Wednesday 26th December 2018
61 Brighton – East Croydon
This line which passes my home station of Hassocks. I reckon I know just about every inch of its track and views from the windows having made frequent trips on GTR’s trains up to London and back over the last five years since retiring. The outstanding section which gets me every time, and I never miss the opportunity to gaze out of the window as we pass, is the wonderful view across the South Downs from David Mocatta’s famous Balcombe Viaduct. It’s even more spectacular from the parallel road (see above) as is Mocatta’s brilliantly designed northern entrance to Clayton Tunnel just south of Hassocks (see below).
62 Lewes – Eastbourne
This delightfully scenic journey begins at the wonderful junction station in Lewes. The journey east from Lewes was covered in entry no 58 (Brighton to Seaford) and heading westwards the train passes alongside the River Ouse, and soon takes you past the beautiful scenery of the South Downs National Park where hang gliders can often be seen flying off the hill tops as the train continues past Glynde and Berwick stations towards Eastbourne, a town which never looses its charm as a more genteel neighbour to brash Brighton along the coast.
63 London Paddington – Reading – Newbury – Westbury
Speeding down to Reading never fails to impress on one of the latest Class 800/802 trains, even beating the beloved HSTs on speed, if not comfort. Then marvelling on arrival at the amazing changes which have taken place at Reading station in recent years. Then it’s a delightful ride through what’s promoted as the North Wessex Downs as the journey continues through Berkshire and Wiltshire keeping an eye out for Newbury racecourse and the Kennet and Avon Canal which the line parallels all the way as far as Pewsey.
Most journeys from London take the ‘by-pass track’ avoiding Frome which is a great pity as it has a delightful full size roof over its now single platform and track (the other platform and track long being out of use) which is very unusual for a through station. It’s worth catching the 0607 up from Frome or the 1707 or 1807 down from Paddington (the only direct trains linking Frome with London) for the pleasure of doing so!
Arriving at Westbury it’s well worth wandering outside to appreciate the station’s traditional architecture as shown below.
64 Fareham – Southampton
There are two highlights on this journey. The superb views as the tracks cross the River Hamble (noting the luxury boats moored up alongside the pontoon jetties) and the wonderful horseshoe curve around the River Itchen between Woolston and St Deny’s stations – always important to sit on the nearside in the westbound direction to see the Itchen in all its glory.
65 Shoeburyness – Upminster
Another journey with lovely coastal views as the tracks abut the beach between Chalkwell and Leigh-on-Sea and then continue over Hadleigh Marsh and alongside West Canvey Marsh Nature Reserve. Another nearside in the westbound direction seat for best views being essential. A lovely ride.
66 Ashford International – Stratford International – St Pancras International
Not so much for the scenery (have you seen Stratford International from the platforms!?) but for the amazingly impressive high speed the train takes. Having worked in Ashford in the 1970s it always seems impossible that a train now takes just 38 minutes for the journey to London.
67 Stourbridge Junction – Stourbridge Town
You just have to love the cute mini-size trains – they’re called Parry People Movers – or Class 139 in railway parlance – which shuttle up and down between Stourbridge’s Junction and Town stations every ten minutes for the three minute single journey time. If you haven’t taken a trip, now’s the time to head for Stourbridge and tick it off your list of journeys to do ….. and spare a thought for the lovely staff who share driving and ticket selling/checking duties on what must work out at over eighty single journeys per duty!
68 Edinburgh – Tweedbank
This wonderfully scenic line through the beautiful Scottish Borders, which reopened in September 2015, became an immediate success and questions were asked about the decision to cut back on construction costs meaning large sections were built as single track making it susceptible to delays and unreliability. The Borders is a lovely part of the country and the parallel X95 bus route (operated by Borders Buses) which continues south all the way beyond Galashiels to Carlisle (the original destination for the rail route) is a brilliantly scenic ride too – and for part of the journey, the bus and train parallel each other as seen below.
