The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway is one of the UK’s few remaining heritage railways, and the only steam railway in Lincolnshire, running on a line that was first opened in 1848. Taking a ride on this restored steam locomotive between Ludborough and North Thoresby makes for a really fun day out! We tried it out with the family, combined with a Sunday lunch at the New Inn in North Thoresby. In this guide we review our experience and explain how you can make the most a trip on the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway.
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What is the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway?
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway is one of our county’s great hidden gems. We were surprised that such a relic of history, and one that you can experience so interactively, is not widely known about even by locals.
We have friends and family who have lived in Lincoln for decades, yet when we asked them about the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, not many had even heard of it before.
So, what is the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway exactly? It is one of only 150 or so heritage railway lines that are still operational in the UK. In our neck of the woods it stands out alone as Lincolnshire’s only standard-gauge steam railway.
The line was closed to the public in 1980, but it has been brought back to life by a small team of dedicated volunteers, and it has now become an award-winning visitor experience.
Alongside the railway journey there is a small museum, souvenir shop, a repurposed café on a train carriage, and kids’ entertainment. There is also a schedule of special themed events throughout the year.
A very brief history of the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway began its life as part of the Great Northern Railway, and was first opened in 1848. Back then it ran between New Holland on the Humber Estuary and Boston, via Louth.
This meant that it connected parts of Lincolnshire that are now much harder to travel between. A journey on public transport between Louth and Boston – only 30 miles apart – can now take more than three hours.
The line changed ownership various times over the years. In 1923 the Great Northern Railway, along with the East Lincolnshire Railway Co that originally built the line, became part of the London and North Eastern Railway, better known by its acronym of LNER. From 1948 it was operated by British Railways (later British Rail), who replaced the steam railcars with diesel units.
A major restructure of the national railway system in the mid 1960s known as the Beeching cuts spelled the beginning of the end. When it was announced that the line would be closed, it was met with huge local opposition. But, despite some initial success from local campaigning groups, most of the line was closed in 1970, with the tracks lifted and much of the infrastructure left to decay.
Local campaigners, led by the Grimsby–Louth Group, fought to keep the last remaining section of the line running throughout the 1970s. Sadly, they could not prevent its ultimate closure in 1980.
Bringing the railway back to life
Passionate local campaigning groups would not give up on the railway. Their efforts paved the way for preservationists to rebuild Ludborough Station from the ground up in 1984. The station had been completely demolished when the line was closed; its restoration marked the beginning of a new lease of life for the railway.
In 1991, the group of preservationists successfully obtained authorisation for the railway line to be restored between Louth and Waltham, a section that traces alongside the eastern edge of the Lincolnshire Wolds.
With Ludborough Station fully restored to its original glory, work focused on rebuilding the line between here and North Thoresby. This short section of the line – less than 2 miles – was finally reopened in 2009, as the first locomotive in nearly half a century made the journey.
A look inside: our Lincolnshire Wolds Railway experience
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway remains open to the public, and there is even a vision for future expansion (more on that below). There are several running days each month in season, usually at the weekend. We made a full family outing of it on a Sunday with Lisa’s parents, her sister and brother-in-law, and our young nephew and niece.
Our visit also happened to be on Father’s Day. We were expecting a June Sunday with a good weather forecast to bring lots of crowds, and anticipated we might need to arrive early to ensure we got tickets. That wasn’t the case – there was plenty of space on the train.
If you buy a “day rover” ticket for the railway it’s valid for as many journeys as you like. Ludborough is the main station and has a sizeable car park, so we chose to do a return journey from there (it’s also possible to buy tickets from the other station at North Thoresby if you want to start that side).
There are a couple of village pubs in North Thoresby that serve lunch, perfect for breaking up the return journey. Ahead of time, we booked a table at the New Inn, which is just a short walk away from North Thoresby Station.
Coffee and bacon butties from the Steaming Kettle Café
After buying our tickets at Ludborough Station, we had plenty of time before the next departure. Luckily there’s plenty to do at the station, and our first priority was to sort something to eat.
A stationery train carriage that stands across from the main platform has been repurposed as a café called the Steaming Kettle. The prices are really cheap and there’s plenty to choose from! We had some delicious hot bacon butties and coffees to go.
We decided to leave Regan at home for the day, but we’ll bring him next time. Everything is dog friendly, including inside the café and on the steam train.
The museum and souvenir shop
Next to the ticket office at Loughborough Station you will find a small museum and gift shop inside the old station house. The museum wasn’t open (we’re told it will remain closed for a little while), but when fully operational you can see a horde of artefacts in here from the railway’s early days.
The shop has a lot of classic railway-themed souvenirs – fridge magnets, keyrings and the like – but there’s also a treasure trove of goodies for kids. Most of the shelves are taken up by locomotive models, toys, puzzles, games and colouring books.
