7 of the best train routes in the UK
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Editor’s note: As the travel industry reopens following COVID-19 shutdowns, TPG suggests that you talk to your doctor, follow health officials’ guidance and research local travel restrictions before booking that next trip. We will be here to help you prepare, whether it is next month or next year.
Travelling by train is often overlooked in favour of aeroplanes. But the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic include heavily restricted air travel with lots of new rules and people being nervous about being in crowded airports or planes.
So now is a good time to explore some of the truly magical train routes that are right here in the U.K. You can sit back and relax while enjoying extraordinary scenery, sometimes in the comfort of your own carriage, eat lovely food and get to your destination without having to worry about temperature checks, big queues or delays and coming into contact with loads of other people.
You can travel the almost the length of the country on some of these routes while others are more of a novelty experience — but all of them are special. There are lots to choose from, but here are some of our favourites.
1. The Caledonian Sleeper — London to Inverness
There’s something quite glamorous about a sleeper train — think Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express”. The Caledonian Sleeper departs from London Euston late in the evening and you travel all through the night to wake up to the sunrise over some of Scotland’s most pleasing scenery. Sights not to be missed are Loch Lomond, Loch Treig, Rannoch Moor and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
There is a range of options for all budgets, from a standard seat (do bear in mind this is a 10-hour plus journey) to fancy cabins with double beds and en suite facilities. There is also a restaurant onboard full of Scottish delicacies and 13 types of whisky. Have a few drams and then let the rolling carriages rock you to sleep. TPG U.K.’s General Manager and uber AvGeek Christian Kramer has even tried it — and loved it!
Start and finish: The Caledonian Sleeper departs from London Euston and stops at Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Fort William, Glasgow and Inverness. Prices start from about £48 one way for a seat and £145 for a classic cabin (shared bathroom).
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2. Settle to Carlisle
The train journey in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is fairly short at under two hours but the magnificent scenery makes up for it, full of viaducts, tunnels and the wilderness of the North Pennines, Eden Valley and Yorkshire Dales. Ribblehead Viaduct is the track’s most stand-out feature and is 32-metres high. The Settle to Carlisle Railway consists of 72 miles of track and was completed in 1876 and at the time was a tremendous engineering feat due to the challenging landscape. This is a lovely route to admire the sometimes brutal beauty of Yorkshire and once you get to Carlisle, there is plenty to do there too. It’s the county of Cumbria, with the Lake District and the Roman Wall on its doorstep.
Start and finish: Settle, North Yorkshire, to Carlisle, Cumbria. Prices start at about £22.50 one way.
3. Night Riveria Sleeper — London to Penzance
This overnighter transports you from the bustle of London to the wonder of the West Country — almost like going abroad, weather permitting. You depart at 11.45 p.m. and arrive the next day — eight hours later — in Penzance. Options range from a standard seat or a cabin with the use of shower rooms, complimentary continental breakfast and access to the onboard lounge. There is also a lounge at Paddington station for cabin passengers with complimentary tea, coffee and snacks. Once you wake up in Cornwall, a whole new adventure awaits.
Start and finish: London Paddington to Reading, Taunton and Exeter, before continuing on to Cornwall. The Night Riveria will be operating a limited service from 15 July with no cabins but the Great Western Railway website says this will be reintroduced gradually over the coming weeks.
4. Snowdon Mountain Railway
Climbing up Wales’ highest peak sound pretty exhausting — so why not hop on an 1896 locomotive instead? The charming little train goes at a snail’s pace — 5 mph — so you will have plenty of time to take in the majesty off the mountain. You begin your jaunt at Llanberis station, then crawl up Snowdon before having a 30-minute break at the top. There’s normally a cafe at the summit but at the moment, the company has temporarily closed this to ensure social distancing is adhered to. Currently, the train will stop at Clogwyn Station, about three-quarters of the way up. But don’t worry — it’s still “an experience above everything else”.
Start and finish: Base to (almost, for now) peak of Mount Snowdon, Wales. Tickets are from £15 return.
5. West Highland Line — Glasgow to Mallaig
Back to Scotland, this journey, aboard the Jacobite, takes in some of the country’s most remote and unspoiled landscapes and regularly features in “top train rides in the world” lists. You start your journey at Glasgow then chug along the 67 km route in a vintage steam locomotive. You may recognise Glenfinnan viaduct too from the “Harry Potter” films — it’s where the Hogwarts Express trundles along. You’ll travel through a daunting landscape of mountains, steep-sided lochs, and heather moors — and keep an eye out for red deer. You’ll also pass some of the smallest, remotest stations on the network — a few buildings, and nothing more for miles around.
Start and finish: Glasgow then the line splits at Crianlarich, carrying you either past Loch Awe to Oban, or high up to Rannoch Moor and on to Fort William and Mallaig. Tickets start at about £60 return to Mallaig.
Read more: 5 of the coolest ferry journeys from the UK
6. North Norfolk Railway — Sheringham to Holt
This is one of Britain’s best heritage railways and is also known as the Poppy Line — and is run by volunteers. You begin at the Victorian seaside town of Sheringham in Norfolk — where there’s a 1950s waiting room and restored signal box and end up in the Georgian town of Holt. The 10.5-mile journey, a truly nostalgic experience on a steam train, takes in beautiful coastal scenery that has been awarded Area of Outstanding National Beauty status. The poppy reference is because that area of the country is known as Poppy Land — a phrase coined by the famous 19th-century poet and theatre critic Clement Scott. The North Norfolk Railway is currently operating a special rate for July — a compartment ticket for four people is £35.
Start and finish: Sheringham to Holt, both in Norfolk.
7. The Belmond British Pullman — roundtrip from London via Kent
This is one for a pure splurge. You’ll be transported back to the Roaring Twenties when travelling by locomotive was the height of luxury and sophistication. After boarding at London Victoria with a glass of champagne you’ll chug out of the capital into Kent, taking in lovely scenery while being waited on hand and foot by liveried stewards. There is a range of excursions to choose from but one of the most popular is the Kent round trip, called the “Golden Age of Travel” experience. The train has 11 vintage carriages, restored to their former glory and delightfully, all have names. The ticket includes a five-course lunch and half a bottle of wine per person. Remember to dress smartly too, no scruffs here!
Start and finish: London Victoria. Prices start from £340 per person.
Glorious train rides in the U.K are a bit of a hidden treasure. Forget crowded commuter journeys when you can’t get a seat and with an underwhelming snack trolley — these routes are really unique and traverse through some of the most terrific scenery in the U.K. Best of all, you can see it all up close and personal, not from 38,000 feet!
Featured photo by Westend61/Getty Images
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