The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway is the smallest public narrow gauge 10 ¼” railway in the world. How amazing to have this on our doorstep in sleepy Norfolk!
And here’s your perfect chance to have a ride on a little bit of Norfolk heritage.
Norfolk also has the apt saying of “Slow Ye Down”. This is the perfect example of slowing down, taking in your natural surroundings, and going back to the age of steam.
The journey on these wonderful old steam trains (I believe there are 6 locomatives) starts just on the edge of the harbour town of Wells-next-the-Sea and puffs its way for 30 minutes along 4 miles of the old Great Eastern trackbed, cutting through the open countryside, alongside the narrow hedges lining the railway track to arrive on the edge of the historic pilgrimage village of Walsingham (which you can read about further below).
Open from March to November, this is a really great attraction for all ages, and a really enjoyable day, but I do get this funny feeling that the older you are, the more you enjoy it!
It’s thanks to Lieutenant Commander Roy Wallis Francis that this narrow gauge railway exists. He served as a Naval Officer during WWII.
As a civilian, he set up a boat building business in the Norfolk Broads, and in 1976 he built his first steam project, the Wells Harbour railway, which ran from the harbour up to Pinewoods Holiday Park. He then sold this to finance his next project - the Wells and Walsingham Light Railway.
He started restoring the railway line in 1979, carrying out groundwork and the laying of track, and the line finally opened in 1982, and has been running ever since.
Both of the stations that you'll visit are just on the edge of Wells and Walsingham, not in the middle. This is due to the fact that they encountered difficulty in being allowed to operate across main roads via level crossings. There was no way for them to puff their way into the middle of the village or town.
Taking a trip on this little steam railway is a wonderfully enjoyable day.
It’s a lovely slow 30 minute journey taking you:
I would suggest that you make sure you plan the day so that you just enjoy the slower pace of life, have nothing to get back to, and you explore the intriguing village of Walsingham. Make the most of the round trip and give yourself an hour to two in Walsingham.
Alternatively, you may be staying in Walsingham and decide that this is a great way to visit the bustling harbour town of Wells-next-the-Sea without actually staying there.
Don’t expect big large carriages and large steam locomotives. This is a narrow gauge line and so everything is small!
There are three different types of carriages for you to choose from, so you can take your pick so long as you get there early. There are open carriages, covered carriages and enclosed carriages.
This wonderful little railway is run purely by dedicated volunteers.
They do it because they love it, and it’s why we need to keep supporting these kinds of attractions to keep them open.
They’re very knowledgeable and happy to pass on any information you want to know! In fact, you could be part of this too! They are always looking for enthusiastic volunteers.
This, I believe, is another reason for taking a trip on the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway - a clue is in the name - Walsingham.
Here is an ideal opportunity to explore a most unusual historic village, having got there on the heritage railway.
There’s something very fascinating about this particular Norfolk village. I am definitely not a religious person, but it does peak my interest as to why it’s such an important place to come for pilgrimages, which have been happening since the 1300’s.
It’s dotted with shrines in windows, religious priests walking about, a very peaceful garden in the Anglican Shrine Grounds (which is worth visiting) and all just a bit surreal (in my opinion only!).
It’s vastly important though, to thousands who make the yearly pilgrimage to see the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham.
For me though, what I really love about this village is the outstanding architecture.
There are beautiful flint stone houses, timber houses dating back to medieval times, pretty Georgian houses and a bit of Dutch influence from the 16th century settlers in the form of gable fronted houses, as well as a 16th century pump house right in the middle of the village. Fascinating!
To be fair, once you get to Walsingham, young children may get a little bored wandering around. HOWEVER......
....... what a perfect opportunity to introduce them to some priory ruins and a crypt which are quite awe inspiring, as well as having to go through the old court room. Let them sit in the judge’s chair and pass judgement on you! A bit of imagination won’t go amiss here. You can see more on Walsingham Priory here.
And how often would you get a chance to step inside a Russian Orthodox Church (unless of course that’s your religious belief).
Don’t miss this as it is in the old station building. I would suggest you walk straight out from the WWLR and head along Pilgrims Way, the old railway track (which is fairly obvious), until you reach the old station and platform.
And while you’re here, you can even walk around the whole village in a circle:
It’s not a long walk, the village is quite small, and easily do-able with children.
You’ll be given a lovely hand drawn map when you buy your tickets for the train, so you can see all the places you might like to visit in the village.
At the Wells end of the line, you have the Signal Box Café which is an original signal box moved from Swainsthorpe, south of Norwich.
Here you’ll find a café providing snacks and drinks, as well as a few guidebooks, and it also acts as a waiting room on the rainy days, whilst upstairs is the office and staff room which you don't have access to.
There are no facilities at Walsingham station, but the village is literally a 5 minute walk where you’ll find a couple of pubs, a tea room and a farm shop.
You can’t pre-book! There is a telephone number if you should want to find out more - 01362 711630.
Or visit the Wells & Walsingham Light Railway website here.
In the busy summer months, I would suggest you get there nice and early so as to get your tickets and place on the train. Although they suggest 15 minutes before departure, I think it would be wise to get there some time before that.
As there is no advanced booking, it’s first come, first served.
Dogs are allowed on the trains, but if it’s really busy, I’m afraid humans come first!
The other thing you will want to do is to also check out the types of train locomotive you want. There are steam locomotives and diesel locomotives so make sure you get the timings right.
The Wells and Walsingham Light Railway is open from February half term and then from March to November.
There is plenty of parking at the railway station in Wells, with a reduced fare if you’re taking the train ride.
It’s taken me years to actually take a journey on this railway, I wish I’d done it sooner!