69= Rhymney – Cardiff
69= Merthyr Tydfil – Cardiff
69= Aberdare – Cardiff
69= Treherbert – Cardiff
69= Maesteg – Bridgend
As you’ll gather I’ve found it impossible to choose between these South Wales Valley Lines. They each have their own characteristics and are all worth a ride to explore the communities and scenery in this fascinating part of the Country which has seen much change in the post coal mining era. The termini at the head of the Valleys are all now a shadow of great stations past (as the photographs above show) but Pontypridd station where the Merthyr Tydfil, Aberdare and Treherbert lines meet to form a ten minute frequency into Cardiff has echoes of the past as the photographs below show.
74 Norwich – Lowestoft
The wonderful line between Norwich and Reedham was covered at entry no 47 (Norwich – Berney Arms – Great Yarmouth) but east of Reedham the Lowestoft line heads off in a south east direction crossing the lovely Reedham Swing Bridge and then continuing via Haddiscoe, Somerleyton and Oulton Broad North with great views across the southern arc of the Norfolk Broads. Lovely.
75 Leeds – Ilkley
This is a great line following the River Aire Valley west of Leeds with some brilliant sights of former mills and Yorkshire’s industrial heritage before climbing north through Guisley towards the River Warfe Valley and some great views across into North Yorkshire and the Pennines as Ilkley approaches.
76 Bishop Auckland – Saltburn
This is really a line of two halves with the magnificent Darlington station hosting the half-time interval. Bishop Aukland’s station is home to the wonderful Weardale heritage railway heading westwards to Stanhope, and well worth a visit; while the National Rail line eastwards towards Darlington has an hourly Northern Rail service overseen by a very active and successful Community Rail Partnership. The line passes Hitachi’s factory at Newton Aytcliffe for added interest. The hourly service continues eastwards from Darlington past the quirky Teeside Airport Station (just two trains call on a Sunday morning each week) as well as Britain’s Least Used Station in 2017/18: Redcar British Steel, with its three departures on Mondays to Saturdays and sadly now a shadow of its former industrial self. Saltburn is well worth exploring taking a walk to the cliffs and the lift down to the sandy beach below. All in all a great line for curiosities.
77 Liverpool Central – Southport
This line is the only Merseyrail line to make My Hundred Best Train Journeys and it’s a real gem, with some great views of Liverpool’s former era as the Country’s foremost north western port as the line passes former gigantic sized warehouses before hugging the coastline of Liverpool Bay all the way to Southport. A great journey.
78 Derby – Stoke-on-Trent
This journey is noteworthy for its one coach diesel train formation scurrying through the lovely countryside which joins Derbyshire with Staffordshire. The midway point at Uttoxeter is a lovely station, right next to the famous racecourse and an amazingly well kept garden to explore.
79 Lincoln – Gainsborough – Doncaster
There are just five or six trains a day which take this journey from Lincoln to Doncaster on the direct route rather than going via Sheffield, with just the two stops in the 50 or so minute journey at Saxily and Gainsborough Lea Road, and I like taking it for that very reason. It has a quirky feel about it. There’s also a rather nice junction at Gainsborough Trent Junction signal box where the line crosses the Retford to Brigg and Grimsby line as it crosses the River Trent (see no 79 below).
80 Birmingham – Stratford-upon-Avon
This journey through the Warwickshire countryside brings you to the tourist hot spot of Stratford-upon-Avon, which sadly only has trains approaching it from the north direction after the line heading south through to Honeybourne was severed.
As well as West Midlands Trains running either via Henley-in-Arden or Dorridge (the former is the better route), a less frequent service provided by Chiltern Railways brings (a very few) trains from London Marylebone and Leamington Spa (just a few more) off their mainline by Warwick Parkway at Hatton to Stratford-upon-Avon.
There’s a Parkway station just north of Stratford-upon-Avon but whenever I’ve travelled very few passengers have used it, probably because its a bit of a walk from Stratford-upon-Avon’s station into the town centre which as the first photograph above shows, is noteworthy for being unimpressively down at heel and in need of some TLC. There’s also a frequent bus between the Parkway car park and town centre taking most of the passengers I would think.
Interestingly the two minor stations at Claverdon and Bearley on the connecting single track line from the main Chiltern line to the West Midlands Railway line through Henley-in-Arden to Stratford-upon-Avon are administered by West Midlands Railway but only served by Chiltern Railways trains (except for one early southbound WMR train stopping by request at 0631/0635MF) …. and for now they both retain the former London Midland branding.
