All aboard for socially distant fun at the magical Audley End Miniature Railway
PUBLISHED: 14:00 23 July 2020
One of the area’s most-loved tourist attractions is steaming ahead into the post-lockdown world with a host of measures focused on customers’ safety.
Audley End Miniature Railway, based near Saffron Walden, usually opens for the season at Easter, but like other activity centres was forced to shut its doors when the pandemic hit.
But rather than rest on their laurels, staff spent the following months implementing a new way of running to ensure visitors feel secure but don’t lose out on the magical experience at the heart of the venue.
The railway is also focusing on attracting local visitors, so rather than take their word for granted, we headed along to see what changes had been brought in to cope with the new normal.
Running at one-third capacity, and with a new timetable in place for families to follow, social distancing is obviously key to every part of the centre.
There are expanded car parking facilities, and a new hospitality officer on hand to greet visitors on arrival, with signposting to ensure a one-way flow of visitors into and out of the site.
Having pre-booked our slot on the railway, upon arrival our family headed straight there for an enchanting train ride on the diesel-powered Henrietta Jane, one of several locomotives in operation.
Our 1.5 mile journey took us through estate woodland designed by the legendary Capability Brown, where charming scenarios featuring costumed teddy bears kept four-year-old Mollie riveted throughout, but passengers could also watch out for local wildlife, a Second World War pill box, and even a unicorn and smoke-breathing dragon.
The train was kept comfortably uncrowded, with carriages between family groups, and took around 20 minutes before we embarked at the entrance to the Fairy and Elf Walk.
After making a rudimentary fairy wand using feathers, pipe cleaners and a pencil (it’s amazing how much fun it produced!), we headed into the forest to see the many fairies, elves, gnomes and goblins living there. Intricate handmade wooden fairy houses were scattered throughout, each boasting different occupants, and ticking them off in a special “I Spy” booklet proved thoroughly entertaining for children and adults alike.
We then headed into the spacious picnic area to watch an interactive fairy show while enjoying locally-sourced ice cream, which included unusual unicorn and dragon flavours for the adventurous!
Last winter was spent constructing a new train-themed adventure playground, complete with locomotive, platform and station, which is now proudly open for business after months of mothballing, and it proved hugely popular for Mollie, who spent the best part of an hour exploring the different features.
Trains, play equipment, toilets and other fixtures are sprayed bi-weekly with the same chemical used by Transport for London, which adheres to objects for 30 days and kills germs on contact. They have also increased their cleaning regime thanks to an on-site clean team, and it is evidentally working, as the whole site was spotless. There are copious hand sanitiser points scattered throughout the venue, and also a sink for proper hand-washing before lunch, all of which contribute to leaving you reassured and comfortable.
The wooden play equipment also has a dedicated supervisor to ensure families adhere to social distancing, and they are also constantly cleaning and wiping surfaces over the course of the day.
After such a long stretch of lockdown, Audley End Miniature Railway wanted to bring outdoor, spacious magical fun back into their visitors’ lives, all the while in a safe and secure environment, and they have certainly delivered on this promise.
Although the threat of coronavirus is never far from our minds, here at least is a chance for children to be themselves, to tap into their imagination and play safely, and for that we should be grateful.
For further information, and to book tickets for this year’s summer festival, visit the website at https://www.audley-end-railway.co.uk/
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