When Thomas Met the Flying Scotsman

I can pinpoint the moment that Thomas fell utterly in love with trains. He was 18 months and 2 days old. I remember  it that exactly because we took him to meet Thomas the Tank Engine at the Spa Valley Railway in Kent. (Tickets were free for children up to 18 months of age. I classed 18 months and 2 days as close enough to 18 months to be free!)

He was mesmerised by all of the trains, not just his namesake. Steam and diesel alike, they all lit his little face up. It was that day that we bought him his first wooden Thomas train (Thomas, naturally) which was the start of what is now a simply vast collection. The wooden train, and its track, quickly became his favourite toy, one that he would not go anywhere without. To this day, train tracks still criss-cross the floor of playroom on a semi-permanent basis.

The love developed to encompass the trains that run through the local station just a few minutes from our house. For the longest time he referred to the Class 475 Southeastern trains as “Seventy-Two train” and we never did get to understand why! But the sight of these very ordinary commuter services rushing through the station filled him with a joy that literally made him jump up and down. We’d make daily stops to watch them, supplemented by endless You Tube videos. Riding a train was his favourite thing to do, eve if we just rode to the next town, got out and came back. Downtime was filled with train books, both fiction and non.

Thomas the Tank Engine was his biggest love for a long time. Each morning started with an episode (or four!) and we worked our way through the entire library of stories. But gradually the obsession has expanded. He has a particular fondness for the Shinkansen Bullet trains and can tell you in great depth about how they were engineered (as a result we’re off to Japan next year to ride them). Other favourites include the Eurostar, Virgin Pendolinos and the old Intercity 125 HSTs. He doesn’t just love to watch and to ride on trains, he loves to know how they work. He can tell you about everything from pantographs to Pandrol clips, how a steam engine works to how the wheels stay on the rails. He rates the standard of his day by how many trains he has been able to see. When he says that he wants to be a train driver, I completely and utterly believe him.

He doesn’t just like trains. It is an obsession. A love affair.

One of his favourite trains in the last 18 months or so has been the Flying Scotsman. We’ve watched endless documentaries about her most recent restoration and he is a walking encylopedia of facts about LNER Gresley Class A3 4472 (aka Flying Scotsman). He even asked for the Flying Scotsman in cake for his fifth birthday (I obliged, as best I could).

When we heard that the Scotsman was coming to the Bluebell Railway, close enough to home for an easy day out, we knew that we had to take Thomas. Unfortunately both Ian and I were at work on the day tickets were released, but it was Grandpa to the rescue as he painstakingly refreshed the page and kept his patience, finally securing us tickets to ride behind Scotsman between Sheffield Park and East Grinstead in the very first carriage.

It wasn’t Thomas’s first visit to the Bluebell Railway, but it was definitely the most exciting. We kept it as a secret until the day before, which was probably just as well because I think he’d have been beside himself having to wait much longer.



We were booked on the second service of the day, and the Scotsman had already left Sheffield Park on her first run by the time we arrived. However there was plenty more to explore.

Typhoon – a one third scale model of the Flying Scotsman, normally found at the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent, was at Sheffield Park. The two engines were last together at Kings Cross in 1927, where they were described as ‘The Giant and the Dwarf’. We weren’t able to stay right to the end of the day when they were drawn up alongside one another, but Thomas had a good chance to explore Typhoon, even sitting in the cab.





We also had the opportunity to walk underneath a steam train and get up close with all the pipes, springs and wheels. It was hard hat territory! And there was plenty to explore in the engine sheds outside too.


We then got to visit the cab of one of Bluebell’s permanent Southern Railway steam engines, and Thomas even allowed to stoke up the fire with coal and wear the drivers cap!


We were back with Typhoon when Thomas spotted what he had been waiting so patiently for…

… the Flying Scotsman herself!







We crossed over to the platform and climbed aboard for our trip to East Grinstead and back.





Thomas (as all of us) spent a fair amount of time with our heads out of the window, enjoying that beautiful steam train smell and trying to avoid smuts of soot in the eye. The route was lined with people waving at tis iconic engine puffing her way past. (We waved back, or course!)

Thomas could not wipe the grin off his face. He turned to look at me, as we pulled out of the station, and said “I can’t believe we’re on the Flying Scotsman!” His joy was utterly infectious!

All too soon we were back at Sheffield Park. There was still plenty more to look at, including the permanent Southern Railway exhibition. Thomas had a chance to move the signal levers, ad learn how they worked, as well as dressing up in a drivers outfit.


(We need this sign for people entering our house – the trains are everywhere!)

All too soon it was the end of our day.