Taking a look on board the carriage
The train departs on the hour, but arrives in the station around 15 minutes beforehand, so there’s a good chance to take a look around on board before setting off.
Firstly, it’s a really fun moment to watch the locomotive enter the station, with horns tooting and steam billowing out into the sky. Kids love this part, and we did too!
All the volunteer staff are really friendly and are happy to have a chat and answer any questions. They’re all heritage railway enthusiasts who are full of knowledge to share.
On board the train it’s like taking a glimpse into a forgotten era. Everything is well polished and it’s clear that the interior is maintained incredibly well, but you still have a sense of being inside a vehicle that has been frozen in time.
The main carriages have a wide berth, and the seats are all arranged in groups of four around spacious tables. Antique suitcases are dotted along the top of the luggage racks, a really neat touch that adds to the nostalgia.
There are also corridor coaches with compartment carriages, providing lots of additional seating space on long cushioned benches. Leaflets telling the railway’s history and future plans are neatly laid out on the seats throughout the train.
A short but scenic journey
The distance between the stations at Ludborough and North Thoresby is less than two miles, and it only takes the locomotive about 15 minutes to complete the journey.
There’s a bit of a clamour outside as the engine fires up! Then we feel it crank into motion, and it’s off we go. The journey between the stations is pure countryside, with the rolling fields of the Lincolnshire Wolds dominating the view.
Mid-journey, one of the volunteers from the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway Society (a registered charity) wanders up the aisle offering the chance to enter the annual prize draw, with a first prize of £100. This is one of the various ways that the volunteer group raises funds to cover the maintenance and development of the railway service.
A stop for lunch at the New Inn, North Thoresby
After everyone has stepped off at North Thoresby Station, the engine keeps firing for a good few minutes, and there’s a great view of the full locomotive from the front.
The New Inn is less than two minutes’ walk straight along Station Road. It’s a big pub with a restaurant area (called Russell’s Restaurant) and lots of outdoor seating.
Inside the pub is spacious with lots of natural light. The feel is less village local and more upmarket gastropub, with neat furnishings and bright, clean decor. We ordered Sunday roasts, but there’s also a range of pub classics on the menu.
The pub’s proximity to the station makes it easy to hang around for dessert or an extra drink before setting off in good time. Definitely book in advance though, as you won’t be guaranteed a table without a reservation.
Making the return journey
Back at North Thoresby Station the drill is very much the same, with the train rolling into the station ahead of time. One cool thing we noticed here is that you can see the stoker shovelling coal into the firebox to get it fired up for the return journey.
Planning a Lincolnshire Wolds Railway experience
Like what you’ve heard about the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway? In this section we’ll round up a few of the practical details you need to know about booking your trip.
How to buy tickets for the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway
Lincolnshire Wolds Railway tickets cannot be bought online. You need to buy them at the station on the day. There’s a ticket office at each station, and you can pay cash or card.
You can either buy single tickets, or a “day rover” ticket that stays valid all day. Ticket prices are as follows:
- Adults: £9 day rover / £4.50 single
- Children: £5 day rover / £2.50 single (free for kids under 3 years)
- Senior citizens: £7 day rover / £3.50 single
- Dogs: £1
- Family roundabout ticket: £25 (for 2 adults and 4 children)
While it’s not possible to buy tickets online, you can buy gift vouchers for up to £20. You can also buy special £30 vouchers for a footplate ride or signal box experience to witness the workings of the locomotive more intimately.
Ride free with Lincolnshire Wolds Railway Society membership
Members of the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway Society can ride the railway for free up to three times per year, and get a 25% discount for any additional rides.
Membership costs £18 for full, £12 for seniors and £6 for juniors (joint membership options are available too). You can join on the society’s website.
How to get to Ludborough station
Ludborough Station is easy to reach by road, but sat nav can be a bit confusing as there are a couple of different location points you’ll find on maps. It’s best to use the postcode DN36 5SH.
The station is located on Station Road between Ludborough and Fulstow, a short distance away from the A16. Look out for the brown tourist attraction signs to the railway and you can’t go wrong.
If the roads are clear it’s less than an hour’s drive from Lincoln, including a beautiful scenic section across the Lincolnshire Wolds.
The car park at Ludborough is directly opposite the station. It has lots of space, including disabled spaces, and is free to park for the day.
There’s a souvenir shop at the car park that also features a model railway.
Facilities and wheelchair access
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway has toilets on board. At Ludbourough there are also toilets on a platform that’s just across the road from the main part of the station.
We were really impressed with the accessibility facilities given the age of the locomotive. There’s a wheelchair ramp at every door and plenty of space on board, and you’ll see the staff taking every care to help anybody on and off.
Lincolnshire Wolds Railway timetable and running days
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway runs on most Sundays through the summer, and on Wednesdays in August as well. It’s also operational for some special occasions out of season. See the running day calendar for full listings.
