Planes, trains and automobiles - ways to get behind the wheel

Behind the wheel at the Lotus Driving Academy

Behind the wheel at the Lotus Driving Academy - Credit: Archant

The thrill of driving a racing car around a circuit, flying solo over Norwich or firing the boiler of a steam loco. SIMON PARKIN looks at ways to get behind the controls, accelerator and steering wheel in planes, trains and automobiles.


Norwich School of Flying

Hanger 10, Norwich Airport, 01603 403107,

Norwich School of Flying, based at Norwich Airport, is the longest established flying school in Norfolk. They are a family-run affair who offer a wide range of flight training from trial lessons to full private pilots licence courses and advanced ratings. The owner and chief flying instructor Brian Illston has over 30 years of experience in aviation, both in airlines and flight training.

A large number of local would-be pilots have taken to the controls of their fleet of modern light aircraft over the past 25 years. They offer 'one to one' tuition with qualified, experienced instructors and have their own resident examiner to handle all ground and flight tests.

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Flight lessons are usually two hours in duration allowing ample time for pre-flight briefing, the flying (usually one hour) and that all important post-flight briefing. However they only actually charge for the time your off the ground. Training lessons cost from £138 for hour. The aircraft used are two-seater PA38 Tomahawks or four-seater PA28 Cherokees.

Anglia Flight

Old Norwich Road, Horsham St. Faith, Norwich, 0871 9864052,

Established in 1990, Anglia Flight are also based at Norwich Airport, on the north side of the airport, adjacent to the Control Tower and Norwich Aviation Museum.

They offer not only the basic courses, but also more advanced flying — including aerobatics and formation flying! — the only flying school in Norwich to do so.

They aim to put the prospect of learning of fly within most peoples ability and budget with tailor-made training catering to individual needs, both practically and financially.

Before committing to lessons you can take a trial flight that can either be in the form of a first lesson and can include aerobatics in one of our two seat training aircraft. Or you and up to two friends could enjoy a flight to see if it's something that's genuinely for you (if it sends you into a vertigo-induced haze, probably not).

A 30 minute trail flight is £75, one-hour for £135. Dual training is £143 per hour, plus the airport landing fee of £9.90.

Old Buck Aero Club

Old Buckenham Airfield, 01953 861337,

Old Buckenham Aero Club is a small, friendly and relaxed flying school that prides itself in having a professional but relaxed approach to aviation. It is staffed by experienced instructors with both military and civil backgrounds who, over the years, have had a high success rate in helping students gain their pilot's licences. The best way to start is with a trial lesson designed to give beginners an introduction to flying including hands-on experience. They offer trials in a PA-28 modern light aircraft ranging from 20 minutes to an hour (£70-£199). But if you fancy something special try a trail in their PT17 Vintage Stearman bi-plane (£60 for 20 minutes-£480 for an hour). This truly different even for qualified pilots so its an unforgettable experience for those who would just like to try it once.

If you feel that flying is for you, dual flight lessons are £189 per hour, with no hidden extra charges. Again if you want to do it in style you can continue to learn in the vintage biplane (£480 per hour).

Seething Airfield

Toad Lane, Seething, 01508 550453,

Learning to fly at Seething is different. They're not commercial organisation, they're a club and as such all their instructors are volunteers, though they are all fully qualified to the same high standards as commercial schools.

Also there is no additional cost for the ground school as these will also be taken by suitably experienced volunteer members, so once you have become a member you simply pay for the cost of each flight.

They do both the Private Pilots Licence Training and a number of more advanced courses.

To begin with you will remain close to the airfield, flying circuits, and generally becoming familiar with handling the aircraft. Once you and your instructor are happy with that you will begin to venture further afield as you learn to use the navigation equipment. Call for full details of course, dates and prices.

Sky Blue Flight Training

Great Massingham Airfield, near Fakenham, 01362 697932,

Sky Blue Flight Training is run by David Clarke and is now based at Great Massingham. They aim to offer friendly approach to what can be the daunting step of taking flight training.

The school operates two aircraft; a Piper PA 28 Warrior and an EV 97 Eurostar, offering flight training for both the NPPL (National Private Pilots Licence) and the new EASA-PPL.

Should you be keep to take your training all the way they offer more advance training such as the IMC rating and the night qualification. However if you're a beginner just wanting to get off the ground their dual training hourly rate is £120. They do a five hour short course for £600 that is a great introduction to being a pilot, while there is also a 10 hour course for £1,200 that will get you all the way to flying solo. They also offer trial flight vouchers (£60 for 30 minutes, £120 for an hour) that make a great gift.


North Norfolk Railway

Sheringham Station, 01263 820800,

It's a sweeping generalisation, but there are two types of people who travel on the Poppy Line. Those who have memories of the great days of mainline steam train travel. And there are those, an ever increasing percentage of course, who do not.

Although steam services still run on the mainline, they are rare indeed and your average mainline train traveller today will hardly wax lyrical about their trip, mainly because it's a chore not a pleasure.

In comparison the word picturesque could have been invented for line that passes along the scenic North Norfolk coastline.

And if you've always harboured dreams of being a train driver the good news is they run regular driver-experience days. The day gives you the opportunity to have a complete round trip over the full length of our line from Sheringham to Holt with a steam engine.