Thomas’s verdict?

“That was the best day ever. I loved it so much.”

Can’t say more than that!

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Santa Special

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When your son is a complete train obsessive and your local heritage railway run dedicated festive services, there is really only one option of where to go to meet the big man in red. Add the fact that we took Thomas on the local “Santa Special” service last year – and it’s fair to say that he really loved it – so why take the chance of going elsewhere and having an overwhelmed pre-schooler on our hands when we knew this would be a massive hit?

So last Sunday we set out bright and early for Eridge station to join the train in what could easily become a family Christmas tradition. We enjoyed the lovely log fire in the waiting room, and hot chocolate (or orange juice, in Thomas’s case!) in the buffet car before the train pulled in to take us on our way.

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This year, in contrast to last year’s set up, Father Christmas actually visited each child on the train to have a few words and give them a little gift. (I won’t spoil the surprise in case anyone is going on the same trip, but it’s a decent quality item with plenty of play value.) Father Christmas then posed in his sleigh in the engine sheds at Tunbridge Wells. This actually worked very well as it meant each child got two opportunities to see him (and this would be helpful with a child prone to getting shy, overwhelmed or otherwise potentially distressed) and it also cut down the waiting time in the engine sheds as each family was only posing for photos, rather than also getting their gift and chatting to Father Christmas for a while.

Thomas is at a really perfect age for becoming completely wrapped up in the magic of Christmas. Although he’s normally full of questions about “why” or “how” it hasn’t occurred to him yet to be anything other than completely absorbed by the magic of the season. I know that we won’t have that long until it begins to fade, so I want to clutch it hard whilst it is here. Seeing the look on his face when the big man arrived in our compartment was one of those moments I’ll treasure.

Thomas very sweetly whispered to Father Christmas to remind him what he had written in his letter, and Father Christmas was happy that he’d come on his train ride, given that he wants trains for Christmas!

He also very happily climbed aboard the sleigh for photos, which was something I’d been unsure that he would actually want to do!

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IMG_6631(That is my mum, hiding behind Thomas!)

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IMG_6723(Father Christmas climbing back aboard the train for the return journey)

We then got the train back to Eridge, complete with a visit from a balloon modeller (yes, the same guy again!) Thomas was suitably impressed with his sausage dog that had eaten a single sprout! We also had delicious mince pies, and a train shaped shortbread for Thomas, included in the ticket price.

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Thomas absolutely loved the train ride, quite apart form seeing Father Christmas. He spent a good deal of the time with his face out of the window shouting about the trees, tracks, animals and steam that he could see.

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He wasn’t too happy about leaving the train when we got back to Eridge, but we had a table waiting in a local pub for a delicious lunch… and The Polar Express to watch (again) when we got home!

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We went on The Spa Valley Railway Santa Special Service but paid for our own tickets and all thoughts are our own. I can highly recommend this trip, especially if you have a little train enthusiast, and similar service operate at other heritage railways across the country.

Thomas Turns Three!

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So Thomas, you’re three!

It’s amazing to think that just over three years ago you’d yet to take a breath in this world. But now, you’re very much here in glorious, unmissable four dimensional technicolour. I think it’s fair to say that you’re already determined to make your mark and make sure that everyone knows you’re here. You have opinions, and you’re not afraid to share them.

I actually can’t overstate this. You’re so vivacious, with an infectious enthusiasm for life. You chat non-stop to everyone – even strangers. You tell them about your trains, or trains in general. You tell them what you did yesterday. Or what you had for lunch. You tell them about your mummy, your daddy, your house and your car. And you’re so interested in everything. You look around you, taking it all in and asking questions that sometimes blow my mind.

You’ve always been a wriggle pants and a fidget bum, and that much hasn’t changed. You are pretty much always moving, even in your sleep. (Sleep which you still don’t like much – your answer to tiredness is to run around even more!) Your speeds are still “stop” at which you dawdle incredibly slowly, examining every last minute detail in your vicinity, or “go” which means full pelt, top speed, as fast as you can, be that on two feet or the two wheels of your beloved balance bike. Everywhere we go you can be heard shouting “Let’s be a train” and we follow lines where the pavement has been dug up (“get on the rails mummy”). You’re usually the engine. Of Daddy is with us he’s usually the tender. I’m invariably a coach. We’re most often steam trains, but lately we’re increasingly asked to be Pendolinos – your new favourite. We have to stop at stations, (or because the road has been dug up, or the imaginary signal is red) open our doors, let the passengers on and then you “whoo whoo” as we take off again, snaking our way through the town in a line – I do wonder what people think of us!

