There’ll be eggs-travagant fun at the Downpatrick & County Down Railway with eggs galore on this year’s Easter Eggspress, running over the Easter weekend.
The bunnies are already hopping the rails at the local heritage railway, and the Easter Eggspress is a unique and special treat for kids and a great way to say ‘Happy Easter!’ for all the family. The train will be used for excursions from the town centre from 1.30pm till 4.30pm on Saturday 16th April, Easter Sunday 17th April, & Easter Monday 18th April. Railway Chairman Robert Gardiner says that young passengers receive a treat from a special guest, “The Easter Bunny has bounced into the station for this weekend who’ll be hopping with joy to give them their Easter Eggs.”
Steam train driver Bob enjoying the Easter Eggs
And this year, the Easter Bunny wants to play a game and is creating an Egg Trail Hunt for wannabe eggsperts, as DCDR tour guide Frank Dick explains, “The Easter Bunny has brought down some of her friends, small teddies and bunnies, but they’re very shy and it’s the job of visitors to track them down. Families will receive a guide to their hunt with their tickets to help ‘eggsplore’ the railway and gather up the info on the card. Each bunny has a large letter which together make up a two word message.”
He continues, “They then have to reveal this secret phrase to the Easter Bunny who, if they get it right, will reward them of an Easter Egg of their choice.”
And as well as fun for the children, mums and dads also get the chance to experience rail travel at its most traditional, as passengers will be able to taste the elegance of by-gone railway travel on fifty to one hundred year old carriages through the picturesque County Down countryside along nearly two miles of restored track. Teas and coffees, as well as lots of buns, at highly competitive rates, will be served all day on board a vintage buffet carriage parked at Inch Abbey station; if travelling in to the town from Inch Abbey the return journey can be made on any of the services.
The Easter Bunny’s little friends taking part in the word hunt
Mr. Gardiner also commented, “A trip to the station museum and the Carriage Gallery visitor centre brings the golden age of the railway vividly to life and looks at the impact that the railways had on people’s lives, through artefacts from the smallest, such as a ticket in the upstairs exhibition, or the largest, such as lovingly restored railway carriages in the Carriage Gallery and the stark contrast of the wrecks these vehicles once were when rescued.
“For the younger train fans, children can enjoy their own Kids’ Station in the Gallery, and dress up as a train driver or guard for a family selfie using some of the Victorian props and costumes provided in the dressing up area, in a carriage or beside the 1875 steam engine.
“On the station they can get to drive Thomas the Tank Engine on a model railway – or will they let the big kids get a go too?”
“For those a little more adventurous, and perhaps to fulfil a childhood dream, you can buy a Footplate Pass for just £20 and get to travel up in the locomotive cab with the driver.” A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required to take part in a footplate experience.”
Tickets cost £7 for all ages, and can be booked on the DCDR’s website.
We were delighted to be offered this gem recently – the original headboard carried on the named UTA Express Train “The Festival”, which ran between Belfast & Derry~Londonderry.
The Festival of Britain was a national exhibition held throughout the United Kingdom in the summer of 1951, organised to give the post-war country a feeling of recovery in the aftermath of the Second World War and to promote the UK’s contribution to science, technology, industrial design, architecture and the arts.
Although it looks a bit out of place on our tank engine compared to the Moguls it was originally carried on back in the day, there is a very real DCDR link to this train in the form of our carriage No. 728, which started life as a carriage on the named train – before becoming an MPD driving trailer, and finally an NIR 70 class intermediate trailer.
This new rake of carriages was built at the UTA’s Duncrue Street workshops in Belfast, based on older pre-war standard LMS (London Midland & Scottish Railway) designs and were used as one of Ireland’s few named trains.
The headboard was bought by a private consortium and was donated to the DCDR museum, after it was discovered by a signage collector in an attic!
Our cheeky CME posed this photo of the headboard on an unlikely locomotive next to carriage No. 728:
With car parking at a premium in the St. Patrick’s Carnival, the Downpatrick & County Down Railway will be offering a ‘rail’ alternative to carnival goers with some St. Patrick’s Day ‘Shamrock Steam.’
In conjunction with Newry, Mourne & Down District Council, the railway will be offering a Park’n’Ride service on the north side of the town from their station on the Belfast Road directly into the heart of the carnival between noon and 5pm on St. Patrick’s Day, Friday 17th March, eliminating the need to navigate the town centre.
Railway Chairman, Robert Gardiner, says that this St. Patrick’s Day boarding at the Inch Abbey terminus is a sure way of beating the traffic and letting you steam into the town for the festival celebrations.
“We know that many people in from the Belfast and Killyleagh roads end up parking far from the town and end up having to walk a fair distance into the town centre,” he says, “So when you park at our Inch Abbey Station you can walk onto a vintage train that will take you into the heart of the carnival!”
Inch Abbey Station will be signposted with AA yellow signage, and stewards will be on hand to help manage traffic and parking at both the Abbey carpark and the station carpark.
But as well as providing a means of getting from A to B on St. Patrick’s Day, Mr. Gardiner suggests a visit to Inch Abbey itself, a ruined 12th Century Cistercian Abbey.
He says, “Alternatively if you’re already in the town, you can climb onboard at Downpatrick and travel out and visit this glorious Christian heritage site while celebrating Ireland’s Patron Saint.”
He adds, “You also get the best view of Down Cathedral, the site of St. Patrick’s Grave, from on board the train.”
Tickets will be available on the day at Inch Abbey and Downpatrick stations, Park and Ride return tickets cost £6.00 adult, £4.50 children, £5.50 senior citizens, while children aged three years old or below go free.
Refreshments will be served onboard a buffet carriage while you wait for the train at Inch Abbey. The railway museum exhibition and Carriage Gallery visitor centre will also be open, as well as an interpretative display actually inside the carriage workshop allowing you to see the work that goes on behind the scenes.