In July, my husband, myself and our teenage sons went on a day trip to Bressingham – a sort of steam railway/museum/gardens centre near Diss, in Norfolk. Finding a place that would amuse us all as a family, avoiding theme parks, is becoming harder now my boys are teenagers. Having not been to Bressingham before, and we all like steam trains, it seemed an ideal place to visit. The added attraction was that it was “Steampunk Weekend” too – but I was unaware of this until we arrived ….
So, what is Steampunk? According to the Oxford dictionary it is “A style of design and fashion that combines historical elements with anachronistic technological features inspired by science fiction”… According to Wikipedia, “Steampunk is a sub genre of science fiction or science fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery.” I first noticed as we arrived at 10am glamorous women in Victorian lace up boots and long corset style gothic/Victoriana style dresses… men in dapper jackets … top hats and goggles . I thought they must be members of staff …. I thought Bressingham was just about steam railways ….but then I realised they were members of the public mingling in the queue alongside those in bog standard shorts and t shirts. I did feel underdressed!
My 14 year old son Jack was hooked – he immediately purchased a top hat that was customised for him whilst we looked around Bressingham and we was able to pick it up later. My youngest son settled for some groovy goggles. I enjoyed looking at the beautiful bodices being sold on the stalls … and I enjoyed admiring the gorgeous outfits being worn.
Bressingham itself is a great place to visit, with or without a special event going on, but the Steampunk event certainly added a special air to the place. Bressingham consists of many parts: Bressingham Rides, Bressingham Gardens, Bressingham Museum.
We were lucky because on the day we visited all 3 railway lines with their impressive steam locomotives were running . The railway lines covered the woodland area, around the gardens and around the perimeter of the site. The working locomotives were all different and the journey times were longer than the usual miniature railway ride.
However, the large Victorian steam galloper occupies a prominent position near the entrance, and although my youngest son had his leg strapped up as he had broken his foot, with a bit of help, he was able to ride on the horse alongside his dad and brother. In fact, him and his brother had quite a few gos over the course of the day. I must admit, the merry-go-round looked lovely but it made me feel dizzy just watching let alone riding on it. I stayed at the side, holding Ethan’s crutches and taking photos.
There was an old fashioned fairground full of penny machines, hoopla stalls and other attractions of the Victorian age. A small crazy golf course was a lot of laughs and at £2 per person provided a good half hour’s entertainment as we battled it out between ourselves to see who would become the family champion …. my husband came first, I came 2nd…
The gardens are renowned worldwide for their horticultural excellence – there are four linking gardens displaying over 8,000 species and varieties within its 17 acres. The gardens are privately owned by the, appropriately named, Bloom family. Adrian Bloom and his father, Alan, have each created a 6 acre garden : The Dell and Foggy Bottom. Unfortunately we only managed to view the gardens from the garden railway train journey and didn’t have enough time to wander through the 17 acres as well. I will definitely head for the gardens on my next visit, perhaps in Spring when the gardens are in full bloom.
The Bressingham Museum
In fact there are 2 museums ….
The Locomotive Sheds were full of trains and carriages from yesteryear – bringing the glory of steam engineering up close. You couldn’t actually step inside the locomotives or carriages but there were especially built platforms along the sides so you can have a good old peek through the windows . The royal carriages were really fascinating. The old posters dotted around the walls were interesting too – the old away day trips by train I can remember well as a young girl – I remember one day railway trip we made as a family around 1974 was from London to Blackpool via Preston ( we didn’t have long there as a day trip and it rained all day!)
National Dad’s Army Collection – based on the popular TV series, Dad’s Army, you wander through the fictional “Walmington On Sea” with the original props and vehicles from the series.
There is a gift shop and a cafe with indoor and outdoor seating that served the biggest slices of chocolate cake I have ever seen and picnic areas. Warranting a special mention are the toilet facilities for both men and women. They are both sparkling clean – hard to achieve in a public place – but the floors, toilets, sinks were spotless even by mid afternoon.
There were extra shops and stalls as part of the Steampunk event.
Oh yes, definitely.
If you are into gardens, then Bressingham gardens would delight. Steam train/train enthusiasts would enjoy. Ideal family day out – for babies the gardens would be ideal pram pushing area, for older children and adults the merry go round, crazy golf, & trains would delight. Not sure there was enough to please a toddler though.
All photographs are by Linda Hobden.
For more details about Bressingham check out their website: www.bressingham.co.uk