"We could go for a ride on a train" suggested Norris, "Even better, a steam train" Boris responded, during a family meeting convened to discuss what to do on yet another rainy day. This is no doubt related to the fact that last weeks incessant rain led to the long-forgotten Hornby train set being retrieved from the back of the cupboard. It has taken up residence on our dining table which now no longer resonates to the clink of plates and cutlery, but to the whine of tiny electric motors and the 'shhh-click-shhh-click' of little wheels on jointed track.
The Bo'Ness & Kinneil railway is the nearest place to us that you can see live steam, and although their line is pretty short, it's quite steep in places so the old engines have to work hard - which makes the noise and smoke which the kids enjoy so much. Bo'Ness itself is, let's be honest, not a picture-postcard town (!), and although the ride is pleasant along the banks of the Firth, it is not as exciting as the views offered by its rival The Strathspey Railway under the Cairngorms. This place though does have two other things in its favour, one is the Birkhill Fireclay Mine, in which underground tours are offered for not too much cash from the station at the top of the line. (The tour of the old mineworkings is fascinating - but perhaps a little slow and with too much information for younger visitors). The other bonus is the Scottish Railway Museum which is behind the station at Bo'Ness, a couple of big exhibition halls stuffed full of ancient engines, carriages, real points to operate, signals to control, trucks, artefacts from long-closed stations and the like. Boris, Norris and Doris were particularly taken with the sorting office from the old travelling post-office which they got inside and explored (cue Auden: "This is the Night Mail, crossing the border/ Bringing the cheque and the postal order").
Another bonus is that the drivers on the railway still invite kids (and their fathers it seems) up into the cab of the engine while it is in full steam. Doris seemed a little wary of the engine's cab - that tiny space made in 1928, devoid of any comforts, raging with heat from the fire, with steam billowing from valves and smoke filling the air. The boys were fascinated with their quick guided tour of the controls of the great beast though. The kids insisted on waiting on the footbridge in the rain for the engine to depart beneath us, enveloping us in steam and heat, before they would get back in the car to dry out
Best of all, it was a great 'so-called summer' day out, which the kids hugely enjoyed. It was fun despite the weather, didn't involve hours of travel to get to, and cost just over £10 for the tickets for an adult, and two kids (Doris still goes free).