A GREAT British railway journey can be one of life’s true pleasures.
If you find prices for days out on heritage steam railways a little steep, settle down and soak up the scenery from the comfort of a reasonably priced National Rail train.
ROB CROSSAN discovers six of the UK’s best train journeys which, once we can travel again, you can hop on to right away.
Lancaster to Windermere
START on the West Coast Main Line route from pretty Lancaster where you’ll get a brief view of the vast expanse of Morecambe Bay before passing through Carnforth station – the location for that classic scene from 1945 movie Brief Encounter.
From here, the gentle climb deep into the Cumbrian fells begins.
When you get to Oxenholme, change on to the local Windermere train and everything slows down further.
You’ll trundle through Staveley and Kendal once you’re within the Lake District National Park, before finally arriving at Windermere station.
Here you’re only a mile away from the famous lake and the famous steamers that ply the deep blue waters 364 days a year.
GO: LANCASTER TO WINDERMERE
JOURNEY TIME: 45 minutes
ADULT RETURN: £14.90
BOOK AT: avantiwestcoast.co.uk
Penzance to St Ives
START your journey at the south-western corner of the UK mainland – and what a start.
There are fine views of the ancient tidal island of St Michael’s Mount and sweeping Mount’s Bay.
Once you’ve crossed the Cornish peninsula at Marazion, you’ll reach little St Erth station where you need to change on to the minuscule branch line to St Ives.
One of the lines that just managed to escape the cuts made by Dr Beeching in the 1960s, it offers thrilling views across St Ives Bay to Hayle Sands.
Once you arrive at St Ives it’s only a very short walk from the station to the Tate Gallery and the wonderful Barbara Hepworth Museum.
GO: PENZANCE TO ST IVES
JOURNEY TIME: 40 minutes
ADULT RETURN: £4.80
BOOK AT: gwr.com
Holyhead to Cardiff
THE “Gerald” train is one of the British network’s most wonderful hidden delights.
Known as “the political train”, it is used mostly as a north to south Wales service for Welsh MPs to get to the Welsh Parliament.
It’s also one of the last services to offer full breakfasts and evening meals cooked from scratch.
The route begins along the North Wales coastline, where you’ll fly past Conwy Castle and the beaches of Rhyl and Colwyn Bay before heading straight past the Racecourse Ground of Wrexham FC, recently bought by Hollywood’s Ryan Reynolds.
The train then cuts into England as it snakes down the border before brushing past the Brecon Beacons National Park on the final stretch before ending up in the Welsh capital.
GO: HOLYHEAD TO CARDIFF
JOURNEY TIME: 4.5 hours
ADULT SINGLE: £36-£80 (first class inc meals)
BOOK AT: tfwrail.wales
Shrewsbury to Hereford
THIS rural journey along the Welsh Marches line starts in historic Shrewsbury, hugging the banks of the wide River Severn.
The track squeezes through a narrow gap in the brooding Shropshire Hills before slowly edging past the slopes of Long Mynd, the immense limestone escarpment of Wenlock Edge and 13th century Stokesay Castle.
If you fancy a break then alight at Ludlow, one of the great foodie towns.
Once you’re back on the train, the journey follows the path of the River Lugg before arriving in Hereford.
From here it’s just a 15-minute walk to the town centre where you’ll find a cider museum (this is the West Country after all) and great walking in the gorgeous Bishop’s Meadow.
GO: SHREWSBURY TO HEREFORD
JOURNEY TIME: 1 hour
ADULT SINGLE: £29.00
BOOK AT: westmidlandsrailway.co.uk
Norwich to Ely
KNOWN as the Breckland Line, this is the finest train line for immersing yourself in the glories of the Norfolk and Cambridgeshire countryside.
Following the tapering Little Ouse River, the train chugs through Thetford Forest, one of the largest pine forests in the country, before heading west straight through the eerie flatness of the Fens.
You’ll also pass through Shippea Hill station which, by most estimates, is the least-used passenger station in the UK – as few as 12 people a year alight or board here.
Once at Ely station you’re a ten-minute walk from its gargantuan cathedral, built back in 1083.
GO: NORWICH TO ELY
JOURNEY TIME: 1 hour
ADULT SINGLE: £18.60
BOOK AT: greatanglia.co.uk
Inverness to Lochalsh
THIS remote single-track line is one of the most dramatic in the UK, travelling past vast lochs and through wild forests.
After crossing the River Ness from Inverness station, the train track runs along the edge of the glossy waters of Beauly Firth.
From here it navigates the neck of the Black Isle before running past the town of Dingwall.
If you fancy getting off for a break, the town butchers, George Cockburn and Son, is renowned for making the finest haggis in all of Scotland.
The journey then chugs past the vast jagged Torridon peaks and Plockton beach, which was used as a location for Christopher Lee horror film The Wicker Man.
When you arrive at Kyle of Lochalsh, you’re already directly on the shore, with the Isle of Skye a taxi ride away across the bridge.
GO: INVERNESS TO LOCHALSH
JOURNEY TIME: 2.5 hours
ADULT SINGLE: £37.90
BOOK AT: scotrail.co.uk
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