On the footplate alternate between driving and firing, spending five miles doing each and along the way learn about the workings of the engine and the operation of our railway under the guidance of the crew.

The experience days are £425 and are offered on several dates throughout the year but number is limited as they only take six participants a day. However each participant can take up to six guests.

Bure Valley Railway

Aylsham Station, 01263 733858,

It is only a nine-mile journey from Aylsahm to Wroxham but with the variety of countryside, the 17 bridges including a 105-foot-long girder bridge over the River Bure at Buxton, and the long tunnel under Aylsham bypass you a trip on the Bure Valley Railway can feel you have travelled much further during the 45-minute trip. The railway is built on the track-bed of the East Norfolk Railway line which first opened in 1880. The railway is now run by a small board of directors and staff with an invaluable team of volunteers. It has become one of England's premier narrow gauge railways, offering a service of both steam and diesel trains passing through scenery which is as varied, interesting and beautiful as any to be found on any railway journey.

And they offer both one-off driver experience days and a range of one or two day courses designed to get you behind the regulator of its unique narrow gauge locos. The one-day steam loco course is £225 (next date April 28) and you will learn about the principles on which a steam locomotive works and get plenty of time at the controls. The £325 two-day course (next date June 28-29) expands this to take in talks and demonstrations and the preparation of the locomotive. There are also advanced course for those truly in love with the age of steam.

Mid-Norfolk Railway

Dereham Station, 01362 690633,

The Mid-Norfolk Railway Preservation Trust was established in 1995 with the aim of buying and restoring the then disused line between Dereham and Wymondham. They currently own 28km of track and track-bed through some of central Norfolk's most attractive countryside, making them one of the largest preserved railways in the UK. The experience and journey is enjoyable whether you're a railway buff or just someone who fondly remembers the bygone age of railway travel.

And there is no better place to see it from than the footplate. They run driver courses offering the chance to fulfil your childhood dream. Under the guidance of qualified instructors, you will learn the skills necessary to safely control and operate locos of over 100 tons and 1,500 horsepower. There are four levels of course —Bronze to Platinum — ranging in price from £275 to £800. The cheapest covers four people, two of whom will get to drive at least 11 miles. The most expensive includes more tuition and a total of 44 miles of driving.


Lotus Driving Academy

Potash Lane, Hethel, 01953 608547,

The track is clear and as the mid-mounted engine roars behind you, you flick through the close-ratio gears, aim the nose at the apex of an unravelling corner, and feel the grip and responsiveness of one of Lotus' hottest, track-developed sports cars. There are no speed limits. You're a member of the Lotus Driving Academy.

The benefit of having the base of the famous sport car manufacturer on our doorstep is that we can all get to experience being behind the wheel. Rev up and explore highly acclaimed international tracks under the guidance of our world-class instructors, honing your skills behind the wheel of the exhilarating Evora GT4 - as driven by our famous works drivers – discovering for yourself what being a Lotus racer is all about.

Academy courses are designed to give drivers both practical training towards the Lotus Licence, a structured, competencies-based programme. Drivers qualify by achieving three levels with an optional tailored personal tuition stage. The challenging circuits are the perfect environment for improving your skills — Jim Clark, Graham Hill, Ayrton Senna, Nigel Mansell and Mika Hakannen are just some of the F1 legends who have driven the 2.25-mile test-track.

The basic Lotus Experience is £160, while the Lotus Licence courses cost £499 for Level 1, £699 for Level 2, £899 for Level 3and £1,399 for personal tution, but prices may vary depending on individual requirements. There are course dates throughout March and April.

STR Driver Training

Mountergate, Norwich, 01603 626668,

As well as servicing our everyday run-arounds, Norwich-based motor group STR are also involved in racing car and bikes and do a nice sideline in driver experiences and courses — ranging from the first chance for 15-year-olds to get behind the wheel to handling powerful sports cars around a skid-pan to gain your track racing licence. Basically if it's a petrolhead's dream, they offer it.

Perhaps most exciting are the on-track driving courses including one-to-one race instruction days to develop circuit driving skills. Whether you're a novice or budding amateur, instructor Shawn Taylor will be able to tailor a programme guaranteed to thrill.

Equally good fun is the half-day skid-pan experiences (£139) which offer the opportunity to develop advanced skid control skills. Or why not try the juggernaut experience (£179) — the chance to be king or queen of the road at the wheel of a mighty 14-gear artic truck.

Snetterton Driver Experience

Snetterton Race Circuit,

Snetterton hosts a variety of races including the British Touring Car Championship, British F3 and British Superbikes — and it could also host you.

Like many tracks in the UK, Snetterton started out as an RAF airfield. When the race track was built it was definitely designed for speed. This design prompted teams such as Lotus and Le Mans Norfolk Racing Co to bring their cars to the track for testing purposes.

Over the last few years the circuit has become a popular destination for those seeking a race track driving experience in high-end supercars including Aston Martins, Lamborghinis, Porche and Ferraris.

It is one of a number of circuits where Driving Experiences run experience days. Packages include instructions and lessons from a qualified instructor, including gearing for each portion of the track, when to begin braking and when to accelerate when you come out of the turn, before you are allowed to take the wheel on your own. Prices are typically around £75-£100, depending on the time and car.