Scottish Railway Exhibition, Bo'ness
Even if you don't normally get excited at the thought of big sheds full of trains the Scottish Railway Exhibition in Bo'ness (near Falkirk in Scotland's Central Belt) is worth a visit. Enter through an old station covered in vintage ads, walk along the platform, cross the footbridge and pass through a sort of railway graveyard, full of old engines and rusting piles of train innards. Before you even enter the exhibition this sets the scene with the real atmosphere of the railways - not some cleaned-up, age-of-the-train marketing ideal but the raw power behind it all.
At the door to the museum the sign says that admission is £1 but if you don't have a pound they'll work something out. It's that kind of place. Inside, it is staffed by charming railway enthusiasts who are in a permanent state of excitement being kept in a giant shed full of trains. They do a very good job of selling the attractions - lots of trains that you can climb on, displays of railway ephemera and for the hardcore, a signal box to play with and something about valves that I'm afraid passed me by.
Over two giant rooms and 850 feet of display tracks, the trains come in all shapes and sizes. There are goods wagons, Army vehicles, brake vans, passenger coaches through the ages and a real example of travelling in style - Scotland's only Royal Saloon which is pretty plush. There are wagons dating from 1862 to 1963 - 101 years of innovation "from solid wooden buffers to self contained hydraulics, from no brake to air brake, from grease axleboxes to roller bearings".
They've made a real effort to create a proper train-y atmosphere with old suitcases piled onto luggage trolleys, rusting station signs and piped in "chuff-chuff woo-woo" noises. You can get onto quite a few of the trains so wee boys (and big ones) can pretend to be the driver. If you're not much of a trainspotter, the old photographs of travellers and stations are really fascinating. The whole place is nicely low-key and thoughtfully put together with expert knowledge and a great deal of enthusiasm. It's hands-on without being all modern and "interactive". Altogether it's well-rounded, getting everything that's great about rail travel, not just the nuts and bolts.
If you have more time to spend you can take a ride on the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway which makes trips to Birkhill Clay Mine nearby, or take a longer tour on their historic trains. More information is available from the SRPS website.
The Scottish Railway Preservation Society
Bo'ness Station, Union Street, Bo'ness, West Lothian EH51 9AQ
The Scottish Railway Exhibition is open on Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway operating days between April and October.
For further information phone 01506 825855 (Mon-Fri, 10am-2pm) or check the website (address below).
How to get there
Heading towards Bo'ness follow signs for the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway. It is well signposted. Google map.
Scottish Railway Exhibition photos
More of Anne's Scottish Railway Exhibition photos