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Take the Family › Kent: A great family journey by steam train

Kent: A great family journey by steam train

Steam Train, Kent And East Sussex Railway, Kent © Visit BritainSteam Train, Kent And East Sussex Railway, Kent © Visit Britain© Visit Britain

There are good journeys and there are great journeys. Good journeys just get you where you want to go; the holiday begins when you reach your destination. Great journeys are a holiday in themselves.

I admit, my family is a bit addicted to journeying; just being on the move gives us a thrill. And, until now, I believed great journeys had to be made across Siberia or around Cape Horn. But we've discovered that short can beautiful. We've just taken a mini-steam train from the Kent seaside town of Hythe all the hour-long way to the shingles of Dungeness.

Of course, it's a novel form of transport. A steam train equipped with whistles and an engine driver black-faced from the coal is the stuff of children's storybooks. On the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway, as it's known, not only the trains are diminutive - one-third-sized replicas of the real thing. There are also little level crossings along the route and the narrow track is lined with bungalows which look as if they've been built to the same scale as the trains. Spider-web shaped washing lines spin around in their small back gardens, the socks neatly pegged up in pairs. The six-year-old twins marvelled that such neat people existed; they're always having to wear odd socks.

There was just so much to see. Past the bungalows, the landscape opened up and we were counting the Romney Marsh sheep and wondering if that field of just-cut corn would end up as our cereal. Fisherman sat motionless on stools around a reservoir, their big green wellies cutting into the back of their knees. We spotted Port Lympne zoo up on the hillside, where what looked like a field of piebald horses were probably zebra and the short-legged cows a herd of black rhino. What grand sights! How much better, I thought, than trying to get the twins to admire a distant mountainous view or ogle at an ancient castle. They were entranced, counting the gnomes in the bungalows' back gardens, intoxicated by the smell of the coal.

Slowly, the sand gave way to shingles. There was no soil and no green, just yellow grass. We'd reached the end of the line - Dungeness - where wooden fisherman's cabins are overshadowed by the square bulk of the nuclear power station and the slender height of the lighthouse.

We've returned to our hotel exhausted. We're staying in a cottage at Eastwell Manor, near Ashford, which is not small but still grand. After such a challenging day, traversing such new terrain, it's good to return to a place where we can cook a comforting bowl of pasta. The twins have fallen asleep in their engine driver's hats, bought in the tiny shop at Hythe station. What a great journey we've had.


By Dea Birkett

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