Hollycombe Working Steam Museum
On a whim the other day I decided to take the kids for a day out to Hollycombe Working Steam Museum.
It’s not far from Liphook, Hampshire, just off the A3, and oddly for an attraction that sells itself as a national treasure it is only open one day a week for most of the year.
We arrived just after 11am when they open and after driving through a fairly rundown industrial estate found ourselves parking in the spacious grassy carpark.
Like a lot of attractions they price themselves relatively high, and justify it by saying that your ticket is valid for 12 months. As we live well within travelling distance I figured we’d be likely to visit again if it was a fun day, and so bought a family ticket (2 adults and 3 kids) for £60.
The Steam Train
The lady behind the desk gave us a map of the site and informed us where the steam train was running from, and so as soon as we were though the modern looking entrance building we made our way up the track towards the station. We sat and started our picnic on the platform and bang on time the steam train arrived. It went straight past us, which was a little puzzling, but a few minutes later it appeared again from the other direction and it became clear it was on a circular route. There was plenty of room for us all in one of the open air compartments, and after a short wait we were off.
The route was quite short, but very pleasant all the same. The narrow gauge steam train took us up a hill through the woodland to a viewpoint where it stopped for a while for us to admire the spectacular views. To be honest the kids were more impressed with the derelict quarry on the other side than the panoramic vista of the South Downs, but the information board at least gave us something to talk to the kids about. After a moment we were off again and after another brief ride through the woods we were back at the platform.
We got off and walked down past the farm machinery to the fairground area, which was where Hollycombe Working Steam Museum came into its own.
We’d seen lots of derelict steam engines, some covered, some just gently rusting away, and to be honest the place had a sad feel of an attraction that had seen better days, but the fairground made up for that.
The majority of the rides are powered by steam from a pair of portable engines on the edge of the enclosure, and they are quite stunning. If you have any interest in traditional fairgrounds from the Victorian and Edwardian eras then Hollycombe Working Steam Museum is a true gem. Even if not, it’s still pretty special. Most of the rides are still in use, and though the volunteers running them have to move from one to another to work them, they are an awful lot of fun.
“The Gallopers” is a traditional steam powered Merry-go-round with galloping horses, carriages, and even a few giant chickens to ride. It plays an odd mix of traditional and modern music on its steam organ, and the artwork is simply stunning.
“The Chair-o-planes” started off life as a merry-go-round like the Gallopers, but after a fire in the 40s was converted to its current state. This was the one my eldest two (7 and 5) fell in love with. Thankfully it was right next to a small ride the youngest (3) could use, and so we spent a good hour moving from ride to ride. We didn’t get to ride on the big wheel, as the compartments only allow three people in, and as I’d not got my wife with me it would have meant either sending the kids up by themselves (tempting but probably not wise), or leaving at least one of them by themselves on the ground.
We had a brief stop off in the cafe for ice-cream and found it was surprisingly cheap. The most expensive item on the menu was under £7, and 4 icecreams and a drink came in at less than a tenner.
Before we knew it it was time to leave, and as we were going the kids all begged me to bring them again as soon as possible.
To be honest Hollycombe Working Steam Museum is going to be the kind of place you either love or hate. It is indeniably very run down in places, and has an almost sad feel to it. But considering it is almost entirely run by volunteers that is hardly a surprise. If you enjoyed Downton Abbey, or Peaky Blinders, and are willing to put your feelings about the fact that they can’t do as much as they’d like to then I suspect you’ll love it here. It manages to capture the spirit of a simpler time, and does it well enough that you can easily put aside the negatives.
They do special events through the year as well, so it might be worth trying to time your visit with one of them. They open at night someties, and even have a working blacksmith doing demonstrations from time to time.
We’re planning on going back again soon, so Hollycombe Working Steam Museum gets a big thumbs up from us