I love city life but sometimes you just want to get away from it all.
And it’s wonderful to be able to hop on a real steam train, right from the tip of the Tube line, and journey through Epping Forest.
We were invited** to come along for a Teddy bear’s picnic hosted by the Epping-Ongar Railway, London’s closest heritage transport network. The boys brought their favourite bedtime buddies, Pooh Bear and Mickey, along for the ride.
It was quicker than I’d imagined to get from Islington to Epping — about 20 minutes to Stratford via overground and then 10 stops to Epping tube station.
Annoyingly we just missed the bus that takes you from Epping to North Weald station, so we had a good half-hour wait for the next one.
But then it arrived — a green heritage bus that had the boys squealing with excitement as we climbed up to sit on top.
It’s quite a rickety ride but that’s all part of its charm.
Entering North Weald station really is like stepping back in time, with its carefully preserved features and stationary engines and carriages docked on the track.
The staff are all really friendly and chatty, including an elderly train driver who didn’t seem to mind spending the day in a teddy bear costume! They’d laid on some extra family entertainment including a bouncy castle and a mini petting zoo.
Thanks to the great weather and the picnic theme, there must have been more passengers than usual as the cafe had run out of sandwiches. Next time, we’ll bring a packed lunch — or preferably a whole picnic.
Adults snapped pictures and waved just as excitedly as the kids as the steam train pulled in. The train winds through the forest en route to Ongar station and back.
It’s a lovely ride for daydreaming and, gazing at animals in the fields outside, I could easily tune out the boys bickering over their seats.
When it stops at Ongar, you can watch the drivers shovel coal and check its parts. Pure nostalgia.
There’s a guide book that suggests local attractions as well as some walks you can take through Epping Forest and the surrounding area. But since we’d set off quite late, we only made it as far as the local Tesco (to use the ATM — NB: there are no cash machines inside the station).
Ongar station is just as distinctive as North Weald, with a lovely little station shop selling cakes and ice creams (they’d also run out of sandwiches!).
There’s a picnic area in a small garden with a couple of steam engine models for kids to climb on and again, the boys could have happily played here all day.
We’d hoped to ride a diesel train too (the heritage bus, steam train and diesel train rides are inclusive on one ticket) but we were told it had run out of diesel.
No matter, we were happy to get back on the steam train — especially as this time we had our own private carriage.
The boys started screaming ‘we’ve got our own carriage, we can do anything we want!’ and flinging their teddies about like maniacs. Poor Pooh and Mickey got a rough ride back.
It was quite jarring to come off the vintage bus at Epping and get on a modern tube train again — we felt like characters from Back to the Future!
Amazingly we’d left around lunchtime and were back in time for dinner but it really seemed like we had been gone much longer.
I highly recommend this day out for your family, it’s unusual, affordable and provides a real sense of escape. I can’t wait to go again.
Voted Heritage Railway of the Year, Epping Ongar Railway runs trains and heritage buses every weekend and Bank Holiday, along with special events throughout the year including upcoming Father’s Day activities.
Rail, Bus and Shuttle tickets are available from 9.25am and valid all day long and all 3 experiences are included in one ticket. Adult £13/seniors £10.50/child £7/under 3s FREE/family of 2 adults + up to 3 children £34
**free review tickets