Britain By Train – The Basics

Britain By Train – The Basics

Britain By Train � The Basics

Britain By Train – The Basics

You will need to understand which main routes go where. To the north two main lines and their ancillaries predominate. The East Coast main line leaves from London King’s Cross and shoots north through a number of cathedral cities (like Peterborough and Durham) to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and eventually along a splendid section of North Sea cliffs to Edinburgh. It is one of the world’s fastest main lines, the hunting ground of the 125mph High Speed Train. Many places like Leeds and Scarborough are served by branch lines, while the East Coast main line itself continues beyond Edinburgh across the famous Forth Bridge and later the Tay Bridge and along another fabulous sea cliff section into Aberdeen, a route branching off soon after the Forth Bridge for the former Highland Railway route of spectacular scenery to Inverness, capital of the Scottish Highlands.

The West Coast main line, Britain’s busiest trunk railway, leaves from London Euston and crosses a less spectacular and flatter Midland countryside until beyond Crewe. Birmingham is on a loop just off the main line but served by some through trains, while Manchester, Liverpool and North Wales are among many places served by secondary routes branching off. Beyond Crewe and Preston, though the route includes only a fleeting and not impressive view of the west coast or Irish Sea, the train skirts the Lake District over a summit at Shap; and beyond Carlisle even more spectacular mountain scenery is passed much of the rest of the route to Glasgow.

From London to Scotland and back, of course ideally you go one way and return the other. The classic rail circle is indeed more ambitious, stretching both routes far to the north, out from King’s Cross to Edinburgh and Inverness and then along one of the world’s most scenic railways through mountains and alongside lochs (the Scottish word for lakes) to Kyle of Lochalsh; sometimes there is a boat from here to Mallaig, at other times you have to cross the ferry to Skye and take a bus along the opposite shoreline and back by a second ferry to Mallaig. The train journey back south goes from Mallaig to Fort William, where you climb Rannoch Moor, far from roads where even the Post Offices are on the stations. That brings you into Glasgow, where you change stations for the run back to London Euston (perhaps diverting to take in the Lakes or Chester).

Between the East and West Coast main lines, another main route starts at the amazing Gothic station of St Pancras in London and runs through St Albans, Leicester and Nottingham to Sheffield, with a now little-used and threatened continuation of a former popular route to Scotland via Leeds and Carlisle over the Settle & Carlisle, nicknamed the Long Drag because of its severe mountain gradients. This St Pancras-Sheffield route is joined to the only trunk cross-country route in the whole of Britain, North West/South West from Newcastle, York and Leeds through Sheffield, Derby, Birmingham and Cheltenham, many trains continuing to South Wales and Devon and Cornwall. There is an interesting route between York, Leeds, Manchester and Liverpool, but north of the Yorkshire/Lancashire industrial belt the East and West Coast main lines have surprisingly little to do with each other. Effectively there is only a link between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Carlisle before you are deep into Scotland with a busy Edinburgh-Glasgow link.

Further south there is much more varied communication. The route from Paddington to the West is of an especially high standard. Trains race to Cardiff and South Wales through the Severn Tunnel, to Bath and Bristol, and to Glorious Devon and the Cornish Riviera through endlessly interesting scenery with glimpses of the River Thames, white horses cut out of the chalk hills, ancient villages, and in the case of the Devon and Cornwall line travel for almost 100 miles out of sight of towns and industry and eventually travel under red sandstone cliffs along a sea wall between Dawlish and Teignmouth. The High Speed Train is ubiquitous out of Paddington as it is from King’s Cross, geography being distorted by the shortness of journey times, opening up opportunities for weekend breaks and short holidays not dreamt of even twenty-five years ago.

Paddington is also the station for Oxford, with a reasonable service, as Cambridge has from Liverpool Street, though never try and get between these two great university towns by public transport. Liverpool Street is also the starting point of the main route into East Anglia with Norwich an excellent place to change from train to rented car for a tour of another of England’s uniquely different regions, with famous churches and houses, flat lands, broads (extensive waterways you can boat on) and a coastline loved by yachtsmen and naturalists.

To the south of London, down to the South Coast and the ferry ports for France and the rest of the Continent, distances are shorter but railway geography far more complicated, routes built by rival companies still running closely parallel across the undulating landscape (including rich fruit and hop-growing country of Kent, the Garden of England). Two routes run to both Canterbury and Dover, from London Victoria and Charing Cross (and at peak times other termini), making interesting round-trip possibilities. Victoria to Brighton, one of the largest resorts with something for everyone (and making itself memorable even on a fleeting visit) takes only an hour from Victoria.