by Phil Marsh

Model railways, steam railways and raft races to enjoy

Published: 24th May 2014

Heritage railways’ special days out combine rafting and railway modelling

Visit Bodmin, Tan-y-Bwlch and the Isle of Wight in one day – courtesy of the Great Central Railway!

The catch? There isn’t one really – it is just that the Great Central Railway, the premier league heritage line between Loughborough and Leicester North, is the only full size steam railway on this itinerary.

The GCR’s latest new special event is a Giant Model Rail Expo over June 20-22 when over 50 model railways will be displayed. The inventive twist is that the layouts will not be under one roof as is the case for most model railway exhibitions. Instead, model railways will be displayed at each of the GCR’s stations with visitors travelling between venues on Leicestershire’s award winning full-size heritage railway. Check the models against the train in the platform, is that cool or what?

They said;

"We've been asked many times to put on a model railway exhibition and we're pulling out all the stops,” explained GCR marketing manager, Kate Tilley. “This is genuinely an event people can spend all day visiting, travelling between our stations, changing trains to inspect layouts and visit traders. We have plenty of cafes and a superb garden railway at Rothley, so bring the whole family to watch the trains go by - small or big!"

A theme for each station

Each of GCR’s stations will have a different theme. At Loughborough expect to see GCR Immingham’s 30ft model layout of Loughborough station, N gauge layouts and traders. Quorn & Woodhouse with its 10 acre car park will be the Expo HQ with layouts, traders and catering outlets. Rothley will showcase garden railways and model engineering, including Blackgang, an Isle of Wight gauge 3 layout. Leicester North will be the ‘family zone’.

Locations expected to be depicted in miniature include Leicester South, Kingswear, St. Marnock Engine Shed, Bodmin, Tan-y-Bwlch, Deepcar Charnwood Forest branch and Yeomans Quay.

If inspiration takes hold you should be able to buy all you need from the traders in the 35,000sq ft marquee at Quorn with the likes of Bachmann, Cheltenham, Skytrex, Booklaw, British Railway Modelling magazine, Hornby Magazine and Trackside Designs expected to be in attendance, plus many others.

Normal fares apply for this event, tickets cost just £15 including all day travel. For more details see the special event pages of the GCR website at

Autumn Watch for the ‘River Dart Struggle’ from a South Devon Railway train

October 5 is a date to note for a trip to the South Devon Railway with a decidedly off-beat added attraction later this year. The annual River Dart Raft Race, colloquially (but probably very accurately) also known as the ‘River Dart Struggle’, is a massively popular event organised by the Rotary Club of Totnes as a fun way of raising funds for local charities.

This year’s race is expected to see the biggest ever turnout attracting two to three thousand participants and onlookers – with some of the best views of the rafts racing down the River Dart to be gleaned from the adjacent South Devon Railway, hence the SDR has teamed up with the Rotary Club and will be running steam trains on the day of the event.

They said:

Geoffrey Hyde of Totnes Rotary's Raft Race Committee said: “This year's River Dart Struggle looks likely to be the best supported for many years, with 100 rafts and upwards of 700 team members expected to take part, so there should be plenty of excitement for the teams, their supporters and spectators alike.”

SDR spokesman Dick Wood said: “The Raft Race is always a fun event which raises money for good causes and is a treat for many local people who come to enjoy watching the valiant entrants do battle with the River Dart on their home-made rafts. There are some superb views of the river at this time of year and there really is no better way to see the race than from one of our relaxing steam trains. The teams taking part really deserve medals as their rafts often come to grief in the tricky waters!”

Train services

The SDR will operate four round trips on the day departing from Buckfastleigh at 10.45, 12.15, 2.15 and 3.45 each returning from Totnes 45 minutes later.

The raft race starts from Buckfastleigh at 09.00 on the Sunday morning, with rafts despatched thereafter at one minute intervals. The last crew should get under way around an hour and a half later. The finish point is Vire Island, Totnes.

SDR train passengers will be able to see the rafts almost alongside the railway on a number of stretches of the River Dart - and train tickets are valid for all day travel.

If you prefer to enter the race and watch the train while battling the tumbling waters of the river, the entry list for the enlarged 2014 event is now open. Teams entering the race are encouraged to seek sponsors for their efforts in addition to the £40.00 entry fee per raft. Funds raised all go to local charities supported by the Rotary Club of Totnes.

The railway is obliged to warn that spectators must not trespass on railway lines during the event and SDR staff will be patrolling key stretches to ensure people follow the rules about staying off the track at all times.

The national network serves Totnes station with a footpath and bridge link to the South Devon Railway’s Totnes (Littlehempston) station.

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