The train timetable on running days is as follows:
|Lincolnshire Wolds Railway timetable|
|North Thoresby arrive||11:00||12:00||13:00||14:00||15:00||16:00|
|North Thoresby depart||11:10||12:10||13:10||14:10||15:10||16:10|
Special themed events
Throughout the year, the volunteer team runs special events on the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway, usually involving food or fancy dress! These events are usually bookable on the LWR website.
Some of the events on the calendar in 2023 include:
- Fish and chips special (Saturday 29 April & Saturday 30 September): a Grimsby fish and chips dinner is served on board a 5:30pm departure of the train.
- Pirates of Ludborough fancy dress (Sunday 28 and Monday 29 May): a bank holiday weekend special featuring singing and dancing (both on board and on the platform at North Thoresby!), Punch and Judy shows, and a magic show.
- Cream tea special (Sunday 23 July and Sunday 13 August): another foodie special, this time featuring a classic cream tea with scones, jam and cream served on the 1:45pm service.
- Teddy Bear’s Fun Day (Sunday 20 August): a great one for the kids, with entertainment and dancing on board all day. Bring your favourite cuddly toys along!
- Santa Specials (9–10 and 16–18 December): festive trains throughout the day, where Santa and his team of of elves will visit everyone in their seats. There’s also a Santa’s Grotto with photo opportunities on the platform at North Thoresby at the end of the ride.
Most of these are annual events, and we’ll update them for 2024 as soon as the information is available.
Car boot sales
A car boot sale takes place in the car park at Ludborough Station on a couple of Sundays during the year. In 2023, these are on Sunday 21 May and Sunday 24 September.
Sellers can arrive from 11am, and it’s £5 for a car or £7 for a van (proceeds go towards supporting the railway). The event is then open to the public from 11:45am.
Note there are no trains running on car boot sale days.
Where to stay nearby
Fancy making a weekend of it? There are lots of lovely places to stay around the beautiful Lincolnshire Wolds within a short drive of the railway line. These are some of our top picks:
- The Traveller’s B&B, Louth. We had a lovely night’s stay in this welcoming family-run bed and breakfast when we visited to take a tour of Louth Distillery.
- Brackenborough Hotel, a lovely boutique hotel set among lawns and gardens, is less than a 10-minute drive from Ludborough Station along the A16.
- Hall Farm Hotel and Restaurant is a short drive in the other direction up the A18. This is a gorgeous luxury hotel set among farmland, and it isn’t as expensive as you might think. Some rooms have four-poster beds.
Other things to do nearby
The Lincolnshire Wolds Railway is within close reach of many beautiful countryside walks, historic market towns, and lovely beaches on the Lincolnshire coast.
If you’re thinking of combining the experience with other fun activities nearby, here are some ideas:
- Louth is a charming old market town full of quaint little shops and cafés. You can also climb to the top of the tower of St James’ Church for an incredible view of the area.
- Another historic market town, Market Rasen, is a short drive across the other side of the Wolds. See our recommended things to do in Market Rasen, which includes nearby walks.
- Just next to Louth, Hubbard’s Hills is a lovely little beauty spot of sloping hills, waterways and woodland formed by ancient melted glaciers.
- For another great countryside walk nearby, check out our guide to the Belchford, Fulletby, Salmonby and Tetford circular.
- Walled Garden Baumber is a stunning double-walled gardens and tea rooms that has been reimagined on the site of a crumbling old estate.
- If your visit is in November or December, you have the opportunity to see baby seals at the nearby Donna Nook National Nature Reserve.
- Check out our guide to beaches in Lincolnshire for all the best nearby coastal spots. Saltfleet and Cleethorpes are the nearest to Ludborough, both within half an hour’s drive.
Lincolnshire Wolds Railway extension plans
The revived line from Ludborough to North Thoresby is not the end of the story for this remarkable heritage railway. Lincolnshire Wolds Railway Society are developing long-laid plans for the next step of the vision: extending the line to Louth.
Work is well under way to rebuild the five-mile stretch of the trackbed from Ludborough to the outskirts of Louth, focusing first on the 0.75 mile section from Ludborough to Pear Tree Lane.
The total cost to lay all five miles of the track will exceed £1million, so it’s not just a construction challenge, it’s also a financial one. The effort relies on income from the railway service and facilities, and generous donations from the public. And as with everything else the society does, the laying of the tracks is carried out entirely by volunteers.
If you want to donate or volunteer, you can get in touch with the society on 01507 363881 or visit the support section of the website. You can donate anything you like, from £1, which would buy a single steel key, to £600, which would buy a length of rail.
The ultimate ambition is to rebuild the entire line all the way from Louth to Grimsby, in line with the original vision of the Grimsby–Louth Group campaigners. It’s a bold ambition, but the society is getting there one sleeper at a time!
Have you taken a ride on the Lincolnshire Wolds Railway? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.
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