20 of around 100 preserved railways in Britain. Most of these run steam trains, although not every day. Almost all pass through the more scenic parts of the country - and nothing beats watching the trains running as they should, along a country branch line. There are also many wonders to explore at the National Rail Museum in York, and the London Transport Museum. For a comprehensive listing, go to heritagerailways.com/abc.html .
1. Avon Valley Railway, Bitton, near Bristol
Six-mile return ride along former branch of the old Midland Railway.
Based at Bitton Station, midway between Bristol and Bath.
No service Mon and Fri, except bank holidays. £5; senior, £4; child 3-16, £3.50; family (two plus two), £13.50. (0117 932 5538).
2. Battlefield Line, Shackerstone Station, Hinckley, Leicestershire
Part of former Ashby & Nuneaton Joint Railway, running from Shackerstone to Shenton Station, in centre of Bosworth Field battle site.
Open: weekends, Weds and bank holidays through summer. Steam: £7; senior, £5; child, £4; family (two plus two), £20. Diesel trains cost less (01827 880754).
3. Bluebell Railway, Sheffield Park Station, East Sussex
UK's first volunteer-run preserved railway, on part of old London, Brighton & South Coast Railway, now nine miles long.
Open: daily, 11am. Third class £9.50; child 3-16, £4.70; senior, £8; family (two plus three), £27. (01825 720800).
4. Bodmin & Wenford Railway, Bodmin, Cornwall
Cornwall's only steam-operated standard-gauge line, running through delightful scenery. Has atmosphere of a classic 1950s branch line.
Open: daily throughout summer, from around 10am. Fares: £10; child 3-16, £6; family (two plus two), £28. (0845 125 9 678).
5. Churnet Valley Railway, Cheddleton Station, near Leek, Staffordshire
Runs from Cheddleton to Kingsley and Froghall on part of old North Staffordshire Railway with views of valley almost throughout.
Open: daily from 30 July, otherwise weekends and Weds. Steam fares: £9; senior, £7; child 4 and over, £5; family (two plus two), £25. (01538 360522).
6. Dean Forest Railway, Norchard, Lydney, Gloucestershire
Just over three miles through the Forest of Dean, from Lydney Junction to Whitecroft and back again.
Open: Weds and weekends in July; Tues, Weds, Thurs, weekends and bank holiday in August. £6.50; child 5-16, £4.50; senior, £5.50; family (two plus two), £20. (01594 845840).
7. East Lancashire Railway, Bolton St Station, Bury, Lancashire
Part of line that served the Irwell Valley from Bury to Rawtenstall and beyond. Particularly fine buildings.
Open: Weds, Thurs and Fri and weekends. £7.50 return; child 5-15, £5; family, £24 (0161 764 7790).
8. East Somerset Railway, Shepton Mallet, Somerset
Old Great Western Railway branchline running five miles through rolling Mendip hills.
Open: Weds, weekends in July; also Thurs and bank holiday in August. £6; senior, £5; child, 3-16, £4; family £17. (01749 880417).
9. Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway, Toddington
Twenty-mile scenic round trip through Cotswolds between Toddington and Cheltenham Racecourse.
Open: 23 July-4 Sept on weekends, Tues-Thurs. £9.50, senior, £8; child 5-16, £6; family (two plus three), £26. (01242 621405).
10. Mid-Hants Watercress Railway, Alresford, Hampshire
Ten miles from Alresford to Alton. Steep gradients means steam locos are larger than on most preserved lines.
Open: every day in high season. £10; senior, £9; child 3-16, £5; family (two plus two), £25. (01962 733810).
11. Nene Valley Railway, Stibbington, Peterborough
Seven-mile line between Yarwell Junction and Peterborough, notable for continental stock. Used as location for many films, including Octopussy.
Open: 23 July-1 September, Tues to Sun. £10; senior, £7.50; child 3-15, £5; family (two plus three), £25. (01780 784444).
12. North Norfolk Railway, Sheringham, Norfolk
A 10.5-mile round trip from Sheringham to Holt, through area of outstanding natural beauty notable for wild flowers. Not called The Poppy Line for nothing.
Open: daily July and August. Steam fares: £8.50; senior, £7.50; child 4-15, £5; family (two plus two), £25. Diesel trains cost less. (01263 820800).
13. Peak Rail,Matlock, Derbyshire
Part of old Midland line from Matlock and Buxton through Peak National Park. Features Gothic Darley Dale station.
Open: Weds, Thurs and weekends in July; also Tues in Aug. £6; senior, £4.60; child 3-5, £1; child, 6-15, £3; family (two plus three), £17. (01629 580381).
14. North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Pickering, North Yorkshire
Runs from Pickering to Grosmont, mostly through national park. One of most scenically spectacular of preserved lines.
Open: daily. Full return: £13; child, £6.50; senior, £11.50; family, from £26. (01751 472508).
15. Severn Valley Railway, Bewdley, Worcester
Sixteen miles from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth along steeply wooded river Severn valley.
Open: daily. Full return: £11.50; child age 5 to 15, £5.80; senior, £9.20; family, £31. (01299 403816).
16. South Devon Railway, Buckfastleigh, South Devon
Formerly Dart Valley Railway, it runs over seven miles to within a 20-minute walk of Totnes.
Open: daily. Full return: £8.50; child 5-14, £5.10; senior, £7.70; family, £24.50. (0845 3451420).
17. Swanage Railway (The Purbeck Line), Swanage, Dorset
Runs more than six miles between Swanage and Norden, through the beautiful Isle of Purbeck, passing the ruins of Corfe Castle.
Open: daily. All line fares: £7.50; concessions, £5.50; family, £21. (01929 425800).
18. Talyllyn Railway, Wharf Station, Tywyn, Gwynedd
Narrow-gauge over seven miles of Mid-Wales scenery through the following evocative stations: Tywyn Wharf, Rhydyronen, Dolgoch Falls, Abergynolwyn, Nant Gwernol.
Open: daily. Day rover: £10; child 5-15, £2 (travelling with adult on rover ticket). (01654 710472).
19. Welshpool & Llanfair Railway
Runs from Welshpool to Llanfair Caereinion on 2ft 6in gauge track.
Tight curves, steep inclines on what was originally Cambrian Railways line.
Open: daily in holidays. Full return: £9.90; first child aged 3-15, with adult, £1, all other children aged over three, £4.95; senior and National Trust members, £8.90. (01938 810 441).
20. West Somerset Railway, Minehead, Somerset
Authentic feel of Great Western Railway branch line running for 20 miles of Somerset scenery. Rolls alongside Quantock Hills before reaching the coast at Minehead.
Open: daily. Full return: £11.80; child 5-15, £5.90; senior, £10.20; family, £29.70. (01643 704996).
OUR TOP HOLIDAY
Esther Rantzen, broadcaster, chair and founder of Childline.
"In my mind, nothing beats the seaside. My children adored the beach, whether sand, pebbles or rock pools. Our favourite resort was in Corfu, which has fantastic beaches for kids. We hired a villa where everything was indestructible, there were other families next door and the children could play together.
"In the UK, the New Forest gave us our best holiday. Once I hired some old-fashioned coaches and carriages for my daughter's birthday party. The kids preferred the barn the vehicles were housed in, and spent the party rolling around and throwing straw at each other. It's hard to plan things like that."
New Lymington and New Forest Visitor Information Centre (01590 689000). Open: Mon-Sat 10am-4pm.