On 30th May, which also happened to be a bank holiday this year, Myke and I celebrated our 4th wedding anniversary. Time has flown! We have had many adventures in that time though, not least the birth of our son. I have loved (almost) every moment of our marriage, and long may that continue!
Myke had told me he had planned something, and he wasn’t going to tell me what, but not to make plans myself. While I’m not fond of surprises, I don’t mind this sort too much!
After many cryptic conversations, we eventually arrived at the Ribble Steam Railway Museum (TripAdvisor reviews here), somewhere Myke and I had intended to go for a while, especially given that it’s right on our doorstep! We arrived a little later than we would have liked, but sadly Robin felt under the weather in the morning so he needed a little settling before we could leave the house! Thankfully the museum is very accessible, so I didn’t have to worry about waking him when we first arrived and could let him sleep, transferring him to his sling later on when he was happier.
Located on the industrial side of the docks on Chain Caul Road, it’s not terribly easy to get to, but could be a lot worse. In a car, it’s incredibly easy, and the museum gets HUGE points for free parking. Plenty of places that we have been in the past charge enough for parking to put you off returning! We live a five-minute drive away from the museum, so it was not bad for us at all!
On regular days Adults cost £7.00, Children £4.50, under 3’s Free. On special events, such as the teddy bears picnic going on this weekend the prices rise to £8.00 and £5.00 respectively. In all honesty, the price has put me off going in the past. It takes the museum from the “somewhere interesting to check out” to the “steam train enthusiasts” territory. The museum is small, so it is quite a steep price. However, you do get value for money, and they do not capitalise on the captive audience by overcharging in the gift shop or cafe, or the parking. The money is going to good use too: into the running of the museum and restoring the steam trains, for example.
Your admission ticket includes: Access to the museum and workshop, rides on the miniature railway, unlimited train rides on the steam railway and free parking. At the teddy bears picnic, this also included free face painting. Sadly, I don’t think Robin would have kept still long enough, and I got the impression it was only for the kids, so I didn’t ask to partake!
The cafe was reasonably priced from our experience – 1 can of diet coke, 1 latte, a Mars bar and a chocolate orange bar came to £3.96 (ish. It was £3 something, but I lost the receipt.) I would have expected this to be a lot more expensive, so that’s splendid. There’s also a dining car on the steam train but I forgot to clock the prices.
The gift shop was well stocked too. As well as the usual themed souvenirs such as key rings and pencils, there was an excellent selection of trains, both branded (such as Thomas the Tank Engine) and non-branded. There was also books about the local railways and historic engines, and some very cool themed badges (such as “Engineer”, “Ticket Inspector” and “Engine Driver”) and hats. I was very impressed with the selection which again, was not overpriced. We bought Robin a little Steam Engine stress toy so he can chew on it and not damage it/himself and that cost £3.95 which I thought was very reasonable.
Steam Train Journey
When we first arrived Robin was in his pram since he’d just gone to sleep and I didn’t fancy waking him to put him in his sling. The whole museum is pushchair and wheelchair friendly, so I wasn’t overly concerned. As we paid, we were told there was a train due to leave now and to head up to the platform. We did so and asked if there was anywhere in particular best for us to sit, and were directed to the back carriage of the train. The platform masters helped us load on the pram, apologising that they had just taken up the ramp ready to depart, and they helped again when we returned. We had the carriage to ourselves, but there was plenty of room for wheelchairs/pushchairs.
Obviously, given the era that these trains were built, space is limited throughout most of the train. The carriage in front of us had multiple compartments (think Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express) which are where we sat on our second journey when Robin was awake and in his sling. The carriage ahead of that was the dining car, which had a similar layout to modern trains and contained the bar area.
Although we didn’t use it due to going to the cafe for a snack, the dining cart was very well stocked. The train normally leaves once an hour, but as it was a special occasion, it was running every 45 mins instead. The train takes you 1.5 miles up the docks and along the river and then comes back. It only goes quite slowly so takes about 30-40 minutes for the round trip. It is only short but your admission ticket allows for unlimited journeys, and it’s always fun to wave to people walking along the river. The second trip, we had our tickets checked and stamped which were a nice touch of authenticity.
The museum itself is quite small, about the size of a train shed. But they manage to pack a lot into such tiny space. There are numerous engine’s that have been restored, with lots of information about each one and their history. Some you can board and explore complete with fake coals on fire, others have cars attached that you can look in. Some areas show you how the engines work with interactive mechanics, and there is a model railway complete with a TARDIS (yes, I know it’s a police box – don’t spoil my fun).
One thing that never fails to amaze me is the sheer size of the engines. You know they’re big, but it’s not until you stand between two of them and look like an ant on the photo that you have a bit of perspective! There isn’t normally teddies on all the trains – this was for the teddy bears picnic.
The workshop is a fully working area. Parts are cordoned off for everyone’s safety, and others you can have a look inside. When we went in, there was several trains in different states – some nearing exhibition quality, others that look like rust buckets. As we walked around, you could see all the work in progress which was fascinating. Warning signs let you know that sometimes the workshop will be closed for “Engineering goings on!”, but most of the time its open. One of the engineers upon spotting us wandering around came over to have a chat and tell us about the trains, and what they were doing, and asked if we’d had a good day.
Babies and Children
The museum is child and baby friendly – surprisingly so. For children, there’s little play areas, brass rubbings, books and jigsaw’s – all train themed which I think is a simple, but effective way of entertaining kids. From the start, I got the feeling that not only was the museum trying to be inclusive of children but actively encourage them to learn and play. A lot of museums in my opinion just tack activities on and leave it at that. This doesn’t feel that way.
As mentioned before, there’s a miniature railway that runs the length of the museum. We saw quite a few children going on it while we sat in the cafe, but hadn’t seen any adults so we weren’t sure if we’d be able to take Robin on it, given that he’s too small to sit himself on one of the seats. When we asked, the gentleman could not have been more accommodating.
He sat us down, said that we’d go along once quite slowly, and if Robin were okay with that then we’d go again a little bit faster as he didn’t want to scare him. Also, instead of sounding the horn, he just made the “toot toot” noises rather than potentially scaring him. It meant a lot to us and it’s lovely to see someone considering the differing needs of a baby and doing their best to make it as enjoyable as possible.
And now, I’m going to discuss something I never thought I would. The toilets. Or more appropriately the baby changing area. The toilets are located in the gift shop, and the baby change is in the accessible toilet. I was very impressed with the fact that they have considered the needs of parents. Along with the actual changing station, there are hooks to hang the bag on, etc., but more importantly, there is a potty and a detachable child seat for the toilet. It’s amazing what things can suddenly impress you as a parent, but the fact that the needs of toddlers and young children have been taken into consideration deserves to be recognised.
Honestly, I did not expect to enjoy the museum as much as I did. I think it will be a fantastic place to head to once Robin starts to get an understanding and interest in steam trains and such as, although it was perfect for him as a baby too. With different events on throughout the year, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to return, and I thoroughly look forward to doing so.
The museum was quiet, especially when you consider it was a Bank Holiday Monday. Although I understand it is quite a niche interest, it deserves to be a lot busier than it was. I quite like that it was quiet, I don’t like crowds, but for the museum, this is not ideal, especially given that they rely on support for its development. Every aspect of our day cannot be faulted, from the museum itself to the staff; it was perfect. While it is small, they’ve done a brilliant job of showing that bigger, is not always better.