Published: 18th July 2015
Most people have heard of ‘Thomas The tank Engine’ but not so many will be aware of ‘The Railway Folk’. Because of the cost of staging a ‘Thomas’ event, many preserved railways no longer bother with them and have found other family events to replace them. The Mid Hants Railway (MHR) based at Alresford in Hampshire operates probably the biggest UK ‘Thomas’ event and owns and operates an ‘authorised’ Thomas The Tank Engine. The railway also owns other approved characters which allows the event to remain hugely popular.
Other railways have decided that introducing another family event is the way forward and the Isle of Wight Steam Railway (IOWSR) is one of these who has arranged an event called ‘The Railway Folk’.
This new event, which this year runs between Sunday July 26 and Tuesday July 28th, features many characters led by Dusty the Station Master who is very concerned because the holidays are looming and his Engine Driver Burt, has just one priority - to arrange his holiday. Dusty however needs to find someone to drive the trains to keep the railway running.
Other railway staff such as Jenny the cleaner dreams of sun-drenched Caribbean beaches, Ratchet the Loco Repairman just loves stately homes, and Tamp the track repair-man wants to go skiing! Max the Guard has the answer which means the staff all take their holiday at the railway! This means that they have to arrange everyone’s holiday requirements on the railway itself so the staff do not have to travel.
The IOWSR has therefore arranged for some special visitors to make the staff dreams come alive with Caribbean music, limbo dancing, and a special winter surprise to keep Tamp happy on a hot July day – a snow machine! But as with railways of yesterday, today and no doubt tomorrow, the Government meddles and Mr Beeching from the Ministry has no time for this holiday nonsense and wants to make money or he says he will close the railway.
This is the background to the three day event as ‘The Railway Folk’ return to the IOWSR to run the line, or maybe to create chaos as these quirky, crazy characters welcome visitors to their haphazard railway world.
Word is that Ratchett, Dusty, young Nipper, Mrs Cumberbatch, Smoke Box the station cat, plus a few more will be there with other characters performing a fascinating and imaginative street theatre appealing to all ages (over two years old).
The event features live sunshine Caribbean music and reggae with Derek Sandy, storytelling in the marquee, children's roundabout rides, an innovative Smokebox and Basil puppet show in Train Story, Railway Folk sticker competition, a miniature railway ride, bumpy slide and a Sandcastle Competition. Don’t forget the Tamps snow machine will also be there along with Falcons and Ferrets.
Admission tickets can be purchased on the day and they also include a vintage steam train ride. Tickets can also be bought via the IOWSR website at a discounted rate.
The Watercress Line is hosting the longest summer fayre in Hampshire on July 25 and 26 as part of the Hampshire Food Festival. This is the prelude to the annual Thomas The Tank Engine event in August. The 10 mile Watercress Line will play host to local food producers, and will feature the railway’s part in local food business with a goods train operating.
There will be local food, drink and crafts at their stations with facepainting and Morris dancing as well. The line takes its name from the Watercress Beds that provided London with that product for many decades and is still grown at the railway’s HQ at Alresford.
‘Thomas’ will be at Ropley, the engineering HQ of the MHR between August 8th and 16th accompanied by many of his character colleagues all under the watchful eye of The Fat Controller. This year, Thomas celebrates his 70th anniversary and doesn’t look a day older than his first story!
‘Thomas’ will be operating short train rides with Toad and Diesel at Ropley but not giving long train rides. These operate roughly every 30 minutes between 0935 and 430pm between Alton and Alresford. Younger visitors will be given a free Thomas sticker and certificate to take away. There will also be many free activities such as a bouncy slide, tea cup ride, children's entertainer and Thomas tattoos!
The travel ticket includes all the above and much more including an entire day's travel on the steam services hauled by express passenger locomotives trains that run along the 10 mile route which has four stations.
There is a buggy park, picnic storage, baby feeding and nappy changing at Ropley Station and toilets are available on all steam train services and at all stations. Baby changing facilities at Alresford, Ropley & Alton and meals and snacks available from The West Country Buffet at Alresford station, and from stands at Ropley station and on the train’s buffet cars.
There are picnic areas overlooking Ropley and Alresford stations and Thomas souvenirs can be obtained at Thomas gift shops at Alresford, Ropley and Alton stations.
Two bits of useful information are offered: The best way to get to the railway is via the regular South West Trains service between London Waterloo and Alton where the MHR trains run from. Tickets can be purchased from www.redspottedhanky.com
And as there is so much to see, it is recommended that visitors allow at least four hours for their visit.