Train travel in the UK has come to be a somewhat divided topic among Brits. Certainly among some, the whole British love affair with railways is still going strong as ever – we did invent the passenger train after all. For others, its reputation has become tainted by the reality of engineering works, replacement buses and rip-off fares. But with some of the most scenic and historic railway lines in the world on our doorstep, Britain has a lot more to offer in the way of train journeys than a Virgin Pendolino bound for London.
West Highland Line
Long considered one of the world’s greatest routes, the line from Fort Wiliam to Mallaig offers stunning and varied scenery, from rugged moorlands to coastal views of the isles Muck, Rum and Eigg. Take the sleeper train from London and wake up surrounded by Scottish lochs and Highland cattle as you sweep over the Rannoch Moor towards Fort William (arriving right at the foot of Britain’s tallest mountain, Ben Nevis). The line then continues further north to the fishing port of Mallaig, the section of the route which is often considered the most beautiful, and soon approaches the picturesque Glenfinnan Viaduct – recognisable to Harry Potter fans as the arched bridge over which the Hogwarts Express is often depicted crossing – before pressing on to the beautiful Sandy Beaches of Morar.
Insider tip: Go in the summer months when restored steam locomotives make the journey up to Mallaig for a truly authentic experience.
Settle to Carlisle
With its Victorian architecture, long tunnels and looming stone viaducts, the Settle-Carlisle line is one of the most visually dramatic and grandiose of its kind, world-renowned for its impressively engineered tracks. Indeed, the weather conditions of the wild landscape were so severe that construction took 6000 men almost 7 years to build – the remains of one of the workers’ camps can still be seen near Ribblehead. The line runs through some of the most beautiful yet remote regions of the Yorkshire Dales and North Pennines, weaving between the peaks of Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside before reaching the majestic 24-arch Ribblehead Viaduct, its most iconic landmark.
Insider tip: Stop at one of the 10 mid-way stations for walks in the glorious surroundings.
The St Ives Bay Line
Alternatively, for some seaside views take a ride on one of the shortest but most scenic railway trips in Britain and jump aboard a train that runs the line between St Erth and St Ives. What was originally built in 1877 to help serve its pilchard-fishing industry, this lovely little line saw St Ives’ transformation into a Victorian coastal resort and is now a great way to visit Cornwall’s artistic capital. From St Erth, the single track hugs the coastline, running alongside the Hayle Estuary Nature Reserve, past Lelant Saltings, and then finally on to St Ives for incredible panoramic views of the cliffs and harbour.
Insider tip: Trains also run directly between St Ives and Penzance, making it possible to see Cornwall’s north and south coasts in only 20 minutes!