My Hundred Best Train Journeys 1

Sunday 11th November 2018   Part 1 of 4.

This started out as my top ten favourite train journeys but I quickly realised I couldn’t possibly do justice to all the many fantastic rail lines across Britain by being so limited. It quickly grew to a top twenty, then thirty as favourites easily clicked away on the keyboard. It wasn’t long before I’d passed fifty, and so it seemed a natural progression to carry on until the hundred milestone was reached. I’ll post the list in four bite-sized chunks over the next few weeks. Here’s that original top ten, to kick things off.

1.  Glasgow – Fort William – Mallaig

It won’t come as a surprise that Scotland features heavily in the top slots – five of my top six train journeys are north of the border, with many more entries throughout the list.

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The famous Horseshoe Curve between Upper Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy is a delight – this photo was taken from the train wending its way around the curve.

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The West Highland Line running between Glasgow and Fort William and on to Mallaig is the obvious and very worthy winner of the coveted top spot; not only is it recognised as Britain’s most scenic rail line by most commentators, but it’s renowned around the world. There’s nothing better than taking the Caledonian Sleeper from the hustle and bustle of Euston and waking up the next morning to the beauty and remoteness of Rannoch Moor as the train trundles alongside moors, lochs and mountains to Fort William.

This can be particularly evocative in the winter as the sun rises above snow covered ground and deers scamper in the distance. Another favourite journey is the early departure from Mallaig at 0603 during the summer months. You often have a whole carriage to yourself to enjoy the spectacular scenery of this section of the line before a handful of early commuters board at stations closer to Fort William.

This truly has to be top of any Bucket List of train journeys.

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Looking back on the famous Glenfinnan on an empty early journey from Mallaig

2.  Inverness – Kyle of Lochalsh

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It’s a close run thing for the top spot with the Kyle of Lochalsh line a very strong runner up. In fact whenever I take a ride on this line I always end up having a debate with myself whether actually this line surpasses the West Highland Line; but then when I have another trip out to Fort William I know, that Kyle’s place is definitely second. It has its own delightful characteritics including some gorgeous scenery and quirky stations.

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3.  Glasgow – Oban

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Many trains from Fort WIlliam and Oban join and split at the brilliant Crianlarich station for the journey to Glasgow

Now some might say, this is a cheat as much of the line (Glasgow – Crianlarich) is the same as the Fort WIlliam/Mallaig line; indeed many trains split or join together at Crianlarich. But, it’s my list, and I decide the rules, and I reckon there’s enough beauty to behold on the line to Oban north of Crianlarich to justify a third place entry in its own right. Indeed, it was the very first train ride I made in Scotland, way back in the early 1970s taking holidays as a teenager on a remote island off Mull. This necessitated what was then a loco hauled train to Oban which included a refreshment stop of about 15 or 20 minutes at Crianlarich so passengers could use the platform tea room and toilets. That’s why it always has a special place in my memory.

4.  Edinburgh – Inverness

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I specify Edinburgh, but it could equally be the train from or to Glasgow, although the latter struggles to live up to the spectacular coastal views and the Forth Rail Bridge experience between Edinburgh and Perth. It’s the section of line north of Perth to Inverness which gives this train journey a well deserved fourth place as it takes in the spectacular scenery through the Cairngorms National Park. I really can’t wait to ride the refurbished HSTs ScotRail are soon introducing on this line (and others). It’s also another great journey to take on the Caledonian Sleeper from Euston and wake up through the Highlands.

5.  Leeds – Carlisle

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My top rail line in England just has to be the Settle-Carlisle. Not only is the scenery just superb, the Ribblehead Viaduct a must-see, the stations kept in wonderful heritage conditions but from many of the stations there are wonderful bus journeys to take too. Garsdale has links to Hawes; Dent has a community bus to Kendal which is just totally stunning; Cumbria Classic Coaches run heritage journeys from Kirkby Stephen to a range of destinations in the summer; and there are also great connections at Settle, Skipton and Keighley. I even made a trip to and from Appleby this summer.

6.  Inverness – Wick

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You need to sit on the coastal side of the train for maximum scenic enjoyment of the Far North Line, but beware, unlike the Stagecoach X99 bus route, which hugs the coast the whole way, the train diverts inland for many miles offering alternative views. It’s not a journey for those in a hurry either which adds to its charm as you head towards the northernmost point on the rail network. I often use the line to and from Lairg where there are quirky bus route connections on to the north west tip of Scotland at Durness, as well as Tongue.

7.  Lancaster – Glasgow

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You may find it odd that the main lines out of London, which form the backbone of Britain’s rail network (East Coast; West Coast; Midland Mainline; Great Western,Great Eastern and north out of Marylebone), don’t feature in my Hundred Best Train Journeys – well, certainly not the southern sections – this is probably because they become all too familiar as I find myself travelling along these tracks so many times every year; but I think it’s also because the scenery towards the northern ends far eclipses anything ‘down south’ and none more so than on the West Coast Line which is why this takes a very deserved seventh place in my list. The Lake District, Shap, the northern most Pennines all pass by as the railtracks criss-cross the M6 on it’s spine route linking Scotland with the south. My eyes are glued to the window the whole journey until we reach the outskirts of Glasgow.

