I can’t think of a better way to explore Whipsnade Zoo‘s wide open animal paddocks than this.
This is Whipsnade’s own little railway. It has two steam locomotives, Excelsior and Superior, and a couple of diesels.
The railway was built in 1970 to view the white rhino herd that Whipsnade were captive breeding at the time. The two steam locomotives came from Bowater’s Papermill Light Railway near Sittingbourne in Kent, which was the last narrow gauge steam operated railway in the UK.
There is something almost quite organic about a steam locomotive as it gets up the power to lurch out of the station and the billowing steam and smell of coal smoke just transports me back to a time when the process of travel was more of an adventure than an ordeal.
As Excelsior pulled out of the station our first animal encounter was with a Bennet’s wallaby who sensibly hopped it out of the way.
Next up were the jumbos themselves, Whipsnade’s are Indian elephants.
The Indian one-horned rhinos are a real success story and captive breeding at places like Whipsnade have helped to restock the recovering wild population.
We also got to see the herds of Bactrian camels from central Asia,
Pere David and fallow deer and yaks.
To top that I also got to see a wild hare and a lapwing in the enclosures though sadly wasn’t quick enough with the camera to catch them. (Mab says that next time we go anywhere, she’s leaving me in Sainsburys car park to photograph the herring gulls as they scavenge in the recycling, as I’d be just as happy doing that!)
The Jumbo Express is run by enthusiastic volunteers and the fare is £4.50 for grown up travellers on top of the normal zoo admission price . I think that is pretty good value to keep such great little engines on the tracks.