81 Retford – Brigg – Cleethorpes
It’s high time I included another Parliamentary Train journey and highly appropriate to include the line which sees passenger trains making just three journeys on a Saturday which start at Sheffield and run between Retford and Cleethorpes calling at Gainsborough Central, Kirton Lindsey and Brigg before joining the main Doncaster – Scunthorpe – Grimsby – Cleethorpes line at Barnetby. It’s a great shame those three stations only get a look in on a Saturday and hopefully the active Brigg Line Group will one day succeed in gaining trains during the week too. Meantime Gainsborough Central’s heritage signage is just fab.
82 Castle Cary – Weymouth
The Heart of Wessex Line provides a non hurried journey from Somerset into Dorset approximately every two hours. It’s single track all the way (as far as Dorchester) with passing loops at Yeovil’s lovely Penn Mill station (where there’s a connecting line used by a few South Western Railway journeys to the Salisbury to Exeter line at Yeovil Junction – entry no 52) and some lovely named stations including Yetminster and Maiden Newton.
At Weymouth, it’s worth taking the time to follow the train tracks from alongside the station’s west side and still easily seen embedded in the town’s roads which once took trains all the way down to the Harbour Station (photographed below) – what a sight that used to be.
83 Cambridge – Ipswich
This is a lovely line across Cambridgeshire and into Suffolk. It’s well worth a break at Bury St Edmonds to explore this lovely town and the superb brickwork of the station building. On the Preston to Colne line (entry no 43) the journey passed by the rather upbeat positive sounding Pleasington station, whereas on this line the first station after Cambridge has a more downbeat name……
84 Maidenhead – Marlow
One of the best branch lines close to London which includes the reverse manoeuvre at Bourne End where the line used to continue to High Wycombe (and where heritage signs still exist on platform 2 promoting it!). Now trains only shuttle up and down the branch with no through trains to Paddington. In peak hours Marlow commuters have to also change trains at Bourne End so that a half hourly service can be provided, whereas in the off peak trains travel the full length of the branch on an hourly frequency. Marlow’s a lovely spot on the Thames, which makes the journey all the better.
85 Marks Tey – Sudbury
This busy single track three-station Suffolk branch line is included in My Hundred Best Train Journeys because (a) it provides well timed convenient connections off the main line to and from Norwich at Marks Tey with trains in both directions (provided everything’s running on time), (b) the first station on the line, Chappel & Wakes Colne, has the lovely East Anglian Railway Museum on site, (c) the second station, Bures, is the nearest Request Stop station to London (although only after 1000) (d) the terminus at Sudbury, with its dead end tracks south of the town centre are a sad reminder of the heyday when the line used to continue to Haverhill and Bury St Edmonds.
86 Shrewsbury – Chester
I included the southern section of this line via Hereford to Newport at no 37, now I’m travelling on the northern part of this boundary hugging line which passes from England through Flintshire in Wales and back into England for the wonderful city of Chester. The views as the line heading towards the River Dee near Ruabon are quite stunning. The line between Wrexham and Chester has recently been upgraded and hopefully will lead to an improved timetable and reliability.
87 Bidston – Wrexham
This quirky line starts at an unusual point …. at Bidston on the outskirts of Birkenhead (where there are connections with Birkenhead and Liverpool on Merseyrail from its inconsequential island platform) then heads down through the Wirral and some spectacular views of the Dee Estuary before crossing into Flintshire and passing under the North Wales coastal line at Shotton where there’s a station on each line (Low Level and High Level) as at Retford and Smethwick. Perhaps one of the best named stations is on the next section, Hope (or Yr Hob in Welsh) and handy if you want to play a pairing game with the other Hope (in Derbyshire – entry no 12). The line’s southern terminus is as unusual as the northern one, at Wrexham Central, which consists of an inconsequential single platform alongside a warehouse style shopping centre. The little spur to Wrexham Central deviates off the main north-south line at Wrexham General before passing under the tracks on a right angle curve.
