In Association with: visityork

Jill Turton on why the National Railway Museum is the perfect day out

When was the last time you had a first time.....?

As part of its publicity branding the National Railway Museum boasts that it’s the biggest railway museum in the world. They sell themselves short; it must surely be the biggest and the best. Of course, Britain has an unparalleled heritage in its railways but York has collared the cream, a staggering collection from the quaintest ‘Puffing Billy’ loco to a Japanese Bullet train, from opulent Royal carriages (I want one, now) to the ‘muck trucks’ that dug out the Channel Tunnel.

There’s so much to see that you can easily set aside half a day to explore it all – and that’s without being a child dreaming of becoming an engine driver or a train-spotting anorak. Oh, and it’s all gloriously free.

Begin in the cathedral-sized Great Hall to view the NRMs most spectacular locos, arrayed around a turntable, painted and polished to within in inch of their brass nameplates. There are gorgeous green vintage engines with ‘Top Hat’ funnels straight out of The Railway Children or The Titchfield Thunderbolt. Here is the super-sleek Mallard*; its streamlined Sir Nigel Gresley design, inspired by Bugatti still looks futuristic 75 years after it raced up the East Coast line between Peterborough and York to set the world speed steam record of 126mph that still stands today.

For four quid, you can jump in a pod that shakes you up to simulate that trip with a computer generated video. Fine, but I rather miss the previous pod that took you into the drivers cab for the rush from London to Brighton in four minutes; grainy black and white film but real.

Mallard is big as well as beautiful but if you want really big then the giant of the NRM collection is the monstrous Chinese Engine, 15ft high and 93ft long dwarfing all. In the 1930s twenty four of these brutes were commissioned by the Chinese National Railway and built at the Vulcan Foundry in Newton le Willows in Lancashire.

If you remember Stephenson’s Rocket, the Rainhill Trials and all that railway stuff from school days, then here is a working replica (the original is in the Science Museum) complete with a cutaway of the steam valve to explain how it all works.

The jewel in the crown of the collection isn’t currently here. The iconic Flying Scotsman, that ran daily between London and Edinburgh, and was the first train to reach 100mph, was purchased by the NRM in 2004 and has been under protracted restoration more or less ever since. It’s now in Bury scheduled for completion in 2015.

The Warehouse leading off the Grand Hall is a vast and extraordinary storeroom containing every kind of artifact ever used on the railways not just the station signs, engine name-plates and ticket machines you might expect but railway crockery, silver tea sets, and any number of curiosities from wind gauges to chamber pots  

The Station Hall houses the must-see Palaces on Wheels and confirms that Royalty had it pretty good. Peep into Queen Victoria’s sumptuous saloon or Edward VII’s lavish smoking room. George V was apparently the first to take a bath aboard as his kingdom passed by. We’re told that Queen Elizabeth’s first carriage was more restrained in keeping with post-war austerity; it still looks pretty comfortable to me.

Take a break for tea in the Mallard café in the Great Hall or on the platform in the Dining Car Restaurant in the Station Hall. You can even get married here.

There’s a model railway beyond any home modeler’s fantasy and a mail train to re-imagine the Great Train Robbery, night sleepers and an outdoor miniature railway, some 200 vehicles in all, too much to take in. For serious railway nuts there’s the library and archive, a vast art and photographic collection, endless engineering drawings and timetables.

For the rest of us, it’s the Museum shop and the cute little Road Train that shuttles back and forth between museum and city centre, or cross the road to York railway station, a majestic building in its own right, for today’s high speed trains North and South on the East Coast line that saw all those historic records.

*Between 31 January and 28 February 2014, Mallard will be on display at the National Railway Museum, Shildon, thereafter it will be back in the Great Hall of the NRM in York.

Jill Turton - www.squidbeak.co.uk

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010
music
News
A poster by Durham Constabulary
news
Sport
Cameron Jerome
footballCanaries beat Boro to gain promotion to the Premier League
Arts and Entertainment
Emily McDowell Card that reads:
artCancer survivor Emily McDowell kicks back at the clichés
Arts and Entertainment
Twin Peaks stars Joan Chen, Michael Ontkean, Kyle Maclachlan and Piper Laurie
tvBadalamenti on board for third series
Life and Style
tech
Sport
Standing room only: the terraces at Villa Park in 1935
football
Sport
Ben Stokes celebrates with his team mates after bowling Brendon McCullum
sportEngland vs New Zealand report
News
Amal Clooney has joined the legal team defending 'The Hooden Men'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine