If you’re on the edges of east London you might spy a steam train chugging along a bit of old tube train track, and it’s covered in lights glowing in the dark.

This is Light Fantastic — a chance to ride behind a steam train that is not just decorated inside and out for the festive season, but lights up the countryside as it passes through the woods and fields.

A trip inside a steam train is always a delight, but there’s something magical about to arrive, as the crowd waits at Ongar station. A toot in the distance and the familiar chug chug sound of a steam engine in the distance as the glowing leviathan approaches.

The carriages are covered in lights, and even the locomotive is a Tron-esque futuristic light show as it glides past.

Crowds on the platforms will usually get excited when a steam train arrives, but this one covered in twinkling lights causes even the most jaded of passengers to gasp in delight. Some people have booked an entire compartment for a family outing, others grab seats in the vintage carriages. From the outside, the strings of lights look a bit haphazard, but inside you realise the way they cut across the corners of the windows lights up the inside of the train as well.

The real show is to come though, for the railway runs through woods, and what better than to have coloured lights on the outside of the train lighting up all the winter trees as the train chugs past.

And candidly, it’s a magical effect, as the trees spring to a winter’s wonderlife glowing reds greens and whites. In some places, more decorations are along the tracks to point and look at. Blake Hall, the famously little used station that used to be on the Central line, and is now the home of the couple that own the railway is a glowing oasis in the darkness.

At the end of the line at North Weald station, the train stops and heads back the same way to Ongar, so we all get to see it all again.

It’s a curiously magical experience. The train travels slower than usual to give everyone a good look at the lit up woodlands you pass through, and what a special way to start the festive season.

The Epping Ongar Railway Light Fantastic runs at weekends until mid-Jan 2023, and tickets can be bought from here.

Getting to the Epping Ongar Railway

The trains depart from Ongar, and the easiest way to get there is by Central line train to Epping, and then catch the 420 bus from outside the tube station which takes about half-an-hour to get to Ongar.

(and back again afterwards)

The buses are roughly every half-hour – and it’s not as TfL service so you pay when you get on board. Be aware that the last bus back home leaves Ongar at 7:55pm on Fridays, and at 6:45pm at weekends, so you’ll want to book the earlier of the two train rides if you need to catch the bus home at weekends.

Or you can park in the nearby car parks.

While you’re at Ongar though, head to the very end of the railway and look for a sign with the number zero on it. That’s the milepost from which all distances on the London Underground are measured. From the time that this was part of the Central line, and still in use for mileage purposes today.

NB – exterior photos were taken by gingerly holding my phone just poking out of the window. Under no circumstances should you lean out of the window yourself — if something is going to crash past the train window, it’s better to lose a phone than your head.

(or take a trip in the driver’s cab if you’re lucky enough)

This article was published on ianVisits


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