Posted by: Paul | August 11, 2010

Days Out #1 – Railway Museum

In an attempt to alleviate the boredom of the Goddam Summer Holidays, this afternoon I took Adam to the East Anglian Railway Museum. Despite being fairly nearby, this is another place we’ve never visited – having a child and needing places to take them opens up a new world close to your home, I’m finding!

The EARM is one of those charming local museums – crumbling slightly at the edges, underfunded, and run by rampant enthusiasts who live and breathe the place. Having recently been to the National Railway Museum in York (look I’m not some kind of railway geek, OK?), it was quite a comedown, but is a very different kind of place. It stands either side of a working branch line between Marks Tey and Sudbury, known as the ‘Gainsborough Line’ for Sudbury’s association with the famous artist. The line itself crosses the very pretty Chappel viaduct over the Colne Valley and the train ride itself is well worth the ticket price, unlike most rail journeys in our area!

The Museum occupies the old station house, ticket office, goods shed and yard and repair shed, and there was far more to see than I expected. You could board a variety of different coaches, including the one in the above photo, reminiscent of the Harry Potter movies. Sitting in cushioned comfort, I was reminded of what commuting was like when I first started working in London over a decade ago – I always liked the old slam-door trains, they were far more comfortable than the modern coaches. But comfort obviously gave way to needing to cram more people onto overcrowded commuter services so they were phased out on grounds of ‘safety’. Well I never got my bag shut in the door of a slam-door train, that’s for sure…

Anyway the enthusiastic restorers working on the engines, trucks and coaches definitely recalled a different age of the railway. Friendly and helpful, they were happy to indulge an overactive two-year-old who wanted to ask what everything was and did. Unlike current National Express staff, fearful for their job security and cushy pensions, the guys working in the repair shed in particular were pleasant and far from rude.

The visitors, of which there were a couple of dozen while we were there, were a mixture of small families and elderly enthusiasts. It was all rather quaint and a pleasant surprise. But the biggest surprise of all awaited when we rounded the corner of the goods shed to be confronted by a certain famous blue engine…

We were very lucky – there are certain ‘Thomas Days’ when he is in residence, and today he was awaiting transportation elsewhere, hence he was not wearing his best face. But we got to see him at no extra charge, which was great, as the admission price for ‘Thomas Days’ is doubled!

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