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The Severn Valley Railway runs steam and diesel locomotives that pull restored vintage carriages across the idyllic countryside of Shropshire and Worcestershire. This summer, The Engine House Visitor Centre - located halfway along the line at Highley - is hosting special family fun days with all the bells and whistles to make the most of the six-week school holiday.         

What’s On takes a look at what makes the popular heritage railway such a grand day out for visitors of all ages...

Boasting a fleet of steam and diesel locomotives that pull restored vintage carriages across 16 miles of beautiful Shropshire and Worcestershire countryside, popular heritage line the Severn Valley Railway will celebrate its 60th anniversary in 2025. And one of its stations, Kidderminster, is 40 years old this very month. 

The railway runs between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, with stations at Bewdley, Arley, Highley and Hampton Loade, each with picturesque walks and other attractions nearby. On the journey, passengers are treated to an example of proper British countryside along the River Severn valley, with scenic views available to enjoy from wherever you sit in the carriage. 

Life at the Severn Valley Railway is powered not only by steam and diesel, but also a body of hard-working volunteers who serve as drivers, conductors and station masters, as well as doing less glamorous but equally essential work. All along the line, the platforms are kept pristine, and otherwise forgotten practices are carefully maintained. The upkeep of the line is a labour of love, with 1,600 volunteers looking after their local station or giving their time to keep the trains running.

As Severn Valley Railway has been transporting passengers for nearly 60 years, the staff and volunteers are well tuned in to the needs of their visitors. Most trains (except for the Diesel Multiple Unit, DMU) have adapted heritage carriages, designed to accommodate wheelchairs, and there are staff and volunteers on every train and platform who are happy to assist. 

The sway of the carriages, occasional hiss and whistle of steam, and the rhythm of the tracks is as much a part of the line’s preserved history as the vintage carriages and period-piece platforms. The railway offers From The Window and Eye Spy booklets, to accompany the journey, with insights into how the locomotives work, the history of the railway, and points of interest to spot along the way. 

From the carriages, passengers get sweeping views of wildflower meadows and gorgeous indigenous forestry. Less indigenous are the camels and rhinos at West Midlands Safari Park, who might be seen enjoying the weather to the north-east of the line between Bewdley and Kidderminster. Whether you’re blessed with sunshine or not, the railway offers a grand day out. 

Just across the track from Highley station is The Engine House Visitor Centre, easily accessible with flat access all the way, and packed with interactive activities. The Engine House opens on days when the trains are running and is free to enter, making it the perfect ‘mid-point’ to explore for those who don’t want to travel the full length of the line. 

For anyone whose interest in locomotion has been piqued on their journey - and those who are already firm fans of the Locos - visiting The Engine House is a must. It contains a selection of the railway’s out-of-service steam locomotives, and their sheer size is awe-inspiring, which doesn’t quite come across when viewing them from a station platform. 

‘Gordon’, the blue engine, is naturally very popular among fans of Thomas the Tank Engine, and there’s also the chance to step aboard the footplate of a steam locomotive, for a train driver’s view. Visitors can peep inside the lush carriage of King George VI’s Royal Saloon, which is worlds apart from the everyday commuter experience, and perhaps take one of the occasional guided tours inside the carriage. In the Travelling Post Office, visitors can try sorting the mail by hand, which originally would have been done while the train was travelling to its destination.

On The Engine House’s upper level, the Flag & Whistle Food Stop offers tea, coffee, cake and lunch options. While taking refreshment, visitors can relax on the balcony, which provides a great view of the railway as the trains go by. There’s plenty of room to have a picnic, if you prefer, and there’s also an outdoor play area. Parking at The Engine House is extremely limited, and nearby Highley is at least 15 minutes walk away, meaning that the best way to reach it is by train. 

The Engine House hosts free Summer Family Fun days throughout the six-week school holiday, including magic shows, mini golf, and fete games, alongside all the visitor centre’s regular activities. The train journey to Highley takes around 40 minutes from Bridgnorth, and 45 minutes when starting at Kidderminster, giving passengers enough time to marvel at the locomotives and enjoy the journey. The amount of time spent at The Engine House is flexible - visitors can stretch their legs and hop on the next train back, or make a day of it and explore everything on offer - not forgetting a picnic lunch or a visit to the Flag & Whistle. 

The Railway itself also hosts events throughout the year. These include regular Dining Experiences - select from handcrafted menus featuring locally sourced ingredients as you travel the full length of the line in First Class carriages - and Footplate Experiences - try your hand at driving a locomotive. In the festive season, there are Santa Trains from Kidderminster to Arley, where there’s a pantomime production to enjoy, and gifts for the children appear magically for the journey home. 

It’s advisable to book tickets in advance to get the best price, and groups of 20 or more are encouraged to contact the team at Severn Valley Railway, who offer group discounts. A Freedom Of The Line ticket allows passage along the whole length of the line, stopping at any of the stations. An adult ticket costs £25 if booked in advance and £32 when purchased on the day. Travelling part of the line costs less - an adult return ticket to Highley and The Engine House is £21.50 from Kidderminster, and £14 from Bridgnorth, with child, family and other discounts available on all standard fares. 

With the school summer holiday starting this month, Severn Valley Railway offers a charming, unique and exciting day out for all ages, where visitors can let off steam - along with the locomotives - and enjoy the ride. Whether you want to travel the length of the line or discover hidden gems of the English countryside, a trip along the Severn Valley Railway is just the ticket.

The Severn Valley Railway operates its summer service from Tuesdays to Thursdays and on Saturdays & Sundays.  Summer Family Fun days at The Engine House Visitor Centre run from Tuesday 23 July to Sunday 1 September. For more information and to book tickets, visit the website: svr.co.uk.

by Jessica Clixby