Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Age of the Train?

Over the years, train travel has come in for a fair bit of stick from the British Public. We all know why we don't want a "British Rail sandwich" and agree that the "Age of the Train" was indeed the root of the problem. Leaves on the line cause annual hilarity, and the wrong kind of snow has everyone eye-rolling. In spite of that though, I have to say that I believe that the single best way to travel around the UK is, in most cases at least, on the train.

"But!" I hear you cry "What about the car?" - well yes, granted the car does have a certain "door-to-door" convenience about it, and if you need to take large, heavy stuff from A - B then it may suit you better, but assuming it's just you, your MP3 player and a rucksack or case, when you take the train once you get to the station, someone else does all the work while you sit back, relax, and enjoy the scenery! Oh, and WHAT scenery you get, too! From the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland to the South Devon coast, railways lines will give you views you just won't get from any other mode of transport. You see, mostly when building roads, it's cheaper to divert them around tricky obstacles - cars cope easily with twisty-turny roads, so there is little harm in making them that way. Trains are different though - so when they built the railways they tended to try to keep them more or less straight, and going through, or over was usually the building method of choice. This often leaves trains travelling quite literally through the middle of nowhere, meaning that there are great swathes of countryside that you will only see from a train - or on foot.

St Pancras Station - worth getting a train to see!
Train journeys give you something else too - time. Take your laptop and earphones and catch up on a downloaded TV programme you'd missed. Listen to music, Read a magazine or a good book, write a letter or take a notebook and write a blog post, even! (Yes, that was exactly what I did, this very post was drafted on a train!) For the duration of your journey, if you want , your seat and little section of table can become your very own private world, with only what you choose to bring into it.

Rather sqiff pic taken on my phone from the sleeper - WHAT a sight to wake up to!
Don't underestimate all the interesting things you might see from a train either - stations in themselves are often fantastic buildings. St Pancras in London is of course one of the best known examples of this but there are many others too. Many country stations have the most beautifully tended gardens, and every time I go through Templecombe I wonder about the sculptures scattered around the place. You get "snapshots" of places from trains - glimpses of Edinburgh on the approach to Waverley Station, a surprisingly good perspective of Wembley Stadium on the way in to Euston, a wonderful view across to Bath, a look back at the history of Manchester from the many mill buildings clustered around the line... There are other conveniences too - toilets which provide a source of relief AND a workout for your balance - only a fool would try "hovering" in a train loo, surely?! The Buffet car, or better still the "trolley" - serving surprisingly good tea - I sometimes treat myself on a longer journey. The Scotrail Sleeper provides decent cooked meals at a not unreasonable price - and you get to sit and eat in a proper dining car too. Of course that being said, one of the best things about train travel is that you can always bring your own packed lunch and nobody turns a hair!

Next time you've contemplating a UK based adventure of some sort, rather than just taking the car, why not investigate travel by train for at least part of your journey? Just imagine what you might see!



Scarlet said...

We used the train for a couple of days out while we were holidaying in Cornwall in 2011. It was lovely for J not to have to drive, and for me not to have to navigate/ look out for parking. Going along the coast and into St Ives was wonderful. I used the train for uni for a while too. I loved being able to study/ catch up on reading whilst on the train. I only stopped using it because public transport took 4 hours per day, and using the car took 2 hours.

Robyn said...

Oh I SO love that ride on the train from Par to St Ives - as it comes round the corner and the bay is beneath you - makes you feel like one of the Famous Five! We always try to take the train where we can - another favourite of ours is the line round the coast at Barrow-in-Furness - a lovely trip! MrEH used to use the train for work, but sadly it just got ridiculously expensive. We run and fuel 2 cars for the same as just his train travel for work would cost now.

Judy Y said...

My friend and I travelled by train from Leicester to London back in 2004, we loved it, it was just so convenient and comfortable! Would definitely consider train travel if travel was on the horizon!


Robyn said...

That's what always wins me over Judy - the fact that it is generally convenient - stations tend to be in City centres after all!