Nobody can fail to be inspired by the sight of a powerful and majestic steam engine, puffing its way through the British countryside. Stopping off at tranquil rural stations where you can disembark for more adventures; this unique and fun way to get around the Isle of Wight will take you back to a bygone era, with friendly uniformed staff on hand to offer passengers a much slower and more relaxing way of life.
A little history
One of the most magnificent heritage railways around, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway transports lucky visitors back to the fascinating age of steam with their beautifully restored carriages. It all started when three bogie carriages from the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, and three from the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, were bought by the Wight Locomotive Society in 1966, at the end of British Railways steam services on the island. The new service started in 1971 after some restoration, though the maintenance and restoration never ends according to the railway - there's always something to fix or improve! The fleet is looked after at the workshop in Havenstreet where you can see some of the restoration work in action.
The original line, which opened in 1862, ran for 55 miles across the Isle of Wight, servicing the most rural parts of the island. There are now only 5 miles of track left but the steam trains chug happily between the four stations along their new route, taking in some beautiful island countryside on the way.
The carriages: The oldest locomotive was built way back in 1876 but the carriages actually precede this, dating way back to 1864. The most modern carriage was built in 1924, so although it may be the newest, it's still nearly a hundred years old!
Discover the age of steam aboard this heritage railway, relaxing in the beautifully restored pristine Victorian and Edwardian carriages, and breathe in a hint of nostalgia as the engines get underway. Whether you want to discover the island from the comfort of a steam locomotive, or just want to experience a bygone era, a trip aboard the multi-award-winning Isle of Wight Steam Railway will be sure to delight all ages of visitor.
Children will love the hissing and puffing of the train as it pulls out of the station, ready to transport you back to another time. As the full round trip takes only an hour, they won't get bored, especially with all of the fascinating wildlife to spot across the farmland and Downs. Settle back as the trains choo-choo their way through the Isle of Wight's unspoilt countryside, spotting red squirrels and deer hopping through the countryside as you go - you may even see a kestrel flying above!
The steam train route
CALLING AT: WOOTTON - HAVENSTREET - ASHEY - SMALLBROOK JUNCTION
Start off at the main station of Havenstreet, where there's lots to entertain the family. Home to the Train Story Visitor Centre, the Haven Falconry Bird of Prey Centre, the Carriage and Wagon Workshop and an interesting museum, the station offers so much more than just the steam train - though it would certainly be interesting enough on its own!
Older children will love to look around the museum before they hop aboard, while little ones can burn off any excess energy in the play area. There is also a shop to buy souvenirs as well as refreshments when you need a little rest away from the age of steam.
You don't have to stay on the train - you can hop off at any of the stations en route and do a little trainspotting or exploration of your own. There are lots of lovely walks and if you are a keen cyclist, you'll love exploring the many tracks and lanes around Havenstreet, Wootton and Ashey stations.
If you take your bike to Wootton, you will get direct access to both Cowes and Ryde as well as the north-east of the island - it's also worth knowing that you can request a stop at Ashey to access routes around the east of the island. There are over 200 miles of cycle routes around the Isle of Wight so you'll always find somewhere to get on your bike!
* Bikes (and buggies) must be stored in the guard's van.
Looking for more excellent cycling trails? Check out our guide to the best cycle trails on the Isle of Wight.
Experience the events
The railway holds various events throughout the year, but one of the most popular events has to be the Santa Specials, where the big bearded man himself makes Havenstreet his very own Christmas grotto! Wander through a sparkling winter wonderland before boarding the North Pole Express where you will meet Santa and his elves - children will even receive a small age-appropriate gift from the man in red.
For older visitors, there's also a special Christmas carvery where you can enjoy the magic of steam at night with a festive dinner. You'll be treated to a glass of mulled wine, then you can adjourn to the Calbourne Room for a three-course candlelit Christmas dinner, accompanied by seasonal music and carols. Book quickly though, as this is a popular one!
If you want to continue the celebrations after Christmas, the railway also do Boxing Day Specials as well as New Year Hangover Specials! You'll just have to hope that there isn't too much whistling and choo-chooing on that particular one!
For a special treat or a train lover's birthday, book a footplate experience where for £90.00 (at time of writing) you will enjoy a full round trip of the day's service locomotive. First of all, you will be briefed on the day ahead and then you'll join the footplate crew. For an hour, you will get to stand alongside and observe the driver and footman on a 10-mile trip across the Isle of Wight. To finish the experience, you will receive a souvenir certificate to show off your new skill.
Buy a full journey return ticket which will allow you unlimited travel on the day of issue (please see website for any exclusions). This means that you can hop on and off when you like, as well as getting admission to all of the stations, the museum, children's play area, woodland walk and the Carriage and Wagon Workshop. You can buy tickets online at discounted rates, or at the stations themselves.
Third-class Day Rover Ticket booked online:
Child: £6.00 (5-17 years)
Infant: FREE (0-4 years)
Family: £32.00 (2 adults and 2 children)
Dogs: £3.00 (must be kept on a short lead)
First-class Day Rover Ticket booked online:
Child: £10.00 (5-17 years)
Infant: FREE (0-4 years)
Family: £52.00 (2 adults and 2 children)
Dogs: £5.00 (must be kept on a short lead)
Visitors who don't want to go onto the platform or board the steam trains can also purchase a non-traveller ticket which will allow access to all of the facilities mentioned above at Haverstreet Station. Tickets are £7.50 or £5.00 for adults if you don't want to include the Haven Falconry. Children go free unless they want to go into the Haven Falconry, in which case they are charged £3.00. Infants are, as always, free of charge.
* Please note that dogs are not allowed in the Bird of Prey Centre.
Parking at Haverstreet Station is easy, with a large free car park near to the station. On special event days, there is a large overflow car park to accommodate all guests. If you are joining the train at Wootton, there is a smaller, also free car park but please note that there is no access for vehicles or parking at Ashey or Smallbrook Junction stations.
WC facilities are available at three of the stations - Havenstreet, Wootton and Smallbrook Junction. There are no WC facilities at Ashey Station. Baby changing facilities are available in the refreshments building at Havenstreet.
Some of the compartments have been modified to allow wheelchair access - please see here for more information. There are plenty of disabled parking bays in the car park at Havenstreet Station and there is an accessible WC at Havenstreet.
The booking offices at Havenstreet, Smallbrook Junction and Wootton are also equipped with hearing loops.
The operating days and times of the steam trains can be found here. The train usually runs during the week and weekend from the beginning of April to the end of October, with special event days in between. Do check the website though to be sure, as the train doesn't run every day, apart from in July and August. Trains tend to leave approximately every hour between 10 am - 4 pm depending on the day but please check the website for accurate times.
Stay with us on the Isle of Wight!
When you've chugged through the superb Isle of Wight countryside and come to a halt at your final destination, you'll need a place to rest your head. Our superb collection of Isle of Wight holiday cottages will be sure to welcome you whether you are looking for a cute romantic hideaway or a place for a large family to all come together for a special occasion.
We have thatched cottages for those who like a taste of tradition, rural cottages for visitors who like to get away from the crowds and luxury cottages if you are looking for something that bit special. We even have some fabulous dog-friendly cottages so that your faithful friend can join you on your holiday to the Isle of Wight - find your next holiday here.
If you are looking to explore more of the island, check out our guide to Getting About on the Isle of Wight to find out more.
Image is of The Poplars Cottage in St Helens - see more here.