Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Exploring Britain By Rail

Whoever said that life is about the journey and not the destination certainly wasn’t a frequent traveller.  It seems that the more you travel, the more arduous your journeys become until you would rather not see another plane, coach or car ever again.  That certainly doesn’t apply for my favourite mode of travel though: rail travel

You’d think that I’d get tired of train journeys seeing as I commute every day but I don’t.  While I look to plane trips to South Africa and car trips up to Liverpool with a sense of dread, I still get excited about long journeys by rail, such as the one I took up to Scotland in 2010.

Rail travel around Great Britain is incredibly easy and it can be quite cheap too.  Not only that, but you can see some of the most incredible views and scenery from trains.  I’m going to tell you about some of my favourite rail journeys and others that would have been far more fun by rail.  Make sure you check out my five top tips for rail travel at the end of the post!

 

London to Liverpool Lime Street

Liverpool Lime Street

With the exception of my daily commute to work, my most frequently travelled route is between London Euston and Liverpool Lime Street.  Since 1993, I have been taking this train up north to see my father who lives in Rainhill.  It is one of my favourite journeys and I have fond memories of travelling through cloudy and moody landscapes as I listened to equally gloomy music on my Walkman. 

Liverpool also happens to be one of my favourite cities on earth, in fact it was my favourite until I visited New York in 2009.  Advance tickets start at just £12 and you can be in Liverpool in just two hours.

 

London to Betws-y-Coed via Chester and Llandudno

Betwys-Y-Coed station clock

Our journey to Betws-y-coed in Wales last year was eventful.  We drove over a nail on the way up and did not realise it for a really long time, which makes sense as it is a really long journey by car.  Imagine my chagrin then when we finally got there and I realised that there was a rail station across the road from our hotel?  While there are no direct trains to Betws-y-Coed from London, you can get there via Chester and Llandudno in about 4 hours.  Chester is one of my favourite towns in England so I would recommend spending a night there and exploring this fabulous walled city before making your way to Betws-y-Coed.

 

London to Bath

The Roman Baths at Bath

Rail tickets to Bath are ridiculously cheap, starting from £9.50 one way for Advance tickets.  Once in Bath, it is possible to explore this whole town by foot and to visit the exquisite Roman Baths.  We visited Bath back in 2008 and of all the places I’ve visited in Britain, this is the place I most want to return to.  Considering that it takes just 1:30 hours to get there from London Paddington, I’d say it is definitely time we planned a day trip!

 

London to Ryde Pier Head, Isle of Wight

The Isle of Wight

One of the best rail experiences I have had was on the old Isle of Wight Steam Railway but did you know that you can travel from London to the Isle of Wight by train?  In under 3 hours you can travel from London Waterloo to Ryde Pier Head and the cost of your rail tickets includes your ferry crossing from Portsmouth to the island.  Once there, it is really easy to travel around the island by bus or train, making this one of the most accessible of England’s islands. 

Tickets cost from £27.45 one way.

 

London to Gleneagles via Edinburgh

Gleneagles Rail Station

Without a doubt, the best journey I have ever taken by train was the one from London Kings Cross to Gleneagles in Scotland on East Coast Trains.  The journey is quite long at just under 6 hours but it was so exciting that we didn’t notice the length.  Our journey took us through York (where we tried in vain to spot York Minster), via Newcastle with its bridges and unique architecture (I’ve wanted to visit ever since), past breathtaking coastal scenery at Berwick-upon-Tweed, up through Edinburgh and finally onto the gorgeous Victorian rail station at Gleneagles. 

What impressed me most about this journey was the fast wi-fi, the comfort of the seats and the journey (it is not a Pendolino train) and the handy trolley service which you don’t get very often on train journeys anymore.

Did you know that you can book train tickets for any journey in the UK at EastCoast.co.uk? Unlike other sites, they do not charge booking fees or fees for credit or debit cards and they allow you to easily search between the fastest or cheapest journeys.

 

Five tips for rail travel in Britain

Always book your tickets in advance. The best time to book rail tickets is three months in advance but you can buy Advance fares as little as two weeks in advance.

Buy two single fares instead of a return ticket.  For some reason, Advance fares are available on tickets for single journeys so you may make the greatest savings if you book two single fares rather than one return fare.  Always check both options.

Always arrive on time. Trains in Britain wait for no one so always arrive with at least 30 minutes to spare.  If nothing else, it will give you time to secure a good seat and stow your luggage close to you.

Don’t use credit card pick up.  There is a nifty option to swipe your card at the station and pick up your tickets on the day you travel.  Nifty, that is, if your card isn’t lost, stolen or replaced by the bank in the meantime because when that happens, your booking pretty much becomes void and many a traveller has been forced to buy new tickets.  Have your tickets posted to you.

Use a railcard.  Network Railcards cost from £28 a year and offer 1/3 discount off most rail fares.  Therefore, by my calculations, you’d just need to spend £84 on rail travel in any one year to make this a worthwhile purchase.  Not only that but up to three adults can travel with you and they will also get 1/3 off their rail fare.  If you have a Gold Card (annual season ticket) like me, you also get 1/3 discount on rail journeys for groups of up to four adults.

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15 comments

  1. Great post! Very useful tips here. I'd love to go to the Isle of Wight. Must look into that.

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  2. I would like to visit it !
    Best regards from Paris,

    Pierre

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  3. Nice one. The East Coast mainline is my favourite bit -especially around Durham and Newcastle.

    Having said that, it's worth taking some of the smaller branch lines at the weekend. The trains Te much less frequent, but you'll find of new places that are a bit off the beaten track.

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  4. I did travel by rail with my parents, but not anymore..it is a bit difficult here in the north.
    I like your pictures, in trains and train stations, there is always something to take pictures of.

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  5. I agree.. train travel is almost always the best way for a tourist to travel between two cities. There is no parking problem, no squashiness, plenty of food and drink on hand, opportunity to read, great landscapes, and a chance to speak to locals.

    This northern summer I was in Spain and Portugal, and travelled everywhere by train. Easy, enjoyable trips!

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  6. I agree.. train travel is almost always the best way for a tourist to travel between two cities. There is no parking problem, no squashiness, plenty of food and drink on hand, opportunity to read, great landscapes, and a chance to speak to locals.

    This northern summer I was in Spain and Portugal, and travelled everywhere by train. Easy, enjoyable trips!

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  7. My last train travel in UK was to travel from London to Reading and back. Was fun :-) Loved the scenery on the way as well...

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  8. I would like to try various methods in order to get a good picture of the place I visit.

    I always visit the morning markets, walk around the hidden places in the city etc.

    There are always surprises out there.

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  9. I heartily agree with you! Trains are so much fun (especially when they run on time almost all the time, like in the UK, as opposed to in the US). I loved the train trips I took when I was there.

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  10. ever time i stop by your blog, i get the travel bug! your enthusiasm is infectious! your photos are great too!

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  11. Fabulous post..gorgeous images..you are so awesome Emm..wonderful insightful tips and advice!!
    Victoria

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  12. Emm,

    Another great post. Can't wait to get back to England and take one of these trips, but until then I just keep reading your fantastic blog.

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  13. I love travelling by train. It's easier and more comfortable than the bus. I only get to travel by train once a year though, on my annual trip to go wild camping in the Dales :-)

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  14. How did I miss this one?
    Excellent guide to travel.
    I spent many hours on the east coast line in days past.

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