[AD] Thanks for having us, National Railway Museum! Find out more about the museum and the One Billion Journeys exhibition on their website.
The last time I visited York’s National Railway Museum was a good while ago, during my first year of university. Shattered and hungover from a dance competition and subsequent night out the previous evening, it’s safe to say I was in no fit form to really appreciate what was in front of me. Fast forward to present day, however, and I grabbed the chance to give it another go, hopefully in a much more human state, in light of the current #OneBillionJourneys exhibition taking place. With my best friend Izzy and Janice the power-chair in tow, off we went to find out what it was all about…
Consisting of portraits by Chinese photographer Wang Fuchun, the exhibition sheds light into people’s experiences during train journeys in and around China. From commuters joyfully leaning out of windows to take in the scenery, to millennials wearing face masks and snapping selfies, Fuchun’s selected highlights from over the past 40 years of his career insightfully capture how both transport and lifestyle have changed and evolved throughout that time.
Whilst the exhibition emphasises the universality of passenger’s experiences and the practicalities of train travel that many of us can relate to, Fuchun’s talent means that in these very images, we’re given glimpses into people’s personal stories too. We’ll see a couple sharing a bed on an overnight sleeper train, for example, at one time a common occurrence, and yet the way they’re looking at each other adds an undeniable and touching emotional depth to the image that immediately makes you inquisitive about their story.
Surrounded by these powerful images of people going about their day to day business, I couldn’t help but reflect on typical commuter behaviour here in the UK. As you’ll likely know, it’s not uncommon to zone out of the mundane routine of stepping on your train, finding a seat and plugging yourself into technology, only to emerge once you’ve reached your destination.
These days, how often do we make a deliberate effort to notice and be mindful of those around us? With this passive behaviour so ingrained, who knows what we could be missing in these so-thought mindless journeys whilst furiously tapping away at Candy Crush? When did train travel stop becoming an experience in its own right and simply become a means to an end instead? And who knew that a selection of carefully curated portrait images could so easily elicit these types of questions?
In my eyes, the most powerful art is that which makes you question the world around you and look at things in a different way. And in that respect, it’s safe to say that I found Wang Fuchun’s One Billion Journeys exhibition outstanding. The exhibition is on until the 11th August, and you can find more information on the National Railway Museum website. If you go, I’d absolutely love to hear your own thoughts.
Besides the exhibition, it was genuinely a joy to explore the Railway Museum again. You don’t have to be a train enthusiast to find plenty of points of interest at every turn. From the trains themselves to interactive displays and model railways, you’re never short of something to look at. With a kids’ playground and various food outlets scattered around (including dairy-free ice cream!!!), it makes for an ideal outing to enjoy with the family.
And what’s more, I was pleasantly surprised by the accessibility of the museum. Not only were there plenty of accessible facilities and thought given to disabled visitors, the entire museum consisted of flat and even floors with plenty of ramps and lifts alongside stairs: Janice and I were gliding along to our hearts’ content and living our very best lives.
There were accessible toilets towards the entrance and all food outlets were able to accommodate wheelchair users, although the adorable afternoon tea in the Countess of York was slightly more problematic: the entry to the wheelchair lift next to the steps was steeped and bumpy, with Janice needing a shove from the back, and staff being required to put down ramps in order for you to enter the restored rail carriage. If anybody reading this has taken their tea in there, I’d love to hear how you found it.
I’ll admit to being slightly gutted that the Steam Train ride outdoors wasn’t accessible, with the locomotive obviously being reflective of the time it was built, and nor was the miniature railway. However, we were kindly gifted a ride on the Mallard Experience, a motion simulator taking you on the journey of the Mallard’s experience of breaking the world speed record for a locomotive steam train: a record that still stands today. Having just come back from Disneyland Paris where my poorly sensitive brain was somewhat battered by motion simulators galore, it was a relief to find this one exciting enough to be entertaining, and yet gentle enough for those with sensory issues to enjoy too. I walked the few steps to the ride and up the stairs, leaving my powerchair safely with the friendly staff member operating the ride, and found the seats to be spacious with plenty of legroom. Given the dark and confined space of the ride, however, and the fact that you watch the doors close in on you once you’re seated, I’d advise proceeding with caution if you have issues with claustrophobia.
In conclusion, however, you’d be right to assume we had a fab day at the Railway Museum: never underestimate the difference that good accessibility practice and adjustments can make to a visitor’s experiences. I’m so glad we got to see Wang Fuchun’s One Billion Journeys exhibition for ourselves as well: it’s said a lot, but there really is something so special about being a tourist in your own city every now and then. From now on, I know we’ll be making a point of looking out for other upcoming events and exhibitions at the Railway Museum too. As well as regular trips back for the dairy-free ice cream. It’s always a good time for dairy-free ice cream.
[AD] Thanks for having us, National Railway Museum! Find out more about the museum and the One Billion Journeys exhibition on their website. Have you visited lately? What’s your favourite tourist attraction in York?