Sunday 2nd December 2018
Back on track(s) again to describe thirty more wonderful train trips, ranked 31-60 in My Hundred Best Train Journeys.
31 Exeter – Exmouth
I love this journey not only for the truly superb views as the train trundles along the east side of the River Exe towards Exmouth – not surprisingly they’re just as delightful as travelling down the west side towards Dawlish – but also for the quirkiness of Lympstone Commando request station.
There was a time when alighting here was strictly a no no, unless you had business at the Royal Marines training centre adjacent to the station. Forbiddingly high fences topped with barbed wire together with a manned entry gate put paid to any thought of wandering from the platform. Of course you could alight and simply wait on the platform for the next train – it is after all a public station on the National Rail network – but it wasn’t encouraged.
Now a public footpath has been constructed alongside the tracks from the previous station, Exton, so you can now officially board and alight at Lympstone Commando without worrying about prying eyes provided you keep to that footpath! And ignore the forbidding sign still in situ.
32 Ipswich – Lowestoft
Suffolk is an underrated county in the scenic beauty stakes but a ride on the East Suffolk Line will soon correct any such descriptive misunderstandings. ‘The line links villages, ancient treasures, and some of the best walking and cycling countryside in Suffolk. From historic Ipswich, travel to Woodbridge and be intrigued by the picturesque tide mill on the River Debden’ – well, that’s the enticing blurb from Greater Anglia’s website. And it’s quite right, Woodbridge is splendid with its lovely views alongside the River Deben flowing out to sea, as is the rest of the journey along the Waveney Valley all the way to Oulton Broad South where you travel along the southern boundary of the Norfolk Broads National Park before reaching the eastern most point of England at Lowestoft, sadly a shadow of its former station self.
I have a vivid memory as a child of a train journey from Liverpool Street taking us via Lowestoft and on to Gorleston-on-Sea (the station’s long since gone) for a summer holiday. Sadly that line along the coast to Great Yarmouth was closed in 1970 – but at least there’s a lovely retro sign still displayed at Lowestoft Station as a reminder of the old days.
33 Halifax – Hebden Bridge – Rochdale/Burnley
We’re in that lovely part of England where West Yorkshire meets Greater Manchester across the Pennine peaks, moors and reservoirs. The train takes you alongside the River Calder, the Rochdale Canal and the River Roch for pretty much the whole journey and pretty is definitely the word. It’s also worth taking a ride up to Burnley where the tracks divide at Hall Royd Junction just east of Todmorden as it’s a delightful climb up via Cornholme and Holme Chapel with splendid views across Heptonstall Moor. You can now retrace your journey along the track of the new Todmorden curve to continue to Rochdale.
There’s also nowhere better to break this gorgeous journey for a stop off than Hebden Bridge and savour the delightful heritage and preservation of this fine station.
Moreover, you can hop on the Keighley Bus Company’s B3 bus route through Bronte Country on a wonderful journey via Haworth to Keighley (and include a ride on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway too) before returning to Hebden Bridge to conclude the ride westwards. Truly splendid.
34 Oxenholme – Windermere
We’ve travelled round the western side of the Lake District (the Cumbrian Line at entry no 16); we’ve zoomed up the West Coast Main Line and glimpsed the eastern side (entry no 7) now we’re wandering up the “no through road” that is the line from Oxenholme to Windermere. Any disappointment that trains only take you so far into the wonderful Lake District is made up by the fantastic network of bus routes Stagecoach provide from outside Windermere station, not least the famous 555 northwards via Grasmere to Keswick.
This line hit the news in the summer when West Coast Railways stepped in with loco hauled rolling stock while Northern Trains went through its post 20 May 2018 timetable meltdown. It certainly made a change from the usual trains and brought home just how many tourists use this line – the trains I travelled on were packed and they definitely weren’t all train enthusiasts.
