Tag Archives: trains



“A portrait of my child, once a week, every week, in 2016.”

We had a bit of an epic day of travelling last week, me and Arthur.

It was the funeral of the father of one of my oldest friends up in Stourbridge, and I really wanted to be there. It meant a crack of dawn start and eight hours on peak hour trains to get there and back from Devon, but fortunately this little man took it all in his stride.

He is such good company, and so curious about the world. I just can’t believe how grown up he’s getting.

Linking up with Jodi at Practising Simplicity for The 52 Project. 

Give a boy a box…

The unschooling diaries: week four

I ordered a new pillow for Arthur this week, and predictably it came in a box that was far bigger than it needed to be. Predictably also the box caused considerably more excitement than its contents.

The delivery arrived on recycling day, but just as we were about to dismantle it accordingly Arthur leapt in protesting “No! My train!”

Cue distraction as Leigh grabbed a crayon and began drawing on a control panel whilst Arthur watched with glee, before picking up a rectangle of cardboard that had fallen onto the floor and trying unsuccessfully to attach it to the side: “The wheels! The wheels!”. We delved into his craft corner and found a roll of masking tape I’d bought him specially – he went through a phase of wanting to tape up everything a little while ago, and now it was just what he needed to complete this job.

Once it was stuck we had to draw on the wheels themselves, and on the other side too of course. He’d also noticed, whilst delving in said craft corner, some leftover halloween decorations that he had interpreted as characters from Hotel Transylvania, his then-favourite film. He insisted they had to come on the train too, and we used the masking tape to attach them to the sides. A blue flashing light toy made the perfect lever for operating his train, and he was done.

He sat happily in his box by the front door for a while, shouting “choo choo” and “all aboard”. Then before bed he asked for a ride down the hallway, me pushing his train along the wooden floor.

The next day he was playing in the lounge, his box-train looking on whilst he built a wooden track, when he suddenly leapt up proclaiming “The carriages! I need to get the carriages!” I presumed he meant the little carriages for his brio train which have a tendency to get scattered to the four corners of the house, but when he came came back downstairs he was dragging another box behind him.

This one had started life as a robot, then turned into a spaceship, and now was being refashioned as a carriage for his train. A “sleeping carriage” to be precise.

Dolly was his first passenger, and he looked very comfortable.


I love love love watching this imaginative play unfold, hovering nearby to facilitate its development. The whole joy to be had from a cardboard box thing is such a cliche, but so gloriously true!

The train (and its carriage) are starting to look a little battered around the edges now after some very serious playing, so they may make it into the recycling this week. But I’m sure it won’t be long until we have another creation. I can’t wait to see what it might be!

Birthday fun with Thomas and Friends

It was Leigh’s birthday over the bank holiday weekend, and in true super-Dad style he declared that there was nothing he would rather do than go to the Day Out with Thomas at the South Devon Railway. Not only would this involve some serious steam train action, but all the trains were promised to be dressed up as characters from Arthur’s favourite books. And the ticket would give us access to the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm (which we’d visited before and loved) and the Butterfly Farm and Otter Sanctuary in Buckfastleigh (which I’ve wanted to explore for years).

We were all really excited about it, and looking forward to spending some quality time together as a family in the midst of Finals revision and election campaigning. Our day was very nearly scuppered when we had a massive leak after our morning shower (all sorted now, I won’t go into it…) but fortunately we decided to power through and make the most of the adventures that lay ahead.


Arthur ran ahead as we approached the station, desperate to get to the source of the steam he could see through the trees. And when we got to the platform, the very first train he saw was his namesake! (At least I think it was the Arthur train – it certainly looked an awful lot like him) It was enough for our Arthur to be immediately entranced by the magic of it all. And ok, us too…

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The Arthur train was getting ready to leave, but as we’d just arrived we decided we’d pop over to the Rare Breeds Farm first to say hello to the animals. Arthur recognised the owl he’d met on the train platform before the season had properly started, and with his keeper’s encouragement went in for a very cute cuddle.

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After that there were goats to be stroked, a tractor to be driven and a cow to be milked – though it wasn’t long before Arthur’s attention wandered back to the trains.

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There was still a bit of time until the next train was due, so we took a look at the model railway. Arthur was fascinated by it, though it was all we could do to stop him from clambering up for a closer look!



