ALRESFORD: Day Out With Thomas

Thomas the Tank Engine lr
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By Tim Saunders
My children and I are great fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, that famous steam engine created by Hampshire vicar WV Awdry.
Every year The Watercress Line runs special Day out with Thomas events during the Easter and summer holidays where it is possible to ride on carriages pulled by the famous blue engine for a whole day. But it’s much more than that, we discover when we park in a field next to Ropley railway station.
Firstly, the really appealing thing for families is that all the attractions are covered by the day ticket; there are no sneaky surprises. This is so often not the case when visiting tourist attractions these days. So parents can relax. And that’s another important point to mention, parents really can relax, which is also a rarity when visiting such places. No sooner have you left your car you are quite literally transported back into 1950s England complete with nostalgic period advertisements adorning the platforms for such products as Lipton’s Tea. Everybody is smiling and there are very few tantrums from anyone’s children. Steam trains appeal to young and old alike and grandparents and parents spend valuable quality time with their families and all take away memories to be cherished for a very long time indeed. The mark of a great family attraction. And word has got out, during our visit there are a number of foreigners enjoying the experience. There’s a great atmosphere, too no doubt helped by the choo chooing and the clickety clacking of the trains.
We soon discover that the Thomas train rides take place on one line throughout the day and there are occasions when he has to go into his siding to make way for the mainline trains to pass through. All part of the experience. Our first ride is on Diesel and Toad and we travel from Ropley to Alresford and back again. This gives little Henry (2) his first journey on a train and he is mesmerised, really enjoying looking out of the window at the passing scenery. Fortunately we have packed lots of food because it’s a hungry business and the three little mouths need filling. Harriett (7) and Heidi (5) start completing their passports for the journey; this is a great idea because it’s another way of cementing their memories of the day. “I feel like we’re on holiday,” says Heidi. At Alresford we go to the upstairs of the station where the children enjoy getting their Thomas tattoos, playing with model Thomas the Tank Engine trains, watching the television programme and colouring in. Mummy watches and relaxes.
Returning to Ropley it’s time for our picnic. Afterwards we make our way to the chair-o-plane ride. To our surprise Henry really wants to go on it but his face rapidly changes to a look of shock as it starts to gather speed. He does well though holding out until it has virtually finished before saying: “I want to get off.” The vintage swing boat rides go down extremely well with Harriett and Heidi who have to revisit them four long times throughout the day. It is such a joy to watch them laughing and giggling. We return to Thomas. Caroline stays with Henry who is by now asleep in his pushchair as the girls and I go on the miniature railway. When Henry wakes up I take him on the miniature railway. The experience is completed by such friendly and happy staff and of course meeting The Fat Controller.
“Who would have thought you could have such an enjoyable and relaxing day at the railway?” says Caroline.
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