35 Leeds – Huddersfield – Manchester
This line is much more than the rail equivalent of the M62 across the Pennines. It certainly feels as busy as the M62, but rather than battling with fellow motorists, you battle with fellow passengers on a Trans Pennine Express train. If you’re lucky you’ll manage to bag a seat and enjoy some great views especially between Slaithwaite and Marden (look out of the right hand side for Moss Moor and Rishworth Moor in the distance). If you’re very lucky and choose a quiet time to travel you’ll be able to switch from one side of the train to the other as the best views vary during the journey. Be warned though, almost immediately after Marsden there’s the 3 mile long Standedge Tunnel which doesn’t offer such good views!
It’s definitely worth breaking the journey at Huddersfield not only for a chat with the key member of station staff – Felix the Cat – but also to marvel at the huge station building and the way the outside has been rejuvenated with rising fountains out of the paving stones.
36 Stockton – Newcastle
This is a great journey for taking in the delights of the splendid Tees to Tyne coastline, especially between Hartlepool and Seaham. Hartlepool’s got a bit of a quirk about it too. If you fancy seeing how to spend around £4 million on a grand ‘transport interchange’ with impressive bus shelters, walkways, real time signs etc all adjacent to the station building, as happened in 2010 (see below), then its worth a nose around.
Unfortunately it’s unlikely you’ll see any buses since they nearly all serve the main town centre instead. You can almost count the number of buses that serve the station per day on the fingers of two hands.
Further on the train passes through Sunderland which must be one of the darkest and dingiest stations on the network but then the journey redeems itself again as it re-enters the light and crosses the River Wear on an impressive bridge sharing tracks with the Tyne & Wear Metro all the way to Heworth and then into Newcastle.
37 Shrewsbury – Hereford – Newport
From Shropshire through Herefordshire to Monmothshire. This train journey takes you through two fine English counties before arriving into the south-eastern corner of Wales. It’s a delightful ride as the scenery varies along the way, but is always characterised by extensive views across vast expanses of countryside. Stations at Ludlow, Leominster and Abergavenny are a delight and stop off at Craven Arms for a delightful weekend ride on the Shropshire Hills Shuttles – minibuses which take you around Long Mynd and Stiperstones.
For train buffs there’s the wonderful signal box just outside Shrewsbury to get the journey off to a great start and if you want to really spoil yourself take the ‘Gerald of Wales’ train which currently runs once a day from Holyhead to Cardiff in the morning serving breakfast and returning in the late afternoon/evening serving dinner. Seat reservations are highly recommend to avoid disappointment. The new Transport for Wales franchise has plans to increase the number of journeys.
38 Newcastle – Carlisle
You’ll have gathered by now as well as coastal train journeys I also love following the course of rivers as I look out of train windows, and none more so than this journey along the River Tyne as it heads inland towards Hexham and Haltwhistle.
I also love the Haltwhistle station name; for some reason, I’ve no idea why, it always makes me smile whenever I travel to or through it. Even more bizarre are the platform shelters at stations along the line, all emblazoned with a large platform number (either 1 or 2) sign.
A great multi modal way of enjoying this journey is to take the jointly operated Arriva/Stagecoach Cross Pennine branded route X65 which also runs from Newcastle to Carlisle to Newcastle via Hexham and Haltwhistle. I reckon a bus/train ticket aimed at tourists would be just the job – out by bus and return back by train, what’s not to like?
39 Chester – Holyhead
Another lovely journey with coastal views all along the north Wales coastline. The journey begins alongside the River Dee and there’s an odd sighting between Flint and Prestatyn of the abandoned passenger ferry ship, the Duke of Lancaster, moored in Llanerch-y-Mor; worth looking out for – you can’t miss it. For much of the journey after Rhyl the tracks vie with the expanded A55 dual carriageway for the narrow space along the coastline; luckily for most of the journey the tracks win but for a short stretch just before Colwyn Bay road engineers managed to swing the road over the railway, along the coastline and then back under the tracks again after about a mile – it’s an amazing feat of engineering.
However the highlight of the journey comes at Conwy. Just after the station the tracks cross the River Conwy and you get a magnificent view, and pass right alongside, Conwy Castle.
