The golden era of steam is being vividly brought back to life at many restored railways and museums across the UK. And people who remember this romantic age of the railways are joining railway preservation societies or even learning to drive one of the glorious steam locomotives.

But you can also simply let the train take the strain on a steam-hauled excursion which recreates the heyday of rail transport, when famous locomotives hauled grand carriages containing hundreds of passengers to all corners of the British Isles.

Today, such journeys are possible on mainline routes, thanks to enterprising companies like Steam Dreams, which organises Cathedral Express days out to a variety of destinations in the UK.

Graeme Bunker, managing director of Steam Dreams, said: "Many older travellers recall their youth when steam trains were the only way to go to school or on holiday. The historic carriages, the sound of the engine's whistle and the smoke drifting past the window evoke memories of that bygone age.

"For younger people who have never experienced steam engines, there is a chance to experience something that they will have read about in the Harry Potter books."

If you choose to travel in one of the premier dining cars you can savour a Champagne breakfast or brunch - depending on the time of day - on the outward journey, and dinner is served on the return journey.

The tables are perfectly set with crisp tablecloths and flowers and attentive staff ensure that you have a most memorable journey.

Social pleasantries are very much part of the journey, as most tables seat four people.

Among the passengers on a recent trip to Canterbury were Dr Rolf Smith, and his wife Lindsey, from north Oxfordshire.

Dr Smith, a physician, is a member of the Severn Valley Railway preservation society.

He said: "It was a perfect day out, we were looked after by friendly staff who served fine food throughout the journey."

The trip brought back many memberies of Dr Smith's childhood when he travelled on the Cambrian Lines in North Wales.

His love of railways has also enouraged him to start training as a train ticket inspector at the Severn Valley Railway, where he has been a member since 1975.

This year's programme will feature more than 40 steam excursions around the UK.

Mr Bunker said: "This year we are using a more varied range of locomotives than ever. Some, such as 70013 Oliver Cromwell, a class seven Britannia, will be making their first runs since restoration.

"The locomotive entered service in East Anglia in May 1951, and hauled the very last steam train operated by British Railways on August 11, 1968."

Steam enthusaists in Oxfordshire have the chance to join an excursion to Warwick and Stratford upon Avon on May 14, or October 15. Ticket prices will be premier dining £129, first class £65 and standard class £39.50.

The first trip will be hauled by 60019 Bittern, an A4 class locomotive designed by Sir Nigel Gresley. It has a streamlined elegance - the railway equivalent of Concorde.

The second trip will be hauled by 30777 Sir Lamiel. Built in 1925 by the Southern Railway to haul express passenger trains across its network, Sir Lamiel is the only survivor of the King Arthurs and can usually be seen on the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire, near Loughborough, when not hauling railtours.

The Cathedral Express programme also includes days out to Canterbury, Salisbury, York, Exeter, Norwich, Chester, Weymouth, Chichester and Lincoln. All these excursions depart from London stations.

For more information about the Cathedral Express tours, call 01483 209888 or visit the website:

If you want to take your fascination with steam on to the footplate, you can take the controls of a steam loco on a driving course at one of the railway centres within a short drive of Oxfordshire.

The Buckinghamshire Railway Centre, Quainton, near Aylesbury, offers a range of courses priced between £250 and £500. The next dates are in September and October. For more details, call 01296 655 720 or visit the website:

At Didcot Railway Centre you can relive the golden age of the Great Western Railway during a locomotive experience day which costs from £196 per person. For more information, call 01235 817200. or visit the website

The Gloucester and Warwickshire Railway offers the chance to be at the controls of a steam locomotive pulling a rake of coaches along the ten-mile line from Toddington, near Evesham, to Cheltenham Racecourse station.

The trip passes through the 693 yard-long Greet Tunnel, the second longest on a preserved railway.

There are places on courses in August and September and each costs £275 per person. For more details, call 01242 621405, or visit the website: