Explore Hertfordshire by train, boat, plane or balloon
PUBLISHED: 16:57 15 February 2010 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013
Summer outings gain an added dimension if they include sailing down the river, or rediscovering the romance of steam trains, or even viewing your neighbourhood from the skies.
All that huff and puff, that unique sooty smell, and the immense power from clever engineering whose workings (unlike the silicon chip) can be seen and understood... no wonder steam engines have an enduring fascination for young and old.
Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, in Quainton, is an amazing place to explore the golden age of steam. Its collection of historic steam and diesel locomotives and passenger coaches is one of the best in the country, and you can have a (very short) ride in a traditional carriage behind a steam engine.
The museum is full of railway paraphernalia, bringing back nostalgic memories to older visitors, as well as fascinating the young, including a royal coach and a Post Office sorting coach. Thomas the Tank Engine makes occasional visits (July 3-5, Sept 12-13). And, at a price, it's also possible to be a train driver for a day.
The Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway, run by volunteers, runs steam and diesel trips at weekends from a reconstructed traditional station at Chinnor to Thame Junction, with plans to extend into Princes Risborough. The seven-mile return journey passes through attractive countryside in the Chiltern hills. Cream teas on board are popular (book in advance).
Miniature steam railways run by model engineering societies have great appeal for young children. They include: East Herts Light Railway, Van Hage Garden Centre, Great Arnwell, near Ware, Knebworth Park Miniature Railway, Herts, Vanstone Woodland Railway, Vanstone Park Garden Centre, Codicote, Cassiobury Park Miniature Railway, Watford, Bekonscot Model Village, Beaconsfield, Vale of Aylesbury Model Engineering Society at Bucks Railway Centre, Quainton
Half the UK population are said to live within five miles of a river or canal, with their wealth of wildlife and accessible towpaths. No wonder so many people find walking or picnicking at the water's edge, or travelling by boat, makes for the perfect summer outing.
Delightful walking and waterborne options include:
The Thames Footpath, a beautifully maintained path passing through pleasant riverside towns and villages. The section up and down stream from Marlow is particularly attractive. Salters Steamers (www.salterssteamers.co.uk) runs passenger boat services in summer from Marlow to Henley or Windsor
Colne Valley Regional Park, with 50 miles of river and canal and more than 40 lakes. It is renowned for giving access to wildlife, in a region stretching from Rickmansworth south to Staines. Local sailing, windsurfing and water skiing clubs sometimes have facilities for visitors to take to the water, and there are plenty of circular walks and cycling trails for all. See www.colnevalleypark.org.uk for all the options, or ask at the Visitor Centre near Denham.
The Grand Union Canal, whose towpaths are ever popular with walkers and cyclists (see www.britishwaterways.co.uk for sections accessible to cyclists). Some stretches are linked to reservoirs which are great places for picnics or birdwatching, such as at Marsworth. Soulbury Three Locks south of Milton Keynes is a popular place to bring a picnic or buy a drink from the canal-side pub and watch craft negotiating the suite of locks.
To get a taste of life on board, try Glebe Canal Cruises at Pitstone Wharf, near Tring. Here you can hire a boat for the day, or join a regular canal trip travelling downstream to Marsworth, with a commentary pointing out all the points of interest along the way.
If you or your kids love to see light planes, helicopters, gliders and vintage aircraft taking off and landing, you can get up close and watch the action from the garden
of the pleasant restaurant-pub which is right by the runway at Wycombe Air Park, on the edge of High Wycombe. British Airways Flying Club's garden area is also open to visitors.
You get a unique view of your home area if you take to the skies. Of course, gaining a pilot's licence will cost several thousand pounds, but many people find a gift token for a trial flight gives an unforgettable experience. You can take the controls of a two-seater or four-seater light aeroplane as you fly over the Thames and the Chilterns, or test your skill in a helicopter or glider. Trial lessons are available with several clubs, see Airfield Facilities at www.wycombeairpark.co.uk.
For a close-up view of the magic of wartime planes, The de Havilland Aircraft Heritage Centre, off M25 Jct 22 near St Albans, is a must. Its aviation heritage collection has Mosquitos, Moths and jetfighters as well as a Comet 1 fuselage. See www.dehavillandmuseum.co.uk for opening times.
Or by balloon
Then there's the hot-air balloon - the perfectly peaceful way to view the countryside. Many companies offer flights including Humbug Balloons at Great Missenden and Champagne Flights at Aylesbury, while Virgin and Balloon Safaris have launch sites throughout Herts and Bucks.