As the iconic Flying Scotsman steam train plans to return to service in 2016, after 11 years of restoration, we unveil a network of luxury and historic trains that criss-cross Britain, where passengers can take in unforgettable scenery, from the mountains of Wales to the coasts of England and the dramatic, jagged coastline of Scotland. Tickets at the ready!
Welcome back Flying Scotsman!
The steam locomotive was first seen in 1923, and one year later earned the name for its daily service between London and Edinburgh. Following 11 years of restoration, the train will be back on the rails later this year (it was earmarked to return in February but that remains to be confirmed), with a programme of different routes until September, including London to Edinburgh, sightseeing tours around the Surrey (south-east England) and Cotswolds (west England) countryside and afternoon tea trips in Norfolk (east England) and Somerset (south-west England).
Good for luxury
Northern Ireland gets its first-ever luxury train in 2016, when the Grand Hibernian pulls out of its sidings in July. Sister train to the luxurious British Pullman and the Orient Express, the train will offer two, four and six-day itineraries; the two-day itinerary will visit Belfast and the iconic Giant’s Causeway. The train offers five-star dining, ensuite cabins and an observation car that oozes the atmosphere of a vintage saloon.
Good for families
An 18-mile looping track that traces the border between East and West Sussex in south-east England, the Bluebell Railway holds the largest collection of steam engines in Britain, after the National Railway Museum in York, north England, and visitors can choose from a range of services. The regular journey is the 40-minute trip, by steam locomotive, between the town of East Grinstead and the station at Sheffield Park Garden, but there are also afternoon tea circular tours and Pullman Dining Trips. New for 2016 are Friday Pullman Lunch trips that offer the chance to see the lushly beautiful Sussex countryside while dining in style. The Bluebell Railway is around one hour’s drive south of London.
Good for purse-friendly options
It’s not just specialist train companies who offer memorable rail trips – some stretches of normal train line in Britain offer wonderful views, all for the price of a standard train ticket. The ‘Riviera Line’ runs from Exeter Central to Paignton in south-west England, running along the coast for more than 20 miles with wonderful sea views – on some stretches the sea is literally right beside the track. The route takes in some of Devon’s prettiest seaside resorts, including Torquay, a must-stop for Agatha Christie fans. The author was born and spent much of her life in the town; there is Agatha Christie-themed walking route from the station itself. Exeter Central is three hours by train from London Waterloo.
Good for scenery
The world’s oldest narrow gauge railway with almost 200 years of history, the Ffestiniog Railway in north Wales is also one of the most scenic, climbing more than 700 feet on its 13.5 mile journey. The route runs from the harbour town of Porthmadog to the town of Bleinau Ffestiniog, travelling past crashing waterfalls, swathes of forest and slowly looping its way across mountain slopes. The journey lasts for 75 minutes and the three trains are the original locomotives – now 150 years old – with all the original carriages. Porthmadog is around six hours by train from London Euston, changing at Birmingham International.
Good for local culture
Scotland boasts some of the most varied and beautiful landscapes in Britain, with towering mountains, shimmering lochs and vast swathes of untouched countryside. Travelling by train is the best way to discover Scotland’s majestic beauty, and the Royal Scotsman, which accommodates just 36 guests, offers two, three or four-night itineraries, with excursions including world-famous whisky distilleries and historic sites such as Eilean Donan castle. Journeys begin and end in Edinburgh.
Good for food and drink
If you like to pair your train travel with some gourmet dining, the British Pullman is the perfect choice. Sister train to the Venice-Simplon Orient Express, trips range from sightseeing days out to shorter journeys that include lunch, dinner or afternoon tea. Opt for ‘The Dinner’ and you’ll be welcomed with a glass of champagne, before indulging in a seasonal tasting menu with the sommelier’s choice of matching wines.
Good for adventure
The most unique way to head from London to Scotland, the Caledonian Sleeper leaves London Euston at 21.15 each evening, heading across the breadth of the country, all the way to Fort William, in the far north of Scotland. Sleeper cabins offer comfortable overnight accommodation, but you’ll want to be awake early for the stretch of track known as the ‘West Highland line’, which links Glasgow with Fort William. The route runs along Loch Lomond, climbs 1,350 feet into snow-capped mountains and crosses some of the wildest, most unspoilt landscapes in Britain.