The scenic Bluebell Railway, which runs between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead in lovely Sussex, is arguably England’s best steam railway experience.
As Britain’s oldest preserved standard-gauge railway, it shows off the area’s beautiful bluebells as they come into bloom each spring.
Run by volunteers, it takes passengers through 11 miles of gorgeous Sussex scenery in the luxury and comfort of a bygone era.
Providing a superb experience during a staycation, a ride on this delightful train is a great way to take in South England's beauty. Here's why you need to experience it for yourself in 2021...
Travel back in time with the Bluebell Railway
The Bluebell line is known for its historic carriages, including two 1920s Pullman carriages and its enchanting stations, each restored in the style of a different period. Sheffield Park harks back to the 1880s, while the refreshment room at Horsted Keynes transports you to the 1920s, and Kingscote evokes rail travel in the 1950s.
You may recognise the historic stations of the Bluebell Railway from TV shows such as Downton Abbey, Churchill’s Secret and the Muppets Most Wanted movie.
The largest station, Sheffield Park, has been restored in the style of the Brighton era in the 1880s and takes its name from Lord Sheffield, who owned the estate just half a mile away. Now a National Trust property, you can enjoy a walk from the station and through the grounds to feel like a Lord or Lady yourself.
Regarded as the most tranquil and picturesque station, Kingscote is home to colourful flower beds and a playground for children. This station has been restored to the British Railways period of the mid-1950s.
Make a day out of it
With a charming riverside picnic area at Sheffield Park and plenty of outdoor space at Horsted Keynes, a ride on the Bluebell Railway makes for a great day out in fairer weather.
The surrounding landscapes are splendid, whether you’re taking in the footpaths of the Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or enjoying views of Ashdown Forest – home of Winnie the Pooh – as your train steams through the Sussex countryside.
You can get stuck into foodie events and celebrate traditional British fare, with fish and chips and curry evenings, or full English breakfast rides, and daring travellers can enjoy Murder Mystery events aboard the Golden Arrow train.
At East Grinstead, you can see marvellous engineering in action, as the steam locomotives uncouple and re-attach at the other end of the train, ready to return to Sheffield Park.
Become a collector
Sheffield Park features both a Bluebell Railway shop and museum, and the Bullied Society Shop on platform two, where you can peruse vintage transport books and railway magazines, railway memorabilia including timetables and models, and old photographs, DVDs and videos.
At the 1930s-themed Horsted Keynes, you’ll find the Bluebell Railway Carriage Shop, where you can browse pre-loved collectors’ items inside a historic carriage. All proceeds go towards funding projects at the railway, including wagon restoration.
Check out the Bluebell Railway's museums
To really learn about the Bluebell Railway, head to Platform 2 at Sheffield Park Station, where there’s an extensive railway museum with a stunning collection of artefacts, display panels and videos. You can even get stuck in and pull a signal lever in the Victorian signal box.
Plus, you can watch carriage restorations in front of your eyes at the Carriage and Wagon Workshop at Horsted Keynes. They take care of metal fabrication, woodwork, marquetry, upholstery and painting.
Whether you're taking a ride for the views or the nostalgia, one thing's for sure: the Bluebell Railway offers one of the world's most wonderful train rides.
Fancy trying it for yourself? Take a round trip on the heritage Bluebell Railway, plus a guided tour of Sheffield Park Station, museum and engine shed with us this September as part of a four-day break.
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