1. The Firth of Forth
How could any child fail to be enthralled by the bridges that cross Scotland’s firths of Forth and Tay? Or indeed by the story of the fatal night in December 1879 when the first Tay Bridge collapsed? Close to the station in Dundee are two ships of national significance: HMS Unicorn and RRS Discovery, which carried Robert Scott and Ernest Shackleton on their first successful journey to the Antarctic.
ScotRail (0344 811 0141; scotrail.co.uk). Adult off-peak return £11, child free (under “Kids go free”, up to two children 5-15 go free with an adult who has an off-peak return).
2. Thomas the Tank Engine
Travelling between Wansford and the Nene Valley’s Peterborough station, it’s easy to reach the railway where Thomas is hauling trains on Feb 17-18. He takes passengers through a tunnel and along the river valley towards the city, pausing at Overton, which has an exhibition commemorating the railway’s role in the film Octopussy.
Nene Valley Railway (01780 784444; nvr.org.uk). Adult ticket £16, child £8, family £40.
3. Scenic from Settle
The Settle & Carlisle is England’s finest railway journey. The trains between Leeds and Carlisle provide a lifeline for market towns and villages, but most passengers travel it for the austere beauty of the Pennine landscape. Heavily booted walkers use one of the 10 intermediate stations to tramp across the moors or ascend one of the many peaks, such as Ingleborough, Whernside or Wild Boar Fell. If your children are not up for a bracing hike, the impressive viaduct at Ribblehead is a 15-minute walk from the station.
Northern Trains (0800 200 6060; northernrailway.co.uk). Leeds-Carlisle £29.90 return, child £14.95.
4. King of the castle
The line along the north Wales coast offers great views out to sea, and the final approach between Crewe and Conwy is magnificent as the train crosses Robert Stephenson’s Grade I-listed tubular bridge. Parallel to it is Telford’s suspension bridge of a century before. Edward I’s castle at Conwy is perhaps the finest of all the Welsh fortresses, and children love exploring its intact chambers, chapel, eight massive towers and great hall, linked by passages and wall-walks. The views over the sea and the mountains of Snowdonia are dramatic.
Arriva Trains Wales (0333 3211 202; arrivatrainswales.co.uk). Fares range from £13 to £20.70.
5. The Railway Children II
The Keighley & Worth Valley Railway into Brontë country is still associated with The Railway Children, 48 years after Jenny Agutter met her father emerging from the steam on the platform at Oakworth. Take a ride on the train on February 14-15 for free entry to the Exhibition Shed at Oxenhope station, where Paddington Bear, no less, has taken up residence.
Keighley & Worth Valley Railway (01535 645214; kwvr.co.uk). Adult Rover Ticket £18; child (5-15) £9; Small Family Rover (1 adult and 1 child) £22. Keighley-Oxenhope return, adult £12; child £6.
6. Beside the seaside
The westward journey from Exeter beside the Exe and Teign estuaries and along the sea wall between Dawlish and Teignmouth form one of the finest stretches of seaside railway in Europe. Equally, the Plym Estuary and the climb through the foothills of Dartmoor provide a scenic way to approach Totnes from the west. Close to Totnes station is the southern terminus of the South Devon Railway to Buckfastleigh (southdevonrailway.co.uk). The classic Norman motte and bailey castle at Totnes is an added attraction.
Great Western Railway (0345 700 0125; gwr.com). Exeter-Totnes, adult return £7.10, child return £3.55. Plymouth-Totnes, adult return £6.60, child £3.30.
7. In Victoria’s tracks
On the journey between Newcastle and Berwick, the high cliffs of the Northumberland coast provide fine views over the North Sea, the seaside village of Alnmouth and Holy Island with its tidal causeway. Children’s imaginations are easily captured by Berwick’s one-and-a-quarter miles of bastioned walls – the only example in Britain of a defensive architecture common in France. If it’s raining, Berwick Barracks has three museums.
Virgin Trains East Coast (0871 876 9471; virgintrainseastcoast.com). Adult £12.60, child £6.20.
8. And teddy came too
Known as the Bittern Line, the Norwich-Sheringham railway links the city with the Broads and the sea. Just by the station at Wroxham is the eastern end of the nine-mile miniature Bure Valley Railway to Aylsham, where the half-term theme running until Feb 18 is bears (bvrw.co.uk). Children can take part in a “spot the teddy bears quiz” on the train journey, plus colouring activities and a teddy tombola at Buffer Stop Books. At Sheringham Park, with its National Trust visitor centre and café, there are 1,000 acres of woodland, parkland and clifftop coastal landscapes to explore. You can learn to defend the realm with a TV fight director at Norwich Castle, which is presenting “Kings, Queens & Dirty Rascals” from Feb 12-17.
Greater Anglia (0345 600 7245; greateranglia.co.uk)/Bittern Line (bitternline.com). Bittern Ranger, adult £9, child £4.50; Bittern Family Ranger (two adults and up to two children aged 5-15) £20.
9. Getting The Bug
Children’s Week on the 13½-mile Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch miniature railway will see steam trains running from the Cinque Port town of Hythe, through Dymchurch and New Romney to the National Nature Reserve of Dungeness with its famous lighthouse. Star of the week will be The Bug, the locomotive that helped build the railway in the Twenties, which has its own club for children (members travel free this half term).
Romney, Hythe & Dymchurch Railway (01797 362353; rhdr.org.uk). Romney Rover, adult £18, child (aged 3-15) £9. Hythe-New Romney, adult £12.60 return, child £6.30.
10. Pirates and scurvy sea dogs
The river Severn is often in view from carriage windows along the Severn Valley Railway between Kidderminster and Bridgnorth, but you are more likely to meet pirates and scurvy seadogs than river boatmen at the Engine House in Highley. Between Feb 17 and 25 a pirate trail of clues will challenge children to find the treasure, after making pirate hats and eye-patches to get into the role. Steam trains will run the length of the 16½-mile line, a miniature train will operate at Kidderminster (weather permitting) and the best coffee and cakes can be found among the railway memorabilia at Kidderminster Railway Museum.
Severn Valley Railway (01562 757900; svr.co.uk). Freedom of the Line, adult £21 (£19.50 pre-booked), child £14 (£13), family £59 (£55). Kidderminster-Highley, adult £17.50 return, child £11.50.