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With its new train exhibition and rich railway history, the famous town of Darlington is… the ultimate ticket to ride (but you don’t need to be a trainspotter to enjoy it)

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When the first locomotive rolled down the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825, with both coal and 600 passengers squeezed on board, it must have been quite a sight.

More than 10,000 spectators watched as it puttered along its inaugural 25-mile journey at 15 mph. 

It was a proud moment for the north-east – and a big party, too. The world’s first public railway with steam locomotives was up and running.

Yesterday, in Shildon, a small town eight miles north of Darlington, a new hall of early locomotives and historic carriages opened to much fanfare at Locomotion Museum.

Included are the world’s oldest oil tanker wagons, early snow ploughs, and a Bren gun carrier – as well as Locomotion No. 1, used on the Stockton and Darlington Railway, plus locomotive pioneer George Stephenson’s famous Rocket.

Tom Chesshyre explores Darlington, a town in northeast England. Above, its market hall

Tom Chesshyre explores Darlington, a town in northeast England. Above, its market hall 

Full steam ahead: Skerne Bridge played a part in the birth of the modern railway in 1825

Full steam ahead: Skerne Bridge played a part in the birth of the modern railway in 1825 

The first locomotive rolled down the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. Above: Bakehouse Hill, Market Square, Darlington

The first locomotive rolled down the Stockton and Darlington Railway in 1825. Above: Bakehouse Hill, Market Square, Darlington

Also opening this summer is Hopetown Darlington, a museum of the early days of the region’s railway. The idea is to form a ‘train tourist trail’ between Shildon, Darlington and Stockton.

Stockton is less ostentatiously marking the railway’s upcoming 200th anniversary. That said, it’s already home to a ‘moving sculpture’ called the Stockton Flyer. Every day at 1pm, this abstract metal depiction of a Locomotion No. 1 pops out of a stone plinth emitting whistles and steam; an extraordinary sight.

Darlington, though, is the obvious base for a visit to this train triumvirate.

Hopetown Darlington, a museum of the early days of the region¿s railway, is due to open this summer

Hopetown Darlington, a museum of the early days of the region’s railway, is due to open this summer 

'For evening entertainment look no further than the Hippodrome,' writes Tom

‘For evening entertainment look no further than the Hippodrome,’ writes Tom

Market hall (above) is home to a bustling bakers, a butcher¿s serving pies, as well as bars, and Mexican and Thai restaurants

 Market hall (above) is home to a bustling bakers, a butcher’s serving pies, as well as bars, and Mexican and Thai restaurants 

Visitors admire installations at Locomotion, a museum in the town of Shildon (above)

Visitors admire installations at Locomotion, a museum in the town of Shildon (above)

And there’s plenty of non-railway charm to investigate.

Start at the market hall. A former hub of the wool trade and leather-making, now it’s home to a bustling bakers, a butcher’s serving top-notch steak pies, as well as bars, and Mexican and Thai food stalls.

Nearby lanes weave down to the River Skerne, offering pleasant walks. One is to Skerne Bridge, where Locomotion No. 1 first crossed in 1825 – as captured by artist John Dobbin in a work to be shown at Hopetown Darlington.

More lanes are dotted with curious collectibles shops (for a break, try the excellent Echo 3 café on Clark’s Yard). For a stronger drink, try the Hole In The Wall on Horse Market.

For evening entertainment look no further than the Hippodrome, where £35 million has been spent revamping the theatre first opened in 1907. In its early years, the famous Russian ballet dancer Anna Pavlova performed at the Hippodrome. How did she arrive? By train, of course.

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