Bluebell Railway: Our reporter finally experiences one of Sussex's most-loved attractions

If you’ve lived in Sussex all your life like I have (bar a year working in America), there are certain things I think it’s expected you will have done.

Visit Brighton’s Palace Pier, take a walk on the Downs, burn your feet on the pebbles on one of our picturesque beaches, take a ride on the Bluebell Railway...

Except, I’m almost ashamed to admit I’ve never been on the Bluebell Railway. Well, until last weekend that is.

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My brother suggested a family day out riding the rails, and seeing as my kids love any excuse to be on planes, trains and automobiles, it seemed like a great time to finally visit after four decades of living in our county.

Katherine and her dad Pete in the driver's cab

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A family ticket is on the pricey side, at £59 for the four of us in advance (or £64 on the day, if you’re a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type), but you can ‘hop’ on and off the trains all day. Top tip: when booking, try to choose a day where there are seven trains running, rather than three like we did, or your options for ‘hopping’ will be limited.

There are four stations on the route, preserved in different periods of history including Victorian, 1930s and 1950s. I loved all the old posters and signage, and the fact the staff were dressed in period costume.

It really was like stepping back in time. I felt like an extra in Downton Abbey all day.

Aside from all the fun of travelling inside a vintage steam train, parents will be pleased to know a fun sheet is provided for kids to fill out while they’re onboard.

Because, much as your children might be excited to do something, we all know there’s a chance one, or even both of them might be due a turn at being ‘ungrateful child’ on any given day. You know the drill. They tell you they’re bored after five minutes, and generally just whine for snacks/drinks/toys/something else. Basically, the day out you’ve provided is never enough (never, never, never enouuuuuggghhhh – Greatest Showman fans might get me!) on a day like that.

Then you give them the lecture you remember receiving at times when you were a child, which goes a little something like this: “Do you know how much we’ve spent on this day out? You should be lucky to go on this train, some children don’t get to. Why do you have to ruin the day? Look at all the other children who are behaving so nicely, why can’t you be like that?”

That was a really long tangent, especially given my children were actually really well-behaved on the day, but said activity sheets were a good distraction to keep them from going ‘chugga chugga choo choo’ at the top of their voices for the whole journey.

We got on at Sheffield Park, and carried on until the end of the route at East Grinstead. We had lunch at a lovely pub there – hello to all the lovely staff at The Ship Inn – and then did the return journey later in the afternoon.

But the fun doesn’t stop there. There’s a museum on platform 2, with yet more activities for children. There’s a quiz sheet for them to complete, and they get a badge at the end. The man working in the museum (I’m so sad I didn’t get his name as he was fab) was so kind and patient with my children, explaining to them how old phones worked, and helping them with the quiz, it really added to the experience. You have literally never seen somebody as excited as my son when he got the badge – he was actually squealing!

Over on platform 1, aside from the kiosk selling ice creams (obviously we were enthusiastic customers), there’s a steamworks shed, which ‘uses touchscreen displays, information boards, and interactive elements to bring the science and mechanics of steam to life’ (disclaimer: I didn’t write this pithy summary, I just stole it from the website). Basically, there were things with buttons to press, and levers to pull, and my children were sold!

A few years too late, maybe, but now it’s full steam ahead on visits to the Bluebell Railway.

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