Speaking of “whoo whoo-ing” you’ve got a little fan club at our local station. When we sit and watch the trains – usually on a Friday evening – you “whoo” loudly as the train dispatchers blow their whistles. They all know you now, and you’ve caused at least one to burst in to fits of laughter with your exuberant whistle blowing.

You’re still obsessed with your wooden train track and your collection of trains. You love to make your “Thomas Wooden Railway Collection” videos, emulating some favourites on YouTube, where you line up all your trains and tell us who they are. We’ve given you your very first proper electric train set for your birthday, and it’s definitely fair to say it’s a hit!

Despite your unwavering train love, there’s also some room for other obsessions. Toy Story is one. And role playing as a doctor is another. For some reason your diagnosis is always “Bees” and we’re cured by tweezer extraction of the offending critters! In fact, role play in general is big thing. You devise tea parties for your toys (although insist there must be actual water in the kettle and tea pot!) and you act out stories you imagine with your trains, cars or other models. The insight in to your mind from these games is amazing!

Your other new love is numbers. You learned to read all of your numbers up to 20 several months ago, and you’ve since worked out by yourself how to count higher by adding the numbers to twenty. Everywhere we go, you point out numbers, which makes a trip to the supermarket painful! You’ve now started wanting to write them, and your pen control really astounds me. You’re also making strides to decode the world around you by reading. You can sight-read an impressive number of words and spell your name. You can also read many letters individually, although you currently know a mix of phonic sounds and letter names – the hazard of learning in the Internet age, I think!

Above all though, you’re still my funny, smiley, cheeky little boy. Since you’ve learned to crack jokes, we hear your laugh even more, and my heart still melts where your face cracks in to a grin and your dimples emerge. (The fact that the jokes have a disturbing tendency to involve poo or willies is something I’m overlooking for now. You are only three, after all!) it’s hard to argue with that cheeky grin when you barter for more biscuits, or present a convincing argument as to why you need ice cream.

And inside, there is still my cuddly little boy. I absolutely adore that you love cuddles so much. And then when I kiss you, tuck you up in bed and tell you that I love you, you always lift your head and say “I love you too Mummy.”

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(Another) Day Out With Thomas

“Thomas did a wee wee. Look Mummy, a wee wee” was the loud phrase, accompanied by manic giggling, that other unsuspecting parents heard reverberating around the engine sheds as Thomas the Tank Engine – the REAL Thomas, of course – discharged his water tanks to the amusement of my son. That he should find that the funniest part of his second visit to meet the train himself seems somehow typical of my comedic little man.

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It was a visit to the “Day Out With Thomas” at our local heritage railway almost exactly a year ago that really stepped up Thomas’s fascination with both Thomas and Friends and all things train related. Being a year older, and still thoroughly obsessed, we decided to take him again. It was interesting to see how much he has changed in than time. He knows so much more about the technical aspects of steam trains, knows almost everything there is to know about the multitude of different characters in the series and talks non-stop of passengers and platforms, whistles and wheeshing. Yet he’s also developed a far greater capacity to be afraid. Gone is the complete fearlessness of a year ago, replaced by a slight caution, a need to check with mummy or daddy that everything is as it should be. Holding back and staying close.

Whilst he was delighted to see so many familiar engines up close, he was also wary of their size and the noises they made. I suppose that’s understandable. He’s used to his friends being small enough to hold in his hand, slip in to his pocket, or share his bed with. (Yes, really. More than a dozen engines are painstakingly audited in their places as part of a pre-bed ritual.) At most, they fill the pages of a book, of the screen of the television. I can’t blame Thomas for being a little bemused to see these huge, more than life-size engines chuffing and huffing around him.

I didn’t take very many photos, and certainly not very many good ones, in part because the light was horrible, in part to allow myself to focus on enjoying rather than capturing, and in part because Thomas wanted so much continual reassurance. Nonetheless he enjoyed his day, which included a ride in “Daisy” to the end of the line. Highlights here included the balloon modelling man, and riding over a level crossing (his current favourite railway feature).

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Eridge Platform

We saw Thomas, Percy, Diesel and the troublesome trucks shunting in the yard.

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He met the fat controller. (And just look how he has grown since last year! Thomas, that is, not the fat controller!)

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Taken in 2013

He giggled along to a Punch and Judy show, impressing me with his ability to sit and become engrossed in the story, laughing at the jokes.

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And of course, Thomas being Thomas, he was in heaven to find the model railway tables.

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Sadly we had to pry him away eventually, since we had another show to get to. But he chattered all the way home about Thomas having a wee. The funny boy that he is.