I’ve decided I really should avoid going to places when it’s raining. Or at least have a list of places suitable to visit when it’s wet, without being overrun and needing to queue.
During half term I’d take N on a day trip to Birmingham, and we’d finally go to Think Tank. Not a problem you’d think, it’ll be less busy than London, we can go by train and I’ll not book in advance because N’s fussy and sometimes refuses to go to places. Big mistake.
N was really excited to go by train. Because I’d had my INR check appointment it meant we couldn’t get an early train so didn’t arrive at Think Tank until 11.30ish. The walk was a bit wet, and unfortunate because the Science Garden at Think Tank looks great and N really wanted to explore and have a play there.
My aim was to get inside Think Tank, then have some lunch before spending a couple of hours there. It didn’t happen quite like that thanks to the queues. Think theme park queues with them winding round the foyer area. After 20 minutes of queuing we’d not moved more than a couple of metres, and I really regretted not buying advance tickets because those people who had were just walking in.
I decided there was no way we could queue because there was no timescale for getting in but it would have had to have been 1.5 hours+. So a quick discussion with N who was hungry by this stage, and a quick search online for things to do in Birmingham that were within walking distance, and we decided to abort our visit. Maybe on a dry weekend we’ll try again.
So off we headed to the Wonderful World of Trains and Planes, because who doesn’t like those?
Of course, Google maps said it would take 12 minutes, but with N on slow coach mode, it took nearer 30 minutes with a stop at Fat John’s half way for N to have some food. There’s a severe lack of cafes or food places to sit in and eat on the route from Moor Street to Snow Hill so fast food it was. Although the chunky chips and nice burger was a bit different to the limp MacDonalds versions for a bargain £1.99 (they threw in the chips because I didn’t want a fizzy drink for N and that’s all they said they had).
Fully sustained, we then walked down to the Wonderful World of Trains and Planes. It’s a bit out of the way, and an unlikely location across from the railway arches, but this seems to fit quite well with the ‘museum’ that we found.
I think I was expecting something a bit more polished, but it’s a lot more down to earth and hobbyist.
Set out over 3 floors, downstairs there’s a café (which was full and buzzing when we arrived and left), and a couple of railway tracks set out showing the changing trains and model buildings through from the 1930s to 1960s. We had a quick look but the model tracks were a little too high for N to see and we didn’t twig that there were steps for small kids to use until we saw some upstairs.
Upstairs we found aeroplane models, plane simulators and a throne – alongside the royal railway. N refused to try out the throne for size, he was more interested in watching the trains going round. The track sets are all themed, so one was Thomas the Tank Engine*, several others based on different countries, and then modern day trains.
A few of them have controls so you can have a go at sending the trains round. Unfortunately some weren’t working (probably because people hadn’t turned them off after using them), but N had fun along with plenty of other children, dressing up in hat and waving a flag.
There were also a couple of scalextric tracks* set up – one for older children and adults, the other suitable for younger children, so N had his first go on a scalextric. I’m thinking it might be a suitable gift for next Christmas given how much he (and I) enjoyed it.
Our final go was letting N have a go at taking off, flying and landing a plane on the simulator computers. He was straight down to sit in the seat, we got some advice and help from a staff member in setting it up, and taking off, then N flew the plane round before he wanted to land it. It’s so funny to see him just having a go at something you’d never expect to see a young child do, and see what’s available now for them to try compared with when I was a child and computers were a thing of mystery. There were different levels of difficulty so suitable for all ages as long as they could follow instructions.
We were probably only there for 1.5 to 2 hours, but that was plenty. For children there were activity stations where children could build Lego planes, trains and cars, or do some colouring in although N didn’t fancy that. They also provide toddler steps for children to stand on to see the models.
Of course, we had to walk through the gift shop where you can buy a whole range of components for model railways, or toys along the same theme. Thankfully N does listen when I say no, although he does try at each bay of toys. But if you’re going with children it may be worth taking along some spending money if they’re likely to want to build on their collection.
N seemed to enjoy it and didn’t notice the amateur feel of it. Comparing the price of it against other attractions at a similar cost, I think there are other places I’d rather visit. If you’re a real railway fanatic and love model railways, then it’s potentially worth a look. Especially on a rainy day when other places are totally rammed!
We had an interesting walk back to the station. We just missed the train from Snow Hill meaning we had an hour’s wait at a station with no coffee shop or waiting room, so trekked back to Moor Street where there were more trains and we could get straight on ours while it waited for the off.
Are your children railway or plane fans? Have you ever been to model railway places like Wonderful World of Trains and Planes?
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