Wednesday, 26 October 2011

A trip to the National Railway Museum

The Duchess of Hamilton
Our busy half-term weekend continued on Sunday when we were invited to York to visit the National Railway Museum. We were there as VIPs, which actually was rather lovely. That meant for us that we had access to their car park, which at £9 a day, is quite expensive but then, it is York after all. If you're on a budget however, York has numerous park and ride sites around the city and it's £2.30 return per adult to travel, with up to two children under 16 travelling free per paying adult. The children, Monkey in particular, would have preferred to go in on the bus as they are bendy buses, which convinced him that we were, of course, in Barcelona. Nice logic, but I think the weather was a bit cool in comparison with Catalunya.

Once at the NRM, entrance is free for all, although you can buy a guide costing £5. As VIPs, this cost us nothing, but I must admit, I didn't have chance to read it until we got home because I was on my own with the children due to husband working, and needed eyes in the back of my head! Some activities cost extra but we had vouchers to cover the cost of them as a VIP group.

Our first port of call was the Great Hall where all the big famous trains were located, including a replica of Stephenson's Rocket. There is tons to see and do there and not long after we arrived, there was a demonstration of the big turntable in the middle used to turn the engines. This was apt timing as Monkey really wanted to see the train turn around and loved it.

For the half term, the NRM has a set of activities called "Big fun with little trains" with lots of extra activities in the Great Hall, including model railway displays, track building with Bigjigs, Meccano construction and rides on miniature trains. There was also a Hallowe'en craft display for which there was a small charge but   the children got to enjoy free as it was part of the VIP day. Monkey's favourite train by a long shot was the Bullet Train which you could go in and sit down to watch a short film about them.

By this time, Monkey was getting hungry (When isn't he? I never feed him, you know!) so we ventured into the Station Hall to find the restaurant which is laid out along a platform in there, surrounded by some beautiful trains and carriages from bygone eras, including some lovely royal carriages with sofas! Our lunch again was included - for three of us to have a hot meal and a drink, it would have cost us about £22 which is pretty reasonable as I got a huge cappuccino and we all had decent sized portions. I didn't understand why there was only one children's hot meal option, nor why there was no hot vegetarian option. I had fishcakes and salads, Monkey had a roast pork sandwich with stuffing (but decided he didn't like the stuffing because "it's not like yours, Mummy"), and Missy Woo had the children's sausages, beans and potato wedges. I let them have train-shaped chocolate shortbread biscuits, which cost under £2 each and they were huge - we shared them between 3 of us.

Teddy the tank engine

After lunch, we had a short ride on Teddy the big steam engine in South Yard (charge), and I was very glad we were at the back of the train when we were behind the engine! The children then tried to buy the shop out but I managed to find something for each of them that wasn't too expensive but there were plenty of smaller more affordable items they could choose from. We then decided to take the road train (charge) to York Minster, which runs half hourly from the NRM, which seems to have been the children's favourite activity of the day. York truly is a beautiful city - we had the briefest of looks at York Minster as I wasn't going to pay £9 to look round it, then wandered around some of the streets for a while, before hopping on the road train back to NRM.

York Minster door and two small children
By this time, it was getting later in the afternoon and so we decided to round off by completing some more of the activities for which we had vouchers. We dashed to the simulator and the man said he was about to put on the kids' rollercoaster option so we hopped in. Now, we all rode a simulator back in July and it was an aerobatic fighter plane simulation which the kids loved, even if it made me feel a bit queasy. About 10 seconds in, Missy Woo proceeded to freak out and scream the place down, and I eventually had to press the stop button and apologise profusely to the other people inside. Oh dear. We also hopped on the miniature railway which was much better received and we all loved having to turn round when the engine changed ends!

The miniature railway is right next to the children's playground in South Yard, so I let them run off their growing giddiness for a while (as well as giving me a welcome moment of peace) before we made our way back through the Great Hall and out, stopping to admire the model steam train with real steam billowing out along the way. The children had reached their limits by then - we'd been there over 5 hours by then, with an hour discovering York - and so I never got chance to take them around the Depot,the Art Gallery, the Works and the Warehouse (which contained the Flying Scotsman story that I really wanted to see). There is enough left to see to make another day of it again at some time in the future.

There is easily enough to see and do to fill a day at NRM, even without going into York on the road train. I really dislike going to museums where you run out of things to do within an hour or so, but we seem to do museums really well in the UK. Apparently, the NRM is the largest railway museum in the world and even if you think you are not interested in trains, there will be something to interest you, whatever age you are. You could pay a visit without paying extra for the special activities, but nothing was expensive so they wouldn't break the bank. Although it was quite busy when we arrived, it was entirely manageable and not overly crowded. I noticed it was much quieter after 4pm but the museum is open until 6pm so you could arrive around lunchtime and still have a good look around.

We were very lucky to visit the NRM as VIPs, but I noticed that there is a competition on their website to win a family weekend in York including a VIP visit to the NRM like ours, if you sign up to their newsletter here. The NRM is a fantastic day out, and we're happy to recommend it. We'll be back again soon.

(The National Railway Museum kindly invited us to a VIP day out, and provided us with vouchers to cover all chargeable activities, a free guide, lunch and provided free parking. I have not been told what to write and all opinions and words are my own.)

This post is an entry into the Tots100 Best Western School Holiday competition.
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