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South Devon Steam Railway

tank engine

Ride the Rails on a Family Day Out at South Devon Steam Railway

All aboard for a quintessential family day out at the heritage South Devon Steam Railway. This vintage railway allows you to step back in time and ride the rails behind majestic steam locomotives between Totnes and Buckfastleigh.

The scenic journey along the valley of the River Dart takes you through lush Devon countryside aboard beautifully restored Victorian and Edwardian carriages. Here’s all you need to know for a memorable family adventure back in time on the steam trains.

buckfastleigh railway station

Getting There

The railway has stations at Totnes and Buckfastleigh.

Buckfastleigh it equidistant between Exeter and Plymouth on the A38. Leave at the Dart Bridge junction and follow the brown signs for the South Devon Railway.

Totnes is on the A385 from Paignton and the A381 from Kingsbridge and Dartmouth. The station (Totnes Riverside) is reached by footpath links from Totnes main line station (around 450m) and the town where there are a number of public car parks. It takes about 20 minutes to stroll from the town centre to the steam railway station.

Frequent mainline trains serve Totnes while buses connect to Buckfastleigh. The Paignton steam trains also connect with South Devon’s line at Totnes.

Opening Times

The railway runs scheduled steam trains on various dates:

  • April to September: Weekends and Bank Holidays
  • May to August: Some Wednesdays

Trains generally run from 10.30am – 5pm but check timetables. Extra dates run at Christmas, when they have regular trains in the Christmas holidays.

Tickets and Fares

Standard fares (2023 prices) are:

  • Adult (16+ years) – £16 return, £10 single
  • Child (3-15 years) – £10 return, £7 single

Book online for discount advance fares. Under 3s travel free.

south devon steam railway

The Steam Train Experience

The scheduled round trip between Totnes and Buckfastleigh takes around 50 minutes, meandering gently along the scenic valley.

Make the journey part of your day out or use it to link up attractions like Buckfast Abbey. Hop on and off as you please to explore stops along the line like Staverton.

The old-fashioned carriages with cosy compartments give a vintage vibe. You can even ride in the brake van for great views. The onboard heritage guard will share facts and stories about the history of rail in Devon.

The journey offers a nostalgic journey through time, as vintage steam trains chug along the picturesque route. Passengers are transported to a bygone era, surrounded by the rhythmic sounds of the steam engine and the scenic beauty of the Devon countryside. The meticulously restored carriages provide a comfortable and charming atmosphere, allowing travelers to immerse themselves in the romance of steam travel. The journey unfolds like a living history lesson, showcasing the golden age of railways. From the evocative whistle to the billowing steam, the South Devon Steam Railway promises an enchanting and unforgettable experience for all ages.

If you are interested in knowing more abou the locomotives and rolling stock that they have at the South Devon Steam Railway, a full list can be found here.

peeping out of train

Steaming into Totnes

The pretty Elizabethan town of Totnes offers plenty to do before or after your steam train trip. Must visit attractions include:

  • Totnes Castle – climb the hilltop Norman castle for scenic views over the town.
  • Elizabethan House Museum – glimpse into Tudor life at this historic Merchant’s house.
  • Leechwell Gardens – gorgeous ornamental gardens with riverside walks.
  • Market – every Friday and Saturday with abundant local produce.
totnes castle with flag

Steaming into Buckfastleigh

Attractions to discover after arriving in Buckfastleigh include:

  • Buckfast Abbey – explore this serenely beautiful Benedictine monastery.
  • Butterfly and Otter Sanctuary – see native British species in naturalistic enclosures.
  • Buckfastleigh Steam Railway Museum – glimpse locomotives from the golden age of steam.

With scenic valley views, immersive heritage carriages and the evocative sights and sounds of steam, South Devon Railway offers a day full of adventure back in time.

