Embrace the rise of slow travel by crossing the UK by train. Not only will you be choosing a more environmentally friendly transport option, but you’ll also have the opportunity to admire the UK’s varied landscapes along the way. Gazing out of the window, take in the fields of green rushing past, peek into the back gardens of quaint track-side homes, and admire the architecture of the UK’s historic railway stations as you pause for passengers. In fact, the UK is the historic home of train travel, with the first steam-powered journey having taken place near Merthyr Tydfil in South Wales in 1804. So sit back, relax and watch the world go by; allow Plum Guide to introduce you to the best train journeys in the UK.
Follow the Riviera Line from Exeter to Paignton
One of the most picturesque train journeys in the UK, the so-called ‘Riviera Line’ travels between Exeter Central to Paignton daily. Following the south-west coast of England, you’ll find nothing except the beach between the train and the English Channel at many points along the route, meaning that its views of the sea are unparalleled. There are also some excellent stops along the way, including the famous seaside town of Torquay, where Agatha Christie was born, the traditional coastal town of Dawlish and the medieval city of Exeter. For the best views, make sure you take in the stretch between Dawlish Warren and Teignmouth, where you’ll race across the coast past children building sand castles and hardy swimmers going for a dip in the sea.
Jump aboard the Caledonian Sleeper
The enchantingly named Caledonian Sleeper whisks travellers from London overnight into the far north of Scotland. Don’t be put off by bedding down on a moving train – you can expect double, en-suite sleeper cabins, as well as wifi, room service and complimentary Scottish toiletries. In the morning, wake up to watch sweeping Scottish landscapes trundle past your private window. And make sure you’re awake for the stretch between Glasgow and Fort William, which runs along the West Highland line, as you’ll rise 1,350 feet, passing snowy mountains and undulating braes as you glide along Loch Lomond.
Ben Nevis, Fort William, Scotland
Travel the Cambrian Coast Line from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth
Why not take a tour of the Welsh coast by rail? Travelling through stunning countryside, the Cambrian Coast Line journeys from Machynlleth to either Aberystwyth or Pwllheli. Take the Aberystwyth branch to pass the patchwork of hills that rise above Dovey Junction, before continuing along the coast through the seaside village of Borth. The last stop is the historic town of Aberystwyth, which is a wonderful place to stop for a night or two, with its waterfront buildings looking out over the River Ystwyth and stunning eighteenth-century Old College. The other option is to take the line north up the coast from Dovey Junction, where you can stop at the seaside resorts of Aberdyfi and Tywyn, and the coastal towns of Tonfanau, Pwllheli and more. In fact, it’s these popular seaside resorts that keep the route going, as it has been threatened with closure since the 1960s. Hop on one of the most beautiful train journeys in the UK while you still can.
Explore the pretty villages along the Cotswold Line
The Cotswold Line passes through one of the most charming parts of England, the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, taking in a number of historical sights along its 86.5-mile route. It starts in the enchanting city of Oxford, with its stunning collection of soaring spires and castle-like college buildings. From there, you’ll stop at Combe, a pretty village peppered with limestone cottages, after which you’ll be able to spot the remains of the North Leigh Roman Villa to the south. You’re now within the Cotswolds itself, with delightful towns including Charlbury and Finstock both providing excellent stopping-off points. Between Paxford and Honeybourne, you’ll be able to spot the stunning Northwick Park estate, which dates back to medieval times, before whizzing through the Campden Tunnel, the site of the 1851 riot the ‘Battle of Campden Tunnel’. Finally, you’ll pass below the Malvern Hills before the line ends at Hereford, after which passengers who’ve come all the way from Oxford will have travelled through four separate English counties.
Oxford University, UK
Take the Flying Scotsman from London to Edinburgh
Not only one of the most beautiful train journeys in the UK but arguably the most famous train journey in the world, the Flying Scotsman was named in 1924 for its route between London and Edinburgh. The recognisable train, with its racing green locomotive and maroon-and-white carriages, set a world record for its speed in 1934. Although the train retired from regular service in 1963, it underwent a ten-year restoration in 2006, and it’s once again possible to book a trip. The Flying Scotsman continues to take the occasional journey between London and Edinburgh, as well as shorter trips from Edinburgh to Fife, through East Anglia, across the Surrey Hills, or from London to Oxford, Cambridge, Southampton and Salisbury.
The Flying Scotsman train pulling into Waverley Station