As an end of summer treat I took my boys on a steam train and diesel rail car through the stunning Cotswolds countryside. The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway (GWR) is an almost exclusively volunteer-run heritage railway which runs along the Gloucestershire and Warwickshire border. As the GWR website promises they offer a “25-mile round trip between Laverton and Cheltenham Racecourse through some of the most spectacular scenery in the Cotswolds”.
The attraction was awarded the ‘Cotswold Tourism Award in 2014 and 2015’ and it is easy to see why… the trains and stations have been lovingly restored and are absolutely immaculate. The volunteers who run the railway clearly love what they do and make the experience, especially for children, a very pleasant one. The scenery passed during the 25 mile round trip truly is spectacular and even more special when riding onboard a steam train!
We had the option of boarding a steam train or heritage diesel railcar from Cheltenham racecourse, Winchcombe station or Toddington the HQ. We chose to depart on steam train from Cheltenham racecourse, home of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. The racecourse train station is a scenic location just below the escarpment of the Cotswold Hills. Parking is free and just a short walk to the ticket booth where passes can normally be purchased on the day (for special events tickets need to be booked in advance).
We enjoyed a pleasant 20 minute ride chug chugging through the countryside from the regency spa town of Cheltenham passing views of Cleeve Hill (the highest point of the Cotswolds), Severn Vale, Avon Valley plains and Malvern Hills; through Gotherington station (which is now a private home after closing in 1955) and passing nearby to Prescott Hill where the speed hill climb motor sport takes place. We then travelled through Greet tunnel which at 693 yards is the second longest tunnel on the British heritage railway.
We disembarked the steam train at Winchcombe to give my boys chance to explore the train station. Both Charlie and Harry particularly loved the model railway and took great delight in racing the Thomas and friends engines. Unfortunately, I had planned to buy us our lunch at the 1950’s style station cafe ‘Coffee Pot’ however I was disappointed to find out that they do not take card payments so we had to make do with snacks until our stop at Toddington Station at the ‘Flag and Whistle’ restaurant.
After spending thirty minutes waving at passing trains; exploring Winchcombe station and watching the model railway trains going round and round the track, I dragged my reluctant boys onboard a heritage diesel railcar for the short trip to Toddington. There is plenty to do to keep little ones entertained at Toddington station including a locomotive yard viewing area, a shop stocked with railway books, toys and souvenirs and a small play area which is a perfect spot for a picnic on a bright day. Rain was forecast on the day we visited and so instead of risking soggy butties we had lunch at the Flag & Whistle restaurant (which did except cards, thankfully!)
I would have liked to continued on northbound to the current end of the line in Laverton (there is planned future extension of the line to Broadway) to experience the Stanway Viaduct with its 15 arches, 50 feet above the valley floor but the days excitement for my two boys was starting to get too much and a good nap was required for Harry!
Need to know
A trip onboard the GWR is certainly not just for train spotters! The train was full of all ages of visitors particularly families with young children. The attraction runs special events throughout the year, many of them particularly geared towards families including ‘A Day Out with Thomas’ and the ‘Santa Train’. We visited for the last Teddy Bear Tuesday of the summer. Since last summer I have wanted to take my boys to experience Teddy Bear Tuesday as both of my boys love their teddies. I know this may not last forever as Charlie has just started school this week (sob, sob!) and next summer he may be too cool to hang out with his favourite soft toy on the choo choo trains! I therefore jumped at the opportunity a couple of weeks ago to enjoy the last teddy event of the summer holidays. Last Christmas we experienced the Santa special train on Christmas Eve which was absolutely magical.
Ticket prices – All day rover tickets are Adult £16, Senior £15, Child £7, Family (2 adults and up to 3 children) £42, First class supplement per person £2. Children under the age of five travel for free.
Free activity booklet – Ask for a copy of the free children’s quiz and crayons at the station booking office when you buy your tickets. Hours of entertainment for kids = peace and quiet for you, the parents!
Take cash with you – As I mentioned above, the coffee shop at Winchcombe does not take cards. The restaurant at Toddington does however, if you do not want to get caught out like me take some cash. Snacks can also be purchased from the on-train buffet catering service.
Have you travelled with GWR? Can you add any tips to my list above?