Then finally it was time to board a train and head for Buckfastleigh. We picked up a couple of books to add to Arthur’s Thomas collection at the stall on the platform, and he spent the journey reading those and waving at people out of the window.

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There was lots going on at Buckfastleigh: several more engines to admire, including Thomas himself, train tracks to play with and even a fairground ride!

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There were the otters and butterflies too, and they were amazing! The butterflies flying around the hothouse were pretty magical, but it was the cocoons that really stood out for me. I’ve never seen anything quite like it – from a distance the racks they were on looked like they were exhibiting an exotic range of jewellery, but as you got closer their real purpose became clear.

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Arthur didn’t quite understand what he was seeing. There was one slightly hairy moment when he reached out to touch and almost dislodged a whole row of chrysalises, but fortunately we got to him just in time!


The otters were super cute, and looked like they were having lots of fun, which is always nice to see.

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After that it was almost time to begin the journey home, but not before sneaking in a ride on a vintage routemaster. It was almost enough to make me miss London! Though of course they don’t quite make them like that any more…


That was enough to finish Arthur off. He was asleep before the end of our ten minute round trip, and stayed fast asleep until we were on the train back to Totnes.

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We said goodbye to Thomas for him though, and I have no doubt his dreams were full of wonderful things. There was certainly enough from our day out to keep him going for weeks!



Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall


Adventures on the South Devon Railway

Last weekend we finally took a trip on the South Devon Railway. I’m not sure why we haven’t done it before actually, what with Arthur’s general train obsession, but we’re a bit spoilt for choice down here when it comes to steam trains. We’ve been on the Kingswear-Paignton line lots, but having had a peek at the goings on at Totnes station when we visited the Rare  Breeds Farm we were definitely keen to come back for a proper visit.


The excitement started building even before we got to the station – Arthur heard a train whistle in the background and suddenly realised where we were going. Once he saw the train tracks he really couldn’t contain himself, bouncing up and down in the sling as the train came in.


We found ourselves a compartment – naturally gloriously vintage – and settled down for the journey to Buckfastleigh. It wasn’t only Arthur who was excited – there’s something so magical about being transported by steam, and the beautiful countryside views just added to that.


It was brilliant to spend some quality time as a family. Leigh’s been working super hard recently, and Arthur really misses his Daddy when he’s not around. I do, too.


As we pulled into Buckfastleigh station, it was clear there was going to be lots to explore there. There were so many different types of trains – Arthur was in his element trying to match them all up with his favourites from Thomas the Tank Engine.



He loved the little museum too: pretending to be an engine driver, and finding some actual Thomas trains to play with.




There was even a fantastic garden model railway, being tended my some older railway enthusiasts. I think Arthur would have happily watched the trains going round until it had got dark if we’d let him.



But we did have to get back, so we made our way to the platform to find a train big enough to carry us.


The light was beginning to fade as we journeyed back along the river, but somehow that only made the whole scene more beautiful.

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When we arrived back at Totnes there was one more treat in store. The Rare Breeds Farm is currently closed for the season, but an owl had come out to say hello to people at the station. He was incredibly tame and friendly. Arthur was able to stroke him and give him a cuddle, and when he waved goodbye the owl flapped his wings in return.




Suffice to say when we headed back to the car it was with one very happy little boy. All in all it was a fantastic family afternoon – we can’t wait until our next trip on this very special railway.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Train tracks


“Baby play train tracks.”

Almost unfailingly the first words Arthur utters when he wakes up for the day, or as we finish a meal, or when we come in from our adventures in the outside world.

Usually swiftly followed by “Mummy play train tracks” or “Daddy play train tracks”. In fact I think pretty much anyone would do. He almost roped in the plumber today.

It’s seriously cute watching him become so obsessed by something. And he really is obsessed. He was given a brio train set for his first birthday and since then it’s been added to incrementally with new trains and pieces of track so that there is now some seriously good potential for imaginative play.

I’ve surprised myself by how much I’m enjoying joining in. Constructing different worlds so that Arthur’s trains can go over and under and through. It’s like a puzzle putting all the bits of track together. We generally freestyle rather than following any particular pattern, and it’s brilliant fun seeing where the different connections lead.


