Nostalgia can be a dangerous. A lot of things we enjoy as children can disappoint us when we experience them again as adults. Sometimes, the past is best left where it is. Fortunately, this cannot be said of the Severn Valley Railway.
A heritage line running steam trains (with a few equally delightful heritage diesels) 16 miles from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth, it's a great day out for children, adults and adults who behave like children. That would be us then.
If you've seen the film Paddington 2 you will remember the youngest child, Jonathan, has supposedly moved on from his love of steam trains to more typical teenage pursuits. Of course, deep down he still loves trains and he can only save the day by revealing his true self. It's a sweet stand-in for teenage identity crises of all kinds, but one I especially related to. Just as Toy Story's Andy moves on from toys which represent the past (Woody from the Wild West) to those which represent the space age (Buzz Lightyear from... well, space), I moved on from steam trains to Star Wars. Not that Star Wars was remotely cool when I started to follow it circa 1993.
Whatever was going through my head back then, I turned my back on trains, never (seemingly) to return.
Of course, they never really leave you. The steam gets into your pores, your DNA. I've written recently about our honeymoon journey on the Sunset Limited across the United States. But what about closer to home?
Well, you don't get much closer than the Severn Valley Railway. As a child I lived within half an hour's car journey of Bridgnorth. Now it's Kidderminster which is easier to get to for us, with trains running direct from the centre of Birmingham.
The working line which became the heritage Severn Valley Railway ceased operation in the early 1960s. In its earlier guise, it never made a profit and it was scheduled for closure even before the so-called 'Beeching Cuts' shut down many branch lines. Although it's been operating as a tourist attraction since the early 1970s, one can hardly say the 70+ staff and small army of volunteers have rested on their laurels with significant track extensions through the 1980s and a number of substantial side attractions, some of which were not around when I visited as a child (more on those shortly).
But the main attraction is of course the railway itself. Starting at Kidderminster, you pass through another relatively sizeable town, Bewdley. Two delightful villages are next: Arley and Highley, both of whom seem to be locked in a battle to see who has the best gardens. They really are sights to behold. Before reaching Bridgnorth there is the hamlet of Hampton Loade. There are also two halts which you can stop off at (if you tell the guard) or rejoin the train at (if you hold your arm out horizontally for the driver to see you).
The majority of the route runs through bucolic, largely uninterrupted countryside which was especially verdant on the day we visited in May 2018. Some light drizzle really brought everything to colourful life and didn't dampen our enjoyment in the slightest.
Rather than break our journey, we chose to stay on all the way to Bridgnorth. Once there, we were able to check out the site of the new station cafe. This will certainly give us another excuse to return when it opens later this year.
Although single and return tickets are available, our 'Freedom of the Line' ticket allowed us to disembark and rejoin the train whenever we wanted. It also granted us entry The Engine House at Highley. This is essentially a museum for the retired locomotives and a substitute for being able to walk around in the engine shed at Bridgnorth - something precluded by modern health and safety regulations. To be honest, even as a child I remember I thinking how potentially unsafe it was to wander around 'behind the scenes' as the engineers got the locomotives ready for active service. There were deep pits and the ground was caked with coal dust, oil and grease. Still, it was thrilling to get up close, without the platforms to rob the locomotives of scale. At ground level, these machines are truly gargantuan. Happily, even in The Engine House they are less like museum pieces and more like living beasts. Although polished to an impressive sheen, they still secrete decades of built up residue onto the concrete floor. The overall impression is that they're not dead, just hibernating.
For those who are as addicted to the smell of oil and grease as I am, you can dine on the mezzanine of The Engine House's restaurant, directly overlooking these beguiling steel behemoths. It would be stretching it to say the smell of steam trains is the perfect pairing to a meal (especially when the locally brewed ale performed that function admirably) but it certainly brought some unique ambience.
Sometimes we return to things we enjoyed in our childhoods and can only enjoy them as an exercise in nostalgia. These times are tinged with sadness: we know we cannot recreate the same feelings we had when we are small. I was more than a little relieved to find this wasn't the case with the Severn Valley Railway. We're already planning our return journey.
You can find out a lot more about the Severn Valley Railway, including a wide range of special events, at their official website: http://www.svr.co.uk/
What childhood attractions have you returned to? Did you enjoy them as much as you did when you were younger? Leave your comments below.