South Devon Railway – Review for families

All aboard! Make the most of a fun day out on the South Devon Railway with our handy family days out guide

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What is it?

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It’s a railway experience in the South Devon countryside, with several family attractions along the route.

Find stations in Buckfastleigh and Totnes Littlehempston. Buckfastleigh is approximately 20 miles from Plymouth and Exeter.

Best for:

Babies / Toddlers & Preschool / 5 – 8 

OK for:

9 – 12 / 12

Cost

£££ – A return trip for one adult is £12.40 and a child ticket is £7.20. Under 3’s go free.

What’s on offer

The famous seven mile train line running from Buckfastleigh all the way to Totnes along the River Dart Valley in South Devon is run by volunteers and open for visitors to hop on board.

The South Devon railway professes to be more than just a train ride, boasting a stunning journey through beautiful countryside and away from the hustle and bustle of busy lifestyles. There are also several attractions along the railway and there is a tourist commentary for visitors who wish to listen to it. The journey lasts approximately 30 minutes, which is great for youngsters with short attention spans.

At the Buckfastleigh end, explore the South Devon Railway Museum, collections of historic diesel and steam locomotives/coaches and enjoy the play areas, picnic areas and gardens, all to the backdrop of the river, Dartmoor and the Devon Hills. If you’ve got a little animal lover on your hands, visit the Dartmoor Otters and Buckfast Butterflies sanctuaries. There are refreshments and a gift shop.

The ride traditionally ends in old market town Totnes, for which the Littlehempston station was built entirely from artefacts rescued from stations around the West of England.  There’s also a farm, called Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, which is fairly self-explanatory in the kind of animal they provide a home for.

In the middle of this journey, there is one stop, a village named Staverton. The website calls it a “wayside country station that takes you back to the days when life was slower and quieter”. Its attractions include riverside walks, a pub within the village and a church from the 1300’s.

Sometimes, there are special events for children, such as Thomas the Tank Engine themed activities and even Santa Claus makes a visit to the railway around the Christmas period.  There are accessible toilets at Buckfastleigh station and Totnes Littlehempston station

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Highlights

The train ride itself is perfectly magical for families to experience together, as your little one becomes enchanted with the untouched, tranquil countryside.

Most visitors purchase a combined ticket to secure entry to the attractions in Buckfastleigh, such as the butterfly and otter sanctuaries ‘Dartmoor Otters’ and ‘Buckfast Butterflies’. These cute, yet unusual, creatures are sure to be a big hit with little children. 

For children who like playing with toy models, the railway’s gift shop is going to be a sure fire hit and a great place to stock up on future birthday presents. The café at Buckfastleigh does a decent Sunday roast and most TripAdvisor users praised the café in general.

Totnes, though lovely to visit, is worth exploring purely because the magnificent train ride takes you there. Staverton is also a nice place to stop for an hour or so.

Most visitors feel that the variety of attractions, from the train ride to the animals and museum, make for a well-rounded, fulfilling day trip and truly memorable experience.

What to watch out for

– The railway is closed November to March. Please check all the details on the website before planning your visit.

– The trains have a timetable. Please consult the timetable before planning or booking a visit.

– You may not be able to take huge travel system pushchairs with you on the train ride. Regular buggies should be fine folded up, but please clarify with a member of staff for more details about what you can and can’t take on board before you purchase a ticket.

– There are no toilets at Totnes Rare Breeds Farm, so make sure your child goes at Totnes station. Otherwise, prepare for a 200 yard trek back!

– When visiting the otters at Dartmoor Otters, make sure you find out when feeding time is!

MFM tips:

– You don’t have to visit a cafe, you can eat a picnic inside the miniature railway line area! Alternatively, there is a buffet on the train. Ask a member of staff where the best picnic spots are or see how much the buffet is!

– Totnes is an ideal day out in itself, with a market and attractions to visit like Totnes Castle and even the Totnes Textiles & Fashion Museum. If you’re in the area for more than a weekend, don’t rule out a full day in this charmingly beautiful town. 

What the owners say

“The South Devon Railway is one of Devon’s and the West Country’s best loved tourist attractions and is the longest established steam railway in the south west.

The South Devon Railway, or SDR, is a seven mile former Great Western Railway branch line, built in 1872, which runs along the stunning valley of the River Dart between Buckfastleigh and Totnes. We run steam trains with heritage rolling stock and offer a wonderful all day, all weather attraction for families and people of all ages.”

Visit the official South Devon Railway website

More family attractions in South Devon…

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Plymouth Aquarium
Woodlands Leisure Park
Miniature Pony Centre
Babbacombe Miniature Village
Paignton Zoo
Brixham

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