Whether as a means of getting from A to B or just as a fun day out, a rail journey is a relaxing way to travel and Britain is home to some of the most scenic in the world.
Although much of our rail network was famously closed down by Dr Beeching in the 1960s, the tireless work of many volunteers and campaigners means that lots of fantastic stretches remain or are being reopened, either as part of the main network or as independent tourist attractions.
Wherever you go, you won't be far from a wonderfully scenic journey and here are some of our favourites that can easily be fitted into many trips around Britain.
1. The Jacobite Express – Fort William to Mallaig
A popular day trip from Fort William, the journey on the Jacobite Express steam train from Fort William to Mallaig is undoubtedly one of the most impressive in Britain, if not the world.
Made more famous by the Harry Potter films, in which the ‘Hogwarts Express’ is seen travelling across the stunning Glenfinnan Viaduct, the journey is through dramatic Highlands scenery, passing towering mountains, sparkling lochs and small villages, before arriving at Mallaig, the small fishing port that is the jumping off point for the Isle of Skye. If you are returning to Fort William, enjoy a stroll around the town and some fresh local seafood before re-boarding the train!
Booking in advance is almost always necessary and can be done online at the link below.
2. The Settle-Carlisle Railway
The journey from Settle in North Yorkshire to Carlisle in Cumbria has long been a favourite with fans of rail travel. The journey crosses the rugged, open scenery of the western Yorkshire Dales and the remote Eden Valley as well as taking in some of the country’s most impressive railway engineering. This includes the striking Ribblehead Viaduct, 400 metres long and made up of 24 arches. The Victorian viaduct was built by a huge workforce in dangerous conditions between 1870 and 1864 and was recently the focus of an ITV drama, Jericho.
Trains run several times a day and you can start in Leeds as well as getting on at Settle, and travel as far north as you like, before returning to your starting point. Many of the stops make great starts for walks in the gorgeous countryside before taking the train back.
For the most part, these are normal electric trains, as this route is part of the main rail network, but the ‘Fellsman’ steam train is starting to run along this line again in summer 2017, after a break due to track damage in 2016. Dates are limited and should be booked as far in advance as possible.
3. North Yorkshire Moors Steam Railway – Pickering to Whitby
Running for 24 miles across the remote, open scenery of the North York Moors from the charming market town of Pickering to the lively fishing port of Whitby, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway is a great, nostalgic day out.
All trains are pulled by a heritage steam locomotive and stop at pretty villages in the moors – one great option is to get off at the village of Grosmont and walk the easy four miles back to Goathland (made famous in the 80s and 90s as the setting of gentle police drama, Heartbeat!), before re-boarding the train.
4. The Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways – Caernarfon to Blaenau Ffestiniog
Running for a combined total of nearly 40 miles, the Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland railway covers a beautiful mixture of coastline, countryside and mountain scenery, as well as starting or ending at one of Britain’s most impressive castles.
The route starts in Caernarfon, where the castle can be visited and runs past the foot of Mount Snowdon, Wales’ highest mountain, and along the coast to Porthmadog. Here you connect to the Ffestiniog Railway, the world’s oldest narrow gauge railway, which heads through the Snowdonia National Park to the former slate quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog.
The route climbs over 700 feet from sea level into the mountains, through pastures and forests, and past lakes and waterfalls.
5. The South Devon Railway - Buckfastleigh to Totnes
At just seven and a half miles long, a trip on the South Devon Railway isn’t going to take all day. But what it lacks in length, it makes up for in beauty, as it travels along the valley of the gorgeous River Dart. Trains are a mixture of steam engines and heritage diesel engines. You can even become a driver for the day, although this needs booking well in advance!
There are several other beautiful heritage railways in this area, including the Dartmouth Steam Railway, which makes the short journey between the popular town and Agatha Christie’s summer house at Greenway, and the West Somerset Railway, the longest heritage railway in England, at 20 miles, covering some lovely coastline and countryside, and offering at a stop in the historic village of Dunster, with its medieval architecture and impressive castle.
This is just a small selection of the many scenic railway journeys available across Britain. If you would like to arrange a self-drive tour around Britain that takes in some fantastic railway journeys, do get in touch.