Almost as exciting is the next stage of the journey after Bangor when it’s into Anglesey across the Menai Strait on the impressive Britannia Bridge.
I’ll name check the first station in Anglesey as I’m sure you’ve heard of it. Yes, it’s Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. Except it isn’t really; it’s all a bit attention seeking, over-hyped and contrived, but still worth a stop off for a selfie!
The journey terminus at Holyhead is another ‘shadow of its former self’ station and looks rather forlorn, forgotten and seen better days. A rather sad end to what is otherwise another lovely coastal journey.
40 Carlisle – Kilmarnock – Glasgow
This journey is the alternative to the main West Coast Line. It’s not for those in a hurry taking 2 hours 22 minutes which coincidentally is exactly double the 1 hour 11 minutes journey time by travelling direct, but it’s well worth giving it a go, for the lovely scenery which Dumfries and Galloway offers as you wander through Gretna Green and on to Kilmarnock. Some journeys link up with the Newcastle – Carlisle line (entry no 38) to provide a through four hours of scenic enjoyment.
41 Gloucester – Severn Tunnel Junction
OK, perhaps this is the journey alongside a river to beat all journeys alongside a river. After leaving Gloucester (check out the amazingly long platform there) the train heads towards Lydney and Chepstow and it’s absolutely essential to grab a seat on the nearside in the southbound direction for fantastic views of the meandering River Severn as it grows from a meandering stream (OK, not quite, but you get the picture) into a torrenting river flowing into the Bristol Channel. You get some great views of the two Severn Bridges on the horizon too.
42 Llanelli – Pembroke Dock
And yet another coastal ride to rival Dawlish, Cambrian, Cumbrian and the East Sussex Coast. The views across Carmarthen Bay are superb as is the scenery alongside the River Tywi as it meanders towards Carmarthen. The journey takes you past the request station called Ferryside, so named presumably because a ferry dating back 1,000 years used to ply across the estuary to the village of Llansteffan. Sadly the ferry ceased in the 1950s but this summer, thanks to a £300,000 Coastal Communities grant it was back again with what’s described as “something 007 like” – a boat with wheels which is as happy in the water as it is driving up the shore. Definitely something for my to do list next year to check it out.
Carmarthen has an interesting turnback station arrangement with two platforms from where the tracks continued on to Newcastle Emlyn and Aberystwyth until closure in 1965. So for this journey it’s a change of end for the driver and we’re back through Whitland and branch off south-westwards towards the lovely resort of Tenby and finally to Pembroke Dock; probably the most understated terminus on the network, hidden away in a narrow residential street.
43 Preston – Colne
Colne is the dead-end to beat all dead-ends and in the nicest possible way. After travelling for 70 minutes from Preston on a line which has the claim to fame of the most delightful sounding station names along the journey (Pleasington followed by Cherry Tree as well as Church & Oswaldwistle) ….
…you finally arrive at the buffers from where at one time trains would continue via the village of Earby over to Skipton. Ah, those must have been the days, and indeed it’s one of the rail reinstatements campaigners won’t give up on. It was only a few years ago I travelled to Colne and the driver had to lean out the cab at the final level crossing to pull on a piece of string strategically hanging alongside the track at cab window level which would operate a red light to stop traffic crossing its path. Fantastic. Sadly now replaced with more conventional technology.
44 Folkestone – Dover
The way the track hugs the coastline overlooking the busiest shipping lane in the world that is the English Channel on this train journey is very reminiscent of the section of line between Dawlish and Teignmouth as it travels through arched gaps in the cliffs between two longish tunnels, so enjoy the Channel views while they last and the approach into Dover with glimpses of the Castle.
Dover station is also worth a good look over for its interesting brutalist architectural style.
45 Buxton – Manchester
I’ve already commented on the delightful bus routes in Derbyshire when highlighting entry No 30 (Derby – Matlock), and if you took up my suggestion of travelling on the TransPeak bus from Matlock to Buxton, as it no longer continues to Manchester via the traditional A6 the obvious alternative is to jump on a Northern train at the wonderful Buxton station and admire the scenery from the train window instead. You won’t be disappointed.
