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.
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.
2. Inverness – Kyle of Lochalsh
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.
3. Glasgow – Oban
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Watch out for My Hundred Best Train Journeys – numbers 11 – 30 to follow in Part 2.