The freestyling is spilling over into some of his other toys now too. Combining the train tracks with his wooden blocks and duplo (very important for building Tidmouth sheds), as well as his stacking rainbow which makes great tunnels and his new wooden farm set which provides the perfect destination for the milk train.

It’s clear that these little trains reside almost permanently in his mind. He woke up at 4.30am the other day – unusually for him, but what was even more unusual was that he was perfectly content to stay in his room and was just running through his rolling stock, filling his bunny rabbit in on anything he may have missed: ‘the magic train, it goes choo choo! And the steam comes out, on the train tracks.”

He chatted for about half an hour and whilst Leigh and I probably should have been making the most of the time to sleep we actually lay there in the dark wide awake, listening and giggling softly as his little voice came over the monitor.

There’s something pretty awesome about being able to create such an all-encompassing world without even leaving our front room. I cannot wait to see where Arthur’s imagination takes us next.



The Reading Residence


Word of the week: trains


Over the past couple of weeks, Arthur has developed a real passion for his train set. He was given it for Christmas last year, and whilst he’s shown a passing interest before it’s only recently that he’s really given it his full attention. He’s figured out how to put the pieces of track together, and whilst he loves it when someone sits down and plays with him he’s equally happy to be given the time to play with his train tracks by himself.

And this week that’s been particularly handy.

After our whirlwind trip to London I’ve had so much to catch up on. Not least the novel, which is edging ever closer to completion though I’m not quite there yet.

Because this has also been one of those weeks when my time and focus has been stretched in all sorts of directions I hadn’t exactly been anticipating. Meet ups with friends that I didn’t want to refuse, for Arthur’s sake or mine, despite knowing it would knock my schedule out of whack. Taking over a local twitter account (@TorbayPeople) because no-one else stepped up to the mark. A piece I wrote a while ago being published in The Guardian, the excitement of which threw me a bit yesterday!

And then of course there’s Halloween, which seems to have appeared out of nowhere this year! So throw in some pumpkin carving, some baking, some costume making.

It’s all been good fun, but I have been squeezing every last drop out of every second to fit it in.

And for much of that time, when I’ve been writing or blogging or tweeting or making something or another, Arthur has sat contentedly and played with his trains. Now that it’s finally the weekend, I’m looking forward to sitting down and playing with him too.


The Reading Residence

Trains, goats and autumn leaves

This weekend, we managed to tick something else off our South Devon bucket list. We’ve been past the Rare Breeds Farm in Totnes countless times on the train to London, the vintage-style platform of the South Devon Railway looking like a gateway to another world. Having finally made it there on foot I can confirm that those first impressions really are quite accurate.

From the first steps beyond the station car park into the woodland path you feel like you’re onto something special, a sensation made even stronger once the bridge across the river comes into view.


I think Arthur could happily have stayed right there, watching the mainline trains speed past mere metres away, but little did he know the other treats in store.


To get to the farm you have to walk along the steam railway platform. Everything is beautifully maintained, and we were lucky enough to arrive just as a special service was pulling in. Arthur was captivated by the comings and goings, eagerly ‘choo choo’ing as Leigh explained the mechanics of the steam engine to him. Once again we could have ended our trip right there and they both would have been very happy.




We managed to tear ourselves away, and headed over the tracks to the little farm itself. After picking up some feed in the cafe we went through the gates – and immediately came face to face with a row of owls.


I’m not sure Arthur believed they were real at first, but then we found a very little owl called Flitwick just waiting to be stroked.


After a gentle stroke of Flitwick’s feathers we continued further on, coming across some very lively red squirrels. I’m not sure Arthur knew quite what to make of them!


And then we found the goats. I don’t think Arthur’s met goats before, and these ones were very friendly. One of my favourite moments of the afternoon was him giggling ‘Fingers! Fingers!’ as they greeted him enthusiastically through the fence. He even had a go at feeding them, and when we ventured inside was quick to make himself at home.




There were some beautiful sheep too, though Arthur was happy to let Daddy take the lead on feeding those.


After meeting all the larger animals we came across the guinea pigs, and Arthur sat himself down for a little cuddle. He thought it was a ‘baby dog’ at first, and got very confused when we said it was a sort of pig…



All in all it is a very special place, and we will most definitely be back. It’s just a shame we discovered it so late in the season! Though that did give us the excuse for a bit of frolicking in the autumn leaves – the perfect end to a perfect afternoon.


Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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