Buxton is a lovely quirky station as shown in these photographs and still shows signs of the golden age of railways when trains did continue from Matlock entering Buxton across viaducts still in place today. Freight trains are still a regular site at the nearby Dove Holes limestone quarry using the tracks up to the Hope Valley line at Edale.
Many of the stations are really delightful with some wonderful floral displays, not least the self procalimed Capital of the Peak, Chapel-en-Le-Firth – one of three stations with Le in its name.
46 Truro – Falmouth
Back to the West Country branch lines for this journey down to Falmouth which includes the novel passing loop at Penryn where the single track line allows trains to pass and both serve the same extended platform. It’s just as well it works efficiently as the end to end running time for this journey is very tight requiring very precise timekeeping. Don’t be tempted to alight at Falmouth Town, as the murals at Falmouth Docks (the terminus) are well worth a look.
47 Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth
As I compile this list, the section of track from Reedham to Great Yarmouth via the infamous Berney Arms is closed for some months while track and signals are upgraded. This is a great shame for lovers of manually operated old style level crossing gates as can be seen above in action at the lovely Brundall station along the route.
When the works are completed, you really must add this to your bucket list of train journeys, not particularly for the scenery – it’s as unexciting as crossing Romney Marsh in Kent – but just so you can alight at Berney Arms one of Britain’s wackiest stations with no road access and only a footpath across fields to the nearby Broads or onwards to Burgh Castle and eventually Great Yarmouth. Sadly the nearby pub to the station with its only access either by boat or on foot closed down a year or two ago; perhaps not surprising given its remote location.
48 Cardiff – Ebbw Vale Town
A rail line reinstatement success story. Reopened as recently as 2008 to Ebbw Vale Parkway and reaching the Ebbw Vale Town terminus seven years later in 2015, trains are now so busy the train company has to double up units with at least two conductors on board to try and collect all the revenue. It’s a lovely twisty ride round one bend after another as the train climbs the Ebbw River valley towards Ebbw Vale.
There’s a cable car lift to take you from the station up to the town centre to top off your ride, but whenever I’ve travelled it’s sadly been out-of-order (I see online it’s been closed 252 times over a three-year period), but it’s easy to wander to the nearby bus stops and take a Stagecoach X4 bus through the town and on to the Heads of the Valley road before taking you down to Merthyr Tydfil or Pontrypridd either for an alternative train ride back into Cardiff, or stay on the bus which also continues there.
49 Brockenhurst – Lymington Pier
I have fond memories of travelling along this gorgeous stub of a branch line when it was the last outpost of slam door carriages in the south. A more recent trip reminded me of the wonderful station at Lymington Town which is a wonderful cross between a station and a heritage railway museum and is well worth a visit in itself.
It compliments a lovely journey, particularly the short section between the Pier and Town stations with full on views of Lyminton Marina.
A lovely circular trip includes the ferry across to Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight and then a Southern Vectis bus to Newport and on to Shanklin returning on the train to Ryde Pier (see entry 54 below). Even better, if you have the time, take the open top Needles Breezer to Alum Bay (including the ride up to the Battery) then route 12 to Newport.
50 Corby – Melton Mowbray
This is the first ‘Parliamentary Train’ entry in my Hundred Best Train Journeys, and good to see it bookend the top fifty. It’s certainly not because of the rather clinical architecture of Corby station (photographed above), but purely because of the wonderful Welland Viaduct (also called the Harringworth Viaduct after the nearby village) and the amazing views across to Eyebrook Reservoir and beyond which are truly stunning.
It’s well worth making your way to Corby for the one departure of the day which leaves at 0926 on Mondays to Fridays and travels this route. There’s a southbound journey from Derby at 1625 (or closer to Corby, from Melton Mowbray at 1709) but that’s only worth a ride in the Spring to Autumn when it’s light.
