We’ve lived within an hours drive of the East Lancs Railway for the whole time we’ve had children. Ben went through a stage at the age of 2 when he was completely train-mad. We’ve been on steam trains, diesel trains and trams. We’ve been to Thomasland. But we’d never been on the East Lancs Railway.
So for his birthday this year, I booked tickets to go on the Pirate Express. I have to be honest: I was just lucky that the pirate express was running on the day of his birthday. It wasn’t planned! But so many people had recommended the East Lancs Railway that I thought we should give it a try.
What is the East Lancs Railway Pirate Express?
The East Lancs Railway Pirate Express is a 2 hour round trip from Bury to Rawtenstall. The children (and adults) are entertained throughout by a swashbuckling tale of the high seas.
Actors play a pirate crew, and they sing, dance, joke and play their way through the journey, keeping small children engaged and excited the whole time. This is no mean feat, I can assure you!
What’s the station like?
The day we went, although it was August, was miserable and soggy. However, I was really impressed by the train station at Bury. It is a real celebration of all things related to vintage travel, from packing cases to posters to tins of tea. The railway is run by volunteers, and there was a really cheery atmosphere, despite the rain. Of course, the fact that half the passengers and crew were dressed as pirates helped.
What’s the train like?
Like the station, the train itself is… vintage. You book online, and choose your seats when you book, so you can be sure that you can sit together. Each seat was also at a table which was nice, and there were several colouring activities provided to keep the children entertained. We all know that there’s not a huge amount of space in a train seat, but the actors walked up and down the carriage constantly, getting the children involved.
A new character joined us at Rawtenstall. (As an aside, I didn’t actually believe that Rawtenstall was a real place when I first moved up North. It really does exist.) This gave the children, some of whom may have been flagging, a bit of a boost.
The other actors were excellent, and completely focused on the children. Ben had chosen to wear his new Captain America suit rather than a pirate costume, but they didn’t seem to be too insulted. Samuel also got lots of attention, and revelled in it.
Any hints and tips?
I’d definitely go when there is a special themed event on – they seem to do lots over the summer holidays. The children all seemed to really enjoy joining in with the pirate cheers and got caught up in the story.
Take snacks and drinks with you – you can’t buy any on the train.
Parking is easy, next to the station, but get a bit longer than you need as the trains can get delayed. It’s not expensive.
If you can avoid it, don’t take a pushchair. The station and train are accessible and have lifts, but we found it much easier to carry Samuel and have him on our laps than worry about folding a buggy and storing it.
Hang around at the end to get a photograph with the actors. They were very happy to pose!