The easy way to let off steam

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The Independent Travel
The easy way to let off steam

The venue

Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens is a non-culinary version of hot custard and cold rice pudding. It's got that delicious, if inedible, combination of contradictory terms which blend to form something surprisingly special. It's where flower power meets steam power resulting in family entertainment with the nostalgic flavour.

Steam trains and perennials may sound as though they come from opposite sides of the track but in the landscape of East Anglia's far-reaching flatlands they have proved a winning double act. Founded by the world- famous horticulturist Alan Bloom, Bressingham is home to three narrow- gauge railways which wind their way for more than five miles through its gardens, woods and meadows (including the glorious Dell Garden with 47 beds of enviable colour).

Alan Bloom is now in his 90th year but his youthful enthusiasm for plants and steam is reflected in the relaxed family atmosphere of the gardens in Diss, Norfolk. The antidote to white-knuckle ride theme parks, there is nothing faster at Bressingham than the steam menagerie of ostriches, decorated horses and cockerels.

There is an adventure playground and an indoor museum with an impressive collection of steam power. And right next door to the museum is the Bressingham Plant Centre with thousands of plant varieties to choose from.

The pace is laid back and an admission and rides ticket will allow you unlimited trips on the trains in operation, plus two rides on the roundabout when it is open.

Nicola Swanborough

The visitors

Sarah Cowen from Claydon in Suffolk visited Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens with her four children: Susannah, nine; Freddie, seven; Henry, five; and Eliza, three.

Susannah: "A lot of children would find it quite boring if their mum took them round a garden centre, but Bressingham is really great fun. You don't have to spend ages walking though the gardens, you can just sit back on the trains and see everything in comfort. And the flowers are really pretty.

There are lakes, too, with the most amazing fish which you can feed, but you have to be very careful if you have little ones with you in case they fall in. I would recommend keeping them on a rein. We did lose my brother and could only find his lunch box, but it all turned out OK in the end. He hadn't fallen in the lake after all.

There are lots of places to buy ice creams and there's a cafe and souvenir shop so it's good for spending pocket money. The museum is fun especially if it rains as you can go inside and get nice and dry.

Sarah: "Bressingham is one of those rare treats which provides an effortless combination of fun for all the family. I'm a keen gardener but with four young children there aren't many opportunities to browse round garden centres: potted plants and perennials don't tend to be high on the children's list of things to see. Bressingham is different though.

The network of steam trains and the gardens and plants are the perfect package for a family day out. All my children from the three-year-old to the nine-year-old just love riding through the open fields and landscaped gardens aboard the miniature trains - and I relish the pleasure of having a bird's eye view of the acres of endless plants.

It tends to be a very sensory experience with the lovely perfume of the flowers mingling with the nostalgic, sooty steam from the trains. It's one of those addictive holiday smells that childhood memories are made of. There is also something quietly magical about being able to cross the Suffolk-Norfolk border on a steam train.

The atmosphere of the place is very relaxed and stress-free. The children don't spend their time panicking about what they're going to go on next. They seem to respond to the slower pace of steam and are happy to meander and wave across the fields to passengers on the other trains.

There is plenty of space for them to run around and let off their own steam too, so with so much on offer they are then quite happy to behave for half an hour while I look around the plant centre.

The deal

Location : Bressingham Steam Museum and Gardens is 2 1/2 miles west of Diss and l4 miles east of Thetford on the A1066.

Access: good accessibility for disabled and for babies in buggies. "You don't need an army of parents to get the children and buggies on and off the trains - there are plenty of cheerful, helpful staff to assist," says Sarah Cowen.

Toilets: good if basic. Special room set aside for mothers and babies, suitable for nappy changing.

Facilities: cafe, souvenir shop and a number of ice cream vans. Queuing minimal.

Cost: Admission only pounds 3.90 (adult), pounds 3.20 (senior/student), pounds 2.40 (child 4-16), pounds 12 (family, 2 adults and up to three children). Admission and rides pounds 7 (adult), pounds 6.30 (senior/student), pounds 5 (child), pounds 22 (family). "It's not cheap but you get good value for your money," says Sarah.

Opening times: 10.30am-5.30pm, with last admission at 4.30pm. The museum and Dell Garden programme operates until 3 November. There are two trains running every day. On Thursdays and Sundays and during holiday periods the carousel and third train operate. The plant centre is open throughout the year.

Special events: 3-4 Aug 10th annual fire engine rally; 10-11 Aug steam in miniature rally, 17-18 Aug Friends of Thomas weekend, 24-25 Aug Caravan Club rally.