and Friends in it currently incarnation post Ringo Starr.)

The Toddler is now 2.5 years old and is heading towards his 3rd Christmas and it’s the 1st one where he has had a bit of a better understanding of what’s going on. In the precious first year of being a mum when we had The Toddler, I didn’t really get on the whole First Born train with recording dates, and weights, and milestones but I did however, feel the need to dress my child up in costumes for Halloween and Christmas and thrust his 6 month old self in front of a camera for his 1st visit to meet Father Christmas. The look on his face was a mix of fear and confusion. Cringe.

Thomas The Tank Engine

This year, the magic of Christmas with a child who ‘gets it’ is in full swing so what better way than to book A Festive Day Out With Thomas? If you have never heard of A Day Out With Thomas before, I hear you, I hadn’t heard of it either until my mother in law said that the local heritage railway to them have Thomas Days and we should look into it. A Day Out With Thomas is set up around different locations across the U.K. hosted by heritage railways. It allows them to open up their sites to families and let’s them meetand ride real train versions of Thomas characters and enjoy Thomas themed activities. 

The Toddler had been to A Day Out With Thomas with his grandparents in Kent which was apparently excellent, and we went to one in Colne Valley which was okay but nothing special but after a trip to East Anglian Railway Museum (which is fab on its own) we decided to book a Thomas day there for Christmas.

The East Anglian Railway Museum is actually part of still a working station on the Gainsborough line. The single track at Chappel and Wakes Colne links Marks Tey to Sudbury crossing the impressive Chappel Viaduct. Visitors that arrive by train to the museum receive a 10% discount on admission with a valid train ticket (excluding some events, see website for details etc.)

We had previously visited the museum before for their Model Railway event a few months as both The Toddler and The Husband love their trains. After a bit of googling for something train related everyone could enjoy, the East Anglian Railway Museum (EARM for short) came up trumps. I will be first to admit that the massive train enthusiast buck stops with The Toddler and The Husband but it was actually really enjoyable if you are into trains or not.

On our first trip we were greeted with the beautifully restored ticket office the led out on to the platform that belongs to the working train line. The main museum and restored buildings are accessed over a footbridge linking the adjacent platform. Be warned, the museum is accessible with ramps etc but there are stairs up to the main platform and to access the footbridge. Step free access is reached via a large field on the other side of the museum which is detailed on the website. If you are visiting I’d recommend a light pram or a sling if your little one isn’t walking. The Baby was in the sling on our visits which made it easier to get up into trains without having to move her constantly in and out of the pram.

I’ll briefly tell you a bit about the museum then get back to Thomas because, well, knowing what the museum offers would probably give you an idea on what it’s like when Thomas and Friends come to visit. The museum has a variety of restored, listed, and working buildings that you can enter. The goods shed (with a heritage plaque on the wall giving a nod to Blur gigging there in their early days) displays vintage railway platform signs and has a carriage that you can go inside. On the Thomas day, this carriage was Father Christmas’ grotto complete with more rope light than you could shake a candy cane at. 

Christmas Grotto Carriage

The museum also has free unlimited rides on both the miniature railway and on the locomotives they have in use on the day. They also provide driver experience sessions for an extra fee. There is a heritage centre which features history of the railway, the rail line itself, railway unions, railway life, a true tribute to the golden age of steam. It is very hand made and a bit cobbled together in a portacabin but interesting nonetheless and caters very well to young children as well as old with hands on displays where you can dress up and ‘drive’ a train, and you can experiment with the physics of how rails and wheels work. Opposite the heritage centre is another portacabin building which hosts events such as model railway displays. There is also a tiny pub on site, pretty decent baby change a toilet facilities, gift shop, and a cafe on the platform where you can dine in the carriage.

So back to A Day Out With Thomas. We prebooked tickets with a gift from Father Christmas in advance. The day at EARM started at 10am and finished at 4pm but the timings vary at other railways that run the days out. Whilst the station and workers were decked out for Christmas, it wasn’t too full on in your face Christmas so if your little one loves Thomas but is a bit ‘Father Who?’ about the festive season, there is enough to keep them interested. A Day Out With Thomas also hosts activities throughout the day a the Imagination Station which again will vary at each location but had story telling, wooden railway train table, drawing area but to name a few. We didn’t make much use out of the activities partly due to The Toddler being in the throes of the terrible twos and will either fuss because he isn’t interested or fuss because someone else is playing with Thomas and, of course, every Thomas thing in the world is somehow his.

The first train we rode on was Thomas the Tank engine. Needless to say The Toddler was excited to see his favourite character in real life for a short ride up and down the track. They basically take a character face and attach it to a loco that has been painted in the colour of that engine. You could also be shunted by Percy and Toad, ride Daisy the diesel railcar, or travel in Henrietta (Toby’s carriage). In the exhibition building there were some indoor toys and a Thomas the Tank Engine DVD to entertain little one as well. A one stop pop up Thomas merchandise shop was also there for the event.

The main attraction which made the day actually Festive was the addition of a grotto and gift ticket. This allowed both The Toddler and The Baby to meet Father Christmas and get a small gift each. Initially the queue was a bit long and not moving as Father Christmas appeared to be on a tea break so we thought we’d chance it again later after lunch. When we returned we were amongst the last few for the next visit to Father Christmas. As I said earlier, the train carriage was playing the part of the grotto at the museum so with tickets checked, we took our seats aboard the Christmas carriage and waited for the big man to arrive. We were not disappointed. Father Christmas and his helper took the time to meet, greet, and chat to all the children (minus The Baby as she was zonked by this point). After The Toddler chattered on about everything that popped into his head, he and his sister were presented with their presents. A plush toy kitten for The Baby and a car that makes sounds for The Toddler. Both were well received and the car is currently hidden as you can only hear its sound effects a handful of times before you start losing the will.

It was a fantastic day out for everyone and the EARM is charming to visit even if it isn’t an event day. We were throughly impressed by how smooth the day ran and The helpfulness of the staff on site.

There is an Easter Day Out With Thomas at the EARM which we have our eye on so watch out for more about that soon.


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