Video/Gallery: Review - Bressingham Steam and Gardens entertains even on a wet, miserable Sunday afternoon
- Credit: Archant
For those looking for inspiration this half term, Natalie Sadler shares her experience of a rainy day out at Bressingham Steam and Gardens, just outside Diss.
Wherever we go, it rains. And not just a little bit.
So it was no surprise that on the morning we decided to visit Bressingham the heavens opened. It was a typical British bank holiday weekend - and everyone else appeared to have had the forethought to check the weather forecast and stay home.
But maybe, for once, we were the lucky ones.
The conductor working on the Garden Line that morning cheerfully ushered us straight onto the front carriage of the waiting train, much to the excitement of Hannah, nine, and seven-year-old Josie.
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The pair were over the moon with their first class transportation. And their enthusiasm was matched by that of both the conductor and driver, who seemed delighted to be able to share their knowledge with such eager young train enthusiasts.
The train takes a short route along the edge of the immaculately manicured gardens before looping round and returning back to the station, and along the way there are teddy bears to spot and count, which kept the girls busy.
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But the real excitement came as the train was moved onto the turning circle, spun around and reset ready for its next journey. The girls were fascinated, and even us adults were intrigued by how expertly the crew of just two managed to manoeuvre this colossal weight.
Steam day entry includes unlimited rides on the Garden, Waveney and Nursery lines, plus three rides on the gallopers - a steam-powered carousel (which also has electric back up!)
The intricately decorated horses, ostriches and carriages of the carousel captivated our two, and we soon learnt that keeping them in such fine condition is a never-ending job for the team of restorers who repair and repaint the pieces on a constant cycle.
While we were caught up in the excitement of the gallopers, my husband seemed quite content chatting to the operator about the engineering behind this classic fairground ride.
It is important to point out Bressingham is largely run by volunteers - artists, engineers, steam enthusiasts and horticulturists who all have an obvious passion for what is a very special attraction - and all of whom have were genuinely enthusiastic about the place, even though it was grey, cold and damp, and slap-bang in the middle of a bank holiday weekend.
There is plenty to explore at Bressingham and with the dark, menacing clouds above threatening to break at any time, we ventured inside the railway sheds.
Here you can see not only the showpieces of Bressingham, including beautifully preserved royal carriages and bullet-proof carriages, but also works in progress.
This provided an unexpected education into the world of steam and encouraged the girls to think about how earlier generations lived and worked - of particular interest was the steam engine used to power a hospital laundry.
The girls read up on the history of some of the locomotives and the journeys they had made, and although chilly and slightly dingy inside, the sheds offered shelter.
To our shock, we emerged an hour later to bright sunshine (amplified by the fact we were also trying to re-acclimatise ourselves with daylight).
A corner of the park is reserved for a 1950s style funfair with dodgems, a waltzer, penny arcade and the only pedal snails in the world - reportedly something that has drawn the attention of TV antiques dealer Drew Pritchard - and with the weather on our side for once, we made the most of it.
It is from this bottom corner that we found the Waveney Line station (you don’t get a map of the site when you enter but the signposts are quite helpful).
This route passes alongside the Nursery Line, with both trains running parallel for a time.
It was great to hear the noise of both engines, and have the billowing smoke blowing through the carriage, summoning mental images of what train travel was like in years gone by.
The Nursery Line, a 2ft narrow gauge, travels around a 4km circuit, passing all of the main attractions - meaning it would have probably been best to board this on arrival at Bressingham.
The train takes you through woodland, and past the now abandoned nursery, which is being reverted back to a ‘managed’ habitat.
Bressingham was not over yet though, because on the way to the exit, we couldn’t help but take another ride on the gallopers, set at the heart of this lovely centre for a reason.
And then we spotted the Dad’s Army exhibition signpost and uncovered a treasure trove of historic train carriages, delivery vehicles and model railways as well as the revered exhibit on the famous TV show.
Inside the halls there are post carriages - possibly the highlight of my day seeing how the mail was sorted on the move, all under the power of steam.
The shops and war time exhibits proved fascinating, even if you weren’t familiar with Dad’s Army, shot locally.
And upstairs the girls found a series of model railways, some with accessible power buttons that encourage children to operate them.
Amazingly, we had exhausted a whole day and the museum was preparing to shut as we finally exited - we could have done with another hour.
Entry on steam days costs £13.99 for adults and £9.99 for children, for more information on operating days and opening times visit their website.