We recently ventured on board of the historical Epping-Ongar Railway, an old steam train in the countryside just out of London which is very dog-friendly! Today we tell you all you need to know about this lovely thing to do with your dog for an alternative dog adventure, and some special dates you will want to try it.
Dog-friendly Epping-Ongar railway
If you are looking for a weekend out of the traffic and pollution, in a countryside location, but still within easy reach also without a car, doing something different than usual with your dog, then the historic steam train which runs between Epping and Ongar is for you. Our friends Humphrey and Hattie the Fox Terriers’ humans had tried it last year and highly recommended we went for a visit. This historic railway allows well-controlled dogs on board (apart from on board their dining trains) at no extra charge. We went there for a visit during Halloween’s weekend and today we tell you all about it so you can organise your own.
The adventure starts in Epping, which is technically in Essex, but can be conveniently reached from London with the Central Line from London. In fact, it is the last station on the red line: a 45-minute ride from Oxford Street (or 35-minute one if you come from East London’s Liverpool Street).
Once in Epping, you will find an heritage red double decker waiting right outside the tube station (don’t worry, you can’t miss it: it is the first thing you will see once you touch out, if you arrive at the right time for catching it, and there is a signpost too). The double decker will take you to North Weald’s historic railway station with a lovely short ride through Epping village, woodland and fields. Alternatively, if you travel by car, you can park it at North Weald station and take advantage of the old double decker for a leisure ride.
At North Weald station the first thing to do is heading to the ticket office, to exchange the ticket you purchased online (more about this at the bottom of the post) for a for an old-fashioned cardboard Edmundson train ticket. You will have the chance to stop at the cafe and shop (both dog-friendly). For the little ones (but apparently also adults can get on board) there is also a miniature railway on the platform (not included in the ticket price), in case you have time before your train. On the day of our visit, the Epping Forest Hawk and Owl Sanctuary was displaying some beautiful owls. We are not sure whether they will be there every time, but in case your dog does not do good with birds, you may want to keep your distance from them.
We found that the time between the bus arrival and the departure of the train was a bit tight, leaving little time for taking photos before heading outbound. If you opt for catching the following train, so you can spend more time at North Weald station before heading out, just keep in mind that there are only few trains throughout the day, so make sure to plan well your day!
A dog steam train ride
The train has a formidable steam locomotive, blowing a featherlight white cloud of steam, which swirls in the air and becomes a spread fog when the train passes under the bridges (the train also has a diesel locomotive for the way back). As we walked onto the platform and crossed the iron bridge over the railway to reach the train, we could admire the historic train in its magnificence and greet the two train drivers, dressed up in old working clothes, who were bustling in the locomotive’s cab.
During Halloween’s weekend, the volunteers on duty as assistants, ticket inspectors and hosts all dressed up in scary costumes (such as Freddy Krueger and others), and all carriages were decorated with spider webs, stickers on the windows and so on. They had even changed the name on the platform from North Weald to North Weird to be in theme. On a normal day you won’t find all that paraphernalia, of course, but if you visit it in December or under Easter the train will be dressed up in a festive fashion. This year the Santa Special is on from Friday 30th December and if you fancy a jolly ride you better hurry before all tickets are sold out. For such special event Santa himself will join the ride and there will be presents for children (only with special tickets).
The train’s carriages are all different inside, with older and newer cars. The older ones are definitely the most beautiful and romantic, with wooden frames, old tables and seats, which throw you back in time. The train can become very crowded, with many children excited about the ride, as we realised as soon as we got on board. We managed to find a quiet seat and soon the whistle was blown and we were ready to go.
We very much enjoyed the pleasant views on the way to Ongar over the fields, spotting many cows and sheep. By the time we arrived in Ongar, around 20 minutes later, we were looking forward to visit the village and take photos. There were a few dog bowls on the platform, where Argo could have a drink, and we were told that the manager is a big dog lover and has three German Shepherd dogs too!
Ongar station is old and lovely and its old Ladies Waiting Room was converted in the Penny Salon Micro-Gallery. When we visited, it was hosting a photography exhibition, all about trains, and we could vote for our favourites. The Penny Salon is normally open at train times, but will be closed until 28h December. It also has a “Buffet Stop” for hot and cold drinks, confectionery and ice-cream.
A dog-friendly lunch at the pub in Ongar
Ongar village is a bit different from what we had expected. Don’t picture it as a little gem, because in fact is a quite ordinary village, developing on an ordinary main road (Ongar High Street), which on a Sunday looked quite desert. Our plan was having a walk in the village and stop for a Sunday roast, as it was quite chilly. If it is a nice day, though, you can also choose to take advantage of the picnic tables at Ongar and North Weald stations.
The first eatery you will find walking on the high street is the Cock Tavern, a lovely dog-friendly pub which has even a sweet pub dog called John MacLane. We stopped there on our way back (I will tell you about our lunch in a bit), for a drink and a bowl of chips.
Futher down the street (on the opposite side), there is The King’s Head, a very nice-looking venue. They have a water bowl and a biscuits bowl at the entrance, and even a dog blanket, so we thought that they must be super dog-friendly. We were surprised to discover that dogs are not allowed in the whole venue though: they are banned from the restaurant area (which is the largest one), so you will need to sit either at the entrance next to the front door, in the rooms next to it – which do not have that many tables -, or outside in the terrace (which was closed on the day of our visit).
Continuing on the main road, with just a few minutes walk you will soon reach at the end of the centre of the village. If you walk until you find a roundabout you will find another pub, called The Two Brewers. We enquired about their dog policy and were told that dogs are allowed in the bar area and in a separate room, but we were unimpressed by the slot machines and a large TV in the room, so we decided to look for another pub.
We ended up having lunch at d0g-friendly The Stag pub, which can be reached keeping on the main road and turning left at the first cross (on Brentwood Road). The personnel was very friendly and they made a fuss to Argo, but we weren’t impressed with the food. As we arrived we were told that the only food choice for the day was the Sunday roast, which came in three options, and nothing else. We ordered the beef roast, but the meat arrived cold and the vegetables didn’t taste great (we should have checked Tripadvisor’s reviews beforehand…).
If after lunch you fancy a walk, there seems to be a path …, but we didn’t explore that part. To organise your day, you can also find some suggested plans/itineraries on Epping-Ongar Railway’s website here.
After lunch, a walk and a drink at the Cock’s Tavern we were ready to catch the train back from Ongar station, and conclude our day spending some time at North Weald’s station before catching the double decker back to Epping tube station and getting the red line back to town.
Practical information and next dates for Epping-Ongar Railway
Tickets for the Epping-Ongar Railway include the bus and the train (for how many times during the day you wish) and cost £17.50/20 for adults and for children (who with certain tickets will get a gift) in occasion of the Santa Special and available here. Dates are fares for normal rides in January 2019 have not been released yet. For the Halloween ride we paid £13 per ticket. They required the ticket purchased online to be printed and exchanged for an old-fashioned Edmundson ticket at the ticket office.
For the Santa Special there will also be Christmas themed stalls, Redbridge Brass Band and complimentary mulled wine and minced pies for adults.
Epping-Ongar Railway is generally open over weekends, but there are times when it is kept closed, so make sure you check their official calendar here. There are some special events, such as the Santa Special which runs through December.
For the Santa Special train depart from North Weald at 9:45, 11:25, 13:05, 14:45 and 16:25.
How to get there
- By tube: Central line to Epping station
- By car: you can reach North Weald station by car and there is (limited) parking just outside. In case you opt for this mean of transport make the most of the experience by using both the bus and the train throughout the day.
We will publish more photos from this dog-friendly experience on our Facebook page soon.
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