8.  Middlesbrough – Whitby

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Danby

I always try and include this journey in my itneraries at least once, if not twice, every year as I never tire of the wonderful views it offers across the North Yorkshire Moors and along the River Esk which the line follows for many miles. It’s another line which offers some great bus connections, not least Arriva’s X93, which also runs between Middlesbrough and Whitby before providing a handy connection on to Scarborough, and Transdev Blazefield’s Coastliner 840 from Whitby via Goathland (of Heartbeat fame) to Malton and York/Leeds – voted Britain’s Most Secnic Bus Route earlier this year. I’ve also connected with the wonderful Moorsbus weekend network by using Danby station on the line which was fun, and of course tracks are shared between Grosmont andf Whitby with the wonderful North Yorks Moors heritage railway.

9.  Exeter – Penzance

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And not just for the Dawlish Wall moment either. I love the build up to that infamous section of track as the train leaves Exeter and hugs the River Exe spotting the ferry from Starcross which crosses the river to Exmouth and the ice cream stall at Dawlish Warren and then you know the Wall is ahead. The delights keep on coming as the journey continues to Plymouth, the Royal Albert Bridge with the spectacular views down to the harbours on both sides of the River Tamar and then into Cornwall; a quick look at Bodmin Parkway to see if the heritage rail line is running (having done the same at Totnes); the rolling Cornish scenery; the wonderful view of Truro Cathedral. It’s a superb ride, and there’s nothing better than a comfortable leather First Class seat in a GWR HST too…..for just a little while longer!

10  Machynlleth – Pwllheli

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Preparing to leave Machynlleth for the journey along the Cambrian coast to Phllheli

My first (of many) best rail lines in Wales just makes it into the top ten, which is pleasing, as it is a fantastic journey to make. It starts way back in Birmingham and runs via Shrewsbury on a pleasant enough route, as is the leg down to Aberystwyth, but the Cambrian Coast line proper really only starts at Machynlleth as it unsurprisngly hugs all along the Cambrian Coast up to Pwllheli. In fact parts of the line even surpass the Dawlish Wall, and I’m wondering whether I should swap the order around now I think more about it. This line, after all, has a number of quirky request stops which I’ve used a few of, as well as connections to heritage trains at Tywyn, Fairbourne and Porthmadog and the Traws Cymru T3 bus across to Wrexham from Barmouth.

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The quirky Dovey Junction where there’s limited access and trains meet from the Aberystwyth and Pwllheli branches

Watch out for My Hundred Best Train Journeys – numbers 11 – 30 to follow in Part 2.

Roger French

11 thoughts on “My Hundred Best Train Journeys 1

  1. Without wishing to pre-empt Part 2 of your list, Roger, I hope that the scenic Cornish branch lines will feature soon in your list. Just like your Scottish examples, it is a treat to leave the bustle of Paddington in the evening on the Night Riviera, behind a Class 57 and arrive in good time to make a connection to the glorious seaside at St Ives or Looe (*)
    * Best on Mondays when the sleeper train arrives later.

    I’m looking forward to the next instalment!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As ever Roger your account of travel is so enthusiastic and makes you want to get up and GO even at this time of the year. We really do have such a wonderful scenic country, something to be proud of. I’m looking forward to the next instalment of Great Train Journeys, French style.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Roger,

    Goodness, you do get about ……

    Reading your post brought a couple of memories to mind, especially about the journey from Mallaig, for part of which two of us travelled alongside the driver (totally unofficially!) to view the on-coming Jabobite and, afterwards, to have a driver’s-eye view of the Glenfinnan Viaduct on which he stopped for me – a long story that I’ll recount on request one day.

    One of the joys of travelling the south Devon coast line is when it’s on a HST with opening windows; the thrill of taking photographs out of the open window well outweighs the risk of being decapitated (but what a way to go anyway!???). Returning to the above Scottish journey, after my time alongside the driver, I hung out of one of the conductor’s windows (having found the door ajar when nobody was around) which was especially brilliant for the section of the journey beside Loch Eil with Ben Nevis in the distance (another part of the ‘long story’).

    For the purists, you could re-designate Glasgow – Oban as Crianlarich – Oban since, in my humble opinion, it stands alone as a good rail journey although it may not be a stunning as some of the others and it would slip down the rankings in my book – but it’s your show.

    Now I’ve started, there’s no stopping (!) and I would re-designate the Lancaster – Glasgow and/or Edinburgh as Preston – Scotland because of the way the landscape develops starting with the Lancashire plain with views across to the Forest of Bowland, then a glimpse of Morecombe Bay with the railway line almost at sea-level before it climbs over the Shap Summit en-route to Scotland’s wild and remote Southern Uplands. For me, I think that the final miles into Edinburgh are more impressive than those into Glasgow although you might be biased because the Glasgow route passes by First’s bus depot.

    But it’s all subjective.

    See you next week,

    Alan

    PS: Love the picture of the disabled cat.

    Liked by 1 person

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