We all love trains in this house, so when Monkey's Godmummy suggested meeting up at STEAM - Museum of the Great Western Railway, in Swindon we thought it was a great idea.
Swindon is just over an hour away from us, and we set off yesterday morning in Oxfordshire's unexpected snow storm! It all added to the excitement, but luckily the snow turned to rain by the time we reached the outskirts of Swindon. It's very easy to find STEAM as it shares a parking area with the Swindon Designer Outlet Centre, which is well signposted. We arrived just after 10.30am on Sunday, and found a parking space easily. You get a parking ticket on entry into the car park - change this in the museum and you will get free car parking all day.
We parked in the North Car Park and it was a short walk (approx 5 minutes) to the actual STEAM building. I heard someone complaining about how far they had to walk with children; maybe the West Car Park is slightly further away, but personally, Monkey (aged 3 years and a bit) was fine and I really didn't see it as an issue, even in the rain.
The toilets are right by the entrance so we headed straight there with Monkey, and then went upstairs (lift also available) to the Platform One Cafe for a coffee and cake before we explored. All museum visitors get 5% discount at the Cafe - every little helps!
The museum offers family ticket deals - even for a family of three so it cost us £16.10, we exchanged our parking ticket, and off we went.
We didn't get off to the best start; Monkey doesn't cope well with 'noise' and in the first part of the museum you walk through a number of different Railway manufacturing scenes. He hated the 'atmospheric' noise in each section. It wasn't really loud but he got very upset so we had to zoom through those sections. There was a lot to see and I'm sure other children would enjoy them.
Anyway, we ended up in a big hall with the full sized Caerphilly Castle train. This cheered Monkey up no end, and cleverly the exhibit is designed so you can walk underneath it. We all enjoyed this and it was something we certainly hadn't experienced before.
At the end of the hall is the first children's play area, but Monkey was on a mission to explore the rest of the museum. There is a section on building the railway, a train driving simulator for all those budding train drivers out there, and lots of static trains to see and go on. We loved the little signals that the children could operate as well as the electronic signals in the signal box. There are two station platforms and a ticket office along with passenger coaches to explore. We also discovered another children's play area with shunting trains, various train sets, jigsaws, building blocks etc. It kept Monkey and Princess M (aged 7) amused for ages.
At the end of the exhibits is a model railway that the children can operate. Monkey was in heaven.
We were all in need of some lunch and decided to go back to the in-house cafe. The children's range isn't extensive but was fine for our needs. You could get more options in the Outlet Centre across from the museum if you wanted.
Once we were all refueled, we did it all again, although we entered via the exit to avoid the 'noise' issues. Our friends headed home and we went back to the model railway again.
We had a really good day, Monkey had a great time and I would definately recommend it. I'd been a little concerned beforehand that a 3-year-old would be bored, but far from it, we struggled to get him to come home!
We'll be going back.