51 Leeds – Morecambe – Heysham Port
This line, known as the Bentham Line (it passes through Bentham), shares the same tracks as the Leeds – Settle – Carlisle (entry no 4) as far as Long Preston just north of Hellifield before branching off on its own western course through some delightful North Yorkshire and Lancashire countryside and calling at the superbly named Giggleswick (always makes me smile) and the next station, which is of course Clapham – no, not the more famous Junction, but just plain Clapham. After a couple more stations the train crosses the West Coast Main Line and arrives at Carnforth (already visited on the Cumbrian Coast Line – entry no 11) before nipping down to Lancaster. Only half of the eight journeys a day then reverse back up the line and turn off to Morecambe (photographed below) but there is an hourly shuttle train which runs between Lancaster and Morecambe providing the main link to the resort.
Best of all is the one shuttle journey a day which continues on to Heysham Port. It leaves Lancaster at 1249 (MS) arriving 1317. The absolute best bit, and the reason to make the journey is to see the driver jump down from the cab and change the points (shades of Liskeard-Looe, except it’s the guard’s job there) after leaving Morecambe where the train retraces its route for a few yards before turning almost 360 degrees southwards again towards Heysham. The same happens on the reverse journey into Morecambe after the train heads back at 1320 after only a three-minute turnround (times are slightly different on a Sunday), so there’s not long to soak up the atmosphere at Heysham Port – mind you as you can see from the photograph below, there’s not much atmosphere to soak up!
52 Salisbury – Exeter
It’s odd that there are long sections of this important rail route that are single track, making for timekeeping challenges when disruption occurs, as it’s all too easy for knock on effects as one late train impacts on another and so on. There are some lovely stations along this route including Tisbury and Templecombe and Yeovil Junction where there’s a handy connecting line to Yeovil Pen Mill on the Weymouth to Castle Cary line. This junction is now used by South Western Railway trains (and SWT before, who started the trend) of linking Salisbury with Castle Cary on a circular routing a few times a day.
The journey takes you through the beautiful countryside offered by Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon (photographed above between Axminster and Honiton – spot the roof of the Stagecoach bus on the parallel route 4)
53 Aberdeen – Inverness
This journey north starts from the far northern end of one of Aberdeen’s longest platforms and heads straight into a tunnel under Aberdeen’s commercial centre. This contrasts with the rather pleasant brightness of the station’s passenger circulating area.
The first time I took this journey involved an early morning departure heading north from Aberdeen and I couldn’t understand why the train was so packed until everyone got off at the first station, Dyce, where there are major industrial and employment opportunities. The rest of the journey which takes a north then north-western arc until a few miles south of the north coast overlooking Moray Firth at Elgin where it takes a western trajectory towards Nairn and Inverness. Interestingly the tracks pass close to both Aberdeen and Inverness airports, but the nearby station at Dyce is not particularly convenient for the former and there’s no station for the latter. Not surprisingly Stagecoach do well with a bus route to both airports, as well as routes to Fraserburgh and Peterhead in the north-east corner of Aberdeenshire which are also completely by-passed by the train. It’s a great train journey, though, and well deserving of a 53rd placing.
54 Ryde Pier Head – Shanklin
Yes, this is the ride specifically for the train. Oh, and also for the first half mile as the train clutters along Ryde Pier to Ryde Esplanade station. It’s a real nostalgic trip back in time to when Underground trains cluttered and swayed as these carriages from 1938 still do all the way down to Shanklin. When the Isle of Wight steam railway is running, trains stop at Smallbrook Junction which is another station to add to the list of having no road access; indeed not any access, as the only way out (or in) is on a steam train.
Sadly the only passing loop now in use is at Sandown, two-thirds of the way down to Shankin so instead of a half hourly service, it offers a less attractive 20/40 split. There’s talk of introducing former London Underground D stock to the line in the new guise of Class 230 trains. It certainly won’t be the same peering into the sidings and sheds at St John’s Road, Ryde as you pass through the station and not see the spare 1938 stock any longer.
