There are many words that may be used to describe the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, including inspiring, award-winning, and most importantly, surprising.
The latter descriptor is particularly interesting, as it offers a fascinating insight into the attraction and the way in which it appeals to visitors of multiple ages.
This location is also incredibly charming, and it provides a unique educational experience for adults and children alike. In this comprehensive guide, I’ll explore the history of this attraction, while appraising the best things to do here and some of the practical considerations when planning your trip.
The History of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway
In simple terms, the Isle of Wight Steam Railway is known as a heritage railway site, which passes through five-and-a-half miles (9km) of countryside between Smallbrook Junction and Wootton Station.
It also traverses the picturesque village of Havenstreet, while Smallbrook Junction is where the island’s steam railway connects with the larger Island Line.
The first railway on this line opened in 1862 after widespread expansion of the UK rail network commenced in 1826. Between this date and 1836, some 378 miles of track had opened, and by the time the South Eastern Railway opened as far as Dover in 1844, a whopping 2210 miles of line had been constructed.
After the introduction of the first Isle of Wight rail service connecting Newport and Cowes in 1862, this quickly became the core of the island’s central railway. The line from Ryde to Newport was then opened in 1875, while by 1890 the whole island was serviced by a comprehensive network of routes.
You can access a detailed Isle of Wight Steam Railway route map, with this offering a broader insight into the area ahead of your visit.
Historically, however, these lines saw low levels of traffic and minimal tourism, leading to them being poorly maintained and neglected. This was a reflection of the general poverty that gripped the island in the 19th century, and this made it hard for network managers to invest in new locomotives or the requisite rolling stock.
Since this time, a small but well-resourced group of rail enthusiasts have formed the Wight Locomotive Society and helped to preserve the remaining locomotives, helping to create the tourist hotspot that you can visit today!
Top 3 Things to Do When Visiting the Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Of course, a trip to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway isn’t just for trainspotters or railway enthusiasts.
In fact, it offers immense value to visitors of all shapes and sizes, while most guests spend at least four hours on-site (and some can while away the entire day here).
So, here’s a glimpse at how you can spend your time when visiting the location!
- #1. Visit the Train Story Discovery Centre: The Train Story Discovery Centre sits at the epicentre of the Isle of Wight Steam Railway experience, with this interactive indoor museum bringing the location’s unique historical narrative to life. This is home to the island’s oldest carriage, which was built for the opening of the seminal Ryde to Shanklin line back in 1864. You can also see the underground trains that ran on the line until January 2021.
- #2. Check Out Daily Falconry Display: There’s also a great deal of green expanse surrounding the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, with this used to host daily falconry displays during the summer. These shows are continuing for now as the warm weather conditions continue, while events are provided by the Haven Falconry every day at 11:40 and 13:40. These shows are also close to the popular Woodland Walk trail and nearby children’s playground, so it’s great when planning a fun afternoon in the sun.
- #3. Explore Cycle Trails Around the Railway Lines: You can also cycle around the Isle of Wight and the Steam Railway routes, with trails largely comprising disused routes through naturally beautiful locations. Such routes include the woods connecting Wootton Station and Briddlesford Farm and a circular trail to and from Newport, each of which offers gentle gradients that are ideal for families and riders of all ages. All running trains also have large luggage carriages that are ideal for bikes, so getting to your starting point is incredibly straightforward!
If you want to check out some of the lines and stations prior to your trip, I’d also recommend watching these fun interactive webcams. This can be strangely addictive, especially during the day and relatively busy periods of traffic, while viewing all available Isle of Wight Steam Railway webcams allows you to understand what you can expect on your visit!
Pricing, Accessibility and Nearby Accommodation
There’s fairly standard pricing in play at the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, but there’s no doubt that the venue provides a competitive and affordable day out on the island. Here’s a breakdown of the current ticket prices:
|Adult Standard Travel Ticket Online||£19.50 per ticket|
|Child Standard Travel Ticket (5-17 Years)||£8.25 per ticket|
|Family Standard Travel Ticket (up to 2 adults and 3 children)||£45.00 per ticket|
|Infant Standard Ticket (0-4 Years)||Free|
|Member Standard (using 1 of 3 available travel vouchers)||Free|
These prices include a return trip in standard carriages, while you can visit here to check the very latest pricing for first class and admission-only ticket prices. I’d also recommend that you book online to secure your Isle of Wight Steam Railway tickets ahead of time, as this affords you genuine peace of mind and allows you to enjoy your own compartment when pre-booking as a group of four or more.
In terms of local accommodation, ‘The Fishbourne’ is located just 1.2 km away from the Isle of Wight Steam Railway. This is a quaint and rustic B&B that boasts light, airy rooms, while it’s ideal for avid travellers who like to spend their time on the move.
The Lakeside Park Hotel offers a more high-end alternative with an on-site spa, although the extra amenities come at a price premium of more than £120 per night.
Broadway Park Hotel is also highly rated, while there’s a nearby Travelodge located in the iconic seaside town of Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
If you plan a trip to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, you should also consider visiting Robin Hill. This is in close proximity to the railway, while it comprises a staggering 88 acres of rolling parkland and stunning natural woodlands.
Then there’s Osbourne House in East Cowes, which can be accessed along one of the railway’s most popular cycle routes and combines flower-filled gardens with stately properties that were once frequented regularly by the great Queen Victoria.
I’d also recommend visiting the famous Abbey of Our Lady of Quarr in nearby Ryde, which is a tranquil monastery located on the Isle of Wight. This is home to some wonderful grounds and a small group of dedicated monks, while it’s a great place for a relaxing afternoon stroll and moments of quiet contemplation.
So, there you have it; our comprehensive guide to the Isle of Wight Steam Railway, its incredible history and some of its most interesting activities.
What’s most surprising about the location is its broader appeal across all age ranges, from dedicated steam train enthusiasts to young children who have a passion for learning and want to immerse themselves in a rich and fascinating history.
Ultimately, the iconic Isle of Wight Steam Railway and its routes narrate a key part of the Isle of Wight’s incredible story, and its scarcely believable rise as one of the UK’s most popular tourism hotspots!