Classic Steam Heritage Railways of Britain

It's yesterday once more ... and getting there is truly half the fun.


Travelling by steam train evokes a hopeless sense of nostalgia for Britain's great, pioneering railway past, combined with the simple delight of seeing an enormous plume of steam bursting from a train as it pulls out of a station. Steam was all but extinct by 1968, and engines were sent to scrap yards, but thanks to heritage railway companies, who have rescued and restored many locomotives and lines, it is back from the brink.

Around 100 different lines, some little more than a mile long, have been reopened. Stations have been restored to their period appearance, with old bicycles propped against picket fences, retro billboards advertising Woodbine cigarettes and Lyons tea, plus little benches and immaculate flower beds. Station masters and ticket collectors wear proper, period uniforms. It is all part of the fantasy and romance of travelling by steam train. Whether it is to satisfy your own interest or your children's obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine, travelling by steam offers a wonderful day out for locals and visitors alike.

These are just some of Britain's many steam hauled heritage railways. Click on the button below for a complete guide to the UK and Ireland's Heritage Railways.

Welsh Highland Railways

Wales is known for both its outstanding scenery and its many narrow gauge steam railways. Together they make an unbeatable combination. The Ffestiniog is the oldest independent narrow-gauge railway in the world and is one of a number of herirtage railways operatying throughout Wales.

The Jacobite Train

Described as the greatest railway journey in the world, this steam-hauled 135 km round trip takes you past a list of impressive extremes. It gained international fame when it was featured in the Harry Potter movies as Hogwarts Express.

The Flying Scotsman

Britain's favourite steam locomotive takes its name from the express passenger train service that has operated between Edinburgh and London via the East Coast Main Line since 1862.

Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway

The train, which runs from Cheltenham Racecourse station to Winchcombe via Gotherington, is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. The line from Stratford upon Avon to Cheltenham Spa was closed in 1965.

Bluebell Railway

Arguably the most famous of all British heritage railway lines, the Bluebell Railway was the first preserved standard gauge steam-operated passenger railway in the world to operate a public service.

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway

Lynton and Barnstaple Railway in north Devon is a wonderful little line high on the slopes of Exmoor that will take you back to the Thirties. The Launceston Steam Railway in east Cornwall, is another north Devon railway not to be missed.

Watercress Line (Mid Hants)

16 km of travel through gorgeous countryside between Alton and Alresford. Furthermore, the railway station at Alton is on the main line from London Waterloo. The line is steeply graded, which considerably enhances the experience.

Isle of Man

The wonderful steam railway on the Isle of Man which inspired the Rev Wilbert Awdry to write Thomas the Tank Engine continues to run, using the same locomotives from 1874 to 1910 and carriages of similar vintage.

Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway

Set in Britain's picturesque Lake District, this heritage railway runs along a 5 km route from Haverthwaite at the southern end of the line via Newby Bridge to Lakeside at the southern end of Windermere. Some services connect with sailings of vintage steam vessels on Windermere.

North Yorkshire Moors

One of Britain's most popular heritage railways running through North York Moors National Park. The 24 mile line opened in 1836 as the Whitby and Pickering Railway. The preserved line is now a significant tourist attraction and has been awarded many industry accolades.

Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway

A 15 in gauge light railway in Kent, operating miniature steam and internal combustion locomotives. For the past 88 years the Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway has been an integral part of the landscape of the Romney Marsh.

National Railway Museum, York

If you haven't been there, may we suggest you make a visit to the National Railway Museum in York. Its collection includes most of British Rail's famous locomotives (steam and diesel) along rolling stock, signals, railway memorabilia and thousands of locomotive models.

Where Have All The Railways Gone?

After growing rapidly in the 19th century during a period best described as Railway Mania, the British railway system reached its height in the years immediately before the First World War, with a network of 23,440 miles (37,720 km). Today, the British rail system is just a shadow of what it used to be.

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