Dining Cars on the South Devon Steam Railway

The Dining Trains offer a variety of culinary adventures, from sumptuous three-course meals to delightful afternoon teas, all prepared with locally sourced ingredients. Whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or simply seeking a memorable day out, the railway’s dining experiences cater to every palate.

Choose from an array of themed events, each offering a distinct ambiance, from elegant evening soirees to family-friendly excursions. As the locomotive sets the rhythm, savor the delicious food and panoramic views, creating a sensory journey that combines the pleasures of taste and nostalgia.

To ensure your seat on the dining trips, advance booking is recommended. Visit the website for details on upcoming Dining Train events, menus, and ticket options.

shunting at buckfastleigh

History of the South Devon Railway

Its history can be traced back to the 19th century when the Dart Valley Railway Company proposed a line to connect Totnes and Ashburton. The South Devon Railway Company, established in 1844, took over the project and aimed to create a vital transportation link for the local mining and agricultural industries.

The railway officially opened in 1847, and it played a crucial role in the economic development of the area. It facilitated the transport of goods such as coal, limestone, and agricultural products, contributing to the growth of local industries. Additionally, the railway offered a means of passenger transportation, connecting the rural communities along its route.

As the 19th century progressed, the South Devon Railway faced financial challenges and underwent various changes in ownership and management. The line became part of the Great Western Railway (GWR) in 1876, further integrating it into the national rail network.

In the mid-20th century, like many other branch lines, the South Devon Railway fell victim to the decline in rail travel and increased reliance on road transport. The passenger services ceased in 1958, and freight services followed suit in 1962. However, the story didn’t end there.

In the 1960s, a group of enthusiasts formed the South Devon Railway Association with the goal of preserving and reopening a section of the original line as a heritage railway. After years of dedicated efforts, the preserved South Devon Railway opened to the public in 1969, running steam trains on a stretch of the historic track between Buckfastleigh and Totnes.

South Devon Railway: 50 Years of Heritage Operation

south devon steam railway guide book

This commemorative volume chronicles the Victorian origins, 1960s closure, and subsequent heritage railway revival of England’s picturesque South Devon Railway. Railway enthusiast Bernard Warr vividly profiles the route’s history and ongoing operation through archival and contemporary photos, insider stories, and in-depth technical details that capture the spirit of historic rail preservation.

Buy Now

Frequently Asked Questions

Are dogs allowed on the steam trains? – Yes, well behaved dogs on leads are welcome on the carriages.

Is the South Devon Steam Railway accessible for wheelchairs? – Yes, the staff have put a lot of effort into ensuring that the trains and stations are wheelchair accessible

How long is the journey on the South Devon Railway? – It is 14 miles

tank engine on bridge

Other nearby attractions

When you have finished your journey on the South Devon Steam Railway, here are some other places to visit:

  • Totnes Rare Breeds Farm – Family-friendly farm where you can meet and learn about rare breeds of farm animals like pigs, sheep and cattle. LIterally opposite the steam railway station!
  • Totnes Castle – Impressive medieval castle ruins in a scenic location overlooking the River Dart. Interesting to explore for history enthusiasts.
  • Plym Valley Railway – Scenic steam train rides along the Plym Valley’s tranquil nature trails and riverside paths departing from Plymbridge.
  • Buckfast Abbey – Working Benedictine monastery with medieval church, herb gardens and grounds. Shop sells homemade products.
  • Canonteign Falls – England’s highest waterfall set within a lush wooded gorge. Viewing platforms provide scenic vantage points.
  • House of Marbles – Fascinating attraction with marble runs, games and puzzles. Shop onsite selling classic toys and glassware.
  • Pennywell Farm – Traditional farm where visitors can feed and interact with chickens, goats, pigs and more. Indoor play areas too.
  • Totnes Elizabethan House Museum – Well-preserved 16th century townhouse offering insights into Tudor life. Costumed interpreters and gardens.
  • Occombe Farm – Farm attraction where you can get hands-on with animals. Nature trails through the woods and along the coast.

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