55 Horsham – Barnham
This journey through the wonderful South Downs provides some spectacular views of Britain’s newest National Park especially as the train heads between Pulborough, Amberley and Arundel along the Arun Valley. There are some fantastic views of Arundel Castle (just above the Stagecoach bus in the photograph above) as well as the River Arun.
Amberley is another station depicting a lovely mural, this one showing a Southdown bus appropriately as the wonderful Amberley Museum is alongside the station with its transport theme and is a must visit.
Barnham is a surprisingly busy junction station as trains meet from Bognor, Littlehampton and the West Coastway and is well worth a look around.
56 Hull – Scarborough
My favourite station on this journey is Bridlington where it’s definitely worth breaking off to savour the lovely restoration and refreshment facilities, making for quite a contrast with Filey a little further on which is not worth breaking your journey for.
On arriving at Scarborough wander over to platform 1 and marvel at the longest station platform seat in the country, if not the world. It really is worth a wander and a photo.
57 Leeds – Harrogate – York
The Leeds to Harrogate part of this journey has bus competition from probably Britain’s most luxurious buses on the Transdev Blazefield route 36 running every 10 minutes. But Northern have recently introduced nicely refurbished former ScotRail class 170 trains which are a huge improvement on the old Pacers and there are plans to increase the frequency too. It’s a lovely journey from West Yorkshire into North Yorkshire and both Harrogate (where there’s an interesting car park next to the station and footbridge arrangement photographed below) and Knaresborough are worth a stop off to explore, not least for Betty’s Tea Rooms in the former.
The line doesn’t promote its ultimate destination at either the Leeds or Harrogate end of the route as it’s quicker to get a direct train but if you’re not in a rush it’s well worth a ride and don’t forget to work in a trip on the 36 too!
58 Brighton – Seaford
Lewes is a lovely station full of charm and the line to Seaford follows the course of the River Ouse to Newhaven where the town’s three stations includes one of the shortest distances between two stations Newhaven Town to Newhaven Harbour as well as the quirky short stub to Newhaven Marine which is very much a closed station with a platform out of bounds and demolished station buildings (to the left of the signal box shown below) yet is still officially open – indeed it has a Parliamentary Train except no passengers can board it.
Further along the single track to the small single platform terminal station at Seaford with views out to the Channel, the penultimate station is Bishopstone with its amazing Art Deco architecture with a strong hint of the Charles Holden designs for Piccadilly Line Underground stations. Indeed it’s said it was modelled on Arnos Grove. It’s looking a bit unloved and sorry for itself these days.
The rather isolated station at Southease between Lewes and Newhaven is handy for walkers taking the South Downs Way which crosses the railway at the station, and where there isn’t much else.
59 York – Scarborough
Another journey to marvel at a meandering river – the River Derwent – as the train heads eastwards to the coast. Indeed for a few miles it literally twists and turns along the banks of the river as it passes Kirkham Abbey before reaching Malton station, notable for its sole platform for trains in both directions. If you didn’t marvel at the longest seat in the world when you journeyed into Scarborough from Hull (entry no 56) then now’s the time for a good long sit down (literally).
60 Norwich – Sherringham
This journey is notable for the link to the lovely Bure Valley railway along the delightful River Bure at Hoveton and Wroxham, the call at Cromer with its reverse out again manoeuvre (a resort sadly past its prime although worth a stop off for a nostalgic stroll down the pier) and the rather basic terminus at Sherringham consisting of just a platform and shelter …..
……..except the track continues across a level crossing (including through a delightful seating area, as photographed below) to provide access to the North Norfolk Railway. From Sherringham as well as the option of taking the North Norfolk Railway to Holt there’s the Coasthopper bus along the north Norfolk coast to Wells-Next-The-Sea for an onward connection to the Coastliner 36 route to Kings Lynn run by Lynx making for an adventurous circular day out from London.
The final part 4 of My Hundred Best Train Journeys (no 61 – 100) will be posted later this month.