88 York – Pontefract Baghill – Sheffield
It’s a shame there are so few journeys on this line – just two a day – as it gives full on, up close views of Ferrybridge Power Station and although the journey takes an hour and a quarter compared to half that time on a Cross Country train via Doncaster (partly because it has ‘pathing issues’ so the timetable has bags of slack time including a prolonged stop at the only-twice-a-day served Pontefract Baghill, it’s got a charm all of its own and is well recommended if you’re not in a hurry.
89= Waterloo – Windsor and Eton Riverside
This journey is well worth taking with much of interest to see as the train travels through south west London, including the country’s busiest station at Clapham Junction , then Barnes Common, Mortlake and Richmond (including its iconic bridge over the Thames), Bedfont Lakes Country Park and Staines where it then takes you through reservoir country as the Thames meanders towards Windsor. The approach via Datchet is a great way to arrive in Windsor as is the Windsor and Eton Riverside station itself, but this is equally matched by our next entry…..
89= Slough – Windsor and Eton Central
…. the GWR alternative route into Windsor via the one stop shuttle service from Slough offering spectacular views of Eton and Windsor Castle as the train approaches Windsor and Eton Central station and the rather sad diminution of this once great edifice to just the one platform inside the vast station building with its other retail and tourist opportunities now on offer.
91 Twyford – Henley
My third GWR branch line in this section, known as The Regatta Line, which like Marlow (no 83 above) provides a shuttle service from the main Great Western Line; this one serving Wargrave and Shiplake on the way on a half hourly timetable for most of the day. A great little circuit is to take one of these shuttles have a wander around the delightful Henley and then continue over to Marlow on the Arriva 800/850 bus route, have another wander before back to the main line on that shuttle train via Bourne End. Delightful.
92 Gospel Oak – Barking
This line has been much troubled in recent months with delays to the electrification and more recently towards the end of 2018, delays to the new electric trains Class 710 being introduced. The reason for its inclusion in My Hundred Best Train Journeys is as a north London lad I always knew it as the Ugly Duckling of a line mysteriously heading east-west whereas everything else seemed to sensibly head north-south. It wasn’t until TfL gave it much needed TLC to make us all realise it was in fact a beautiful White Swan of a line providing really helpful connections between communities right across north London. A true transforming travel exemplar….. just a shame about the recent infrastructure delays damaging its reputation, but I’m sure it will soon regain its prominence in 2019 once the new trains begin running.
93 Sittingbourne – Sheerness
Notwithstanding the terminus at Sheerness being somewhat underwhelming, it’s a great stub of a line to the quirky Isle of Sheppey. There’s an isolated station at Swale in the shadow of the enormous road bridge which connects the island to the rest of Kent and for real quirkiness, aside from the main shuttle trains which scurry up and down every half an hour there are a couple of peak hour journeys for commuters which take the western curve to the main line and omit Sittingbourne!
94 Stockport – Reddish South – Stalybridge
The Mother of all Parliamentary Trains got a boost this year when the May timetable changed its one journey a week leaving Stockport at 1013 only on Fridays to 0945 only on Saturdays AND introduced an inbound journey from Staybridge at 0846 meaning for the first time for many years you could actually board a train in Reddish South or Denton, travel to Stockport, have 36 minutes there, and return the same day! Whenever I’ve been on the journey it’s been surprisingly ‘busy’ with a handful of other people checking out its quirkiness; it just has to be on any bucket list train journeys.
95= Whitland – Fishguard Harbour
95= Whitland – Milford Haven
The wonderfully scenic journey westward from Llanelli as far as Whitland in south west Wales was included at entry no 42 (Llanelli to Pembroke Dock) but from Whitland (photographed above) the line also continues west towards Clarbeston Road station before splitting again for the two lines I’ve included here to Milford Haven on the south coast and Fishguard Harbour on the west coast.
Both journeys provide glimpses of beautiful scenery as you head towards the Pembrokeshire Coast. Fishguard Harbour is one of those stations that’s seen better and busier days sitting alongside the ferry terminal to Rosslare, (with shades of Stranrear and Holyhead about it). Even more sad is the one platform terminal at Milford Haven resting alongside a massive Tesco Extra. But the journey to both termini is well worth taking.
There are some strangely timed trains to and from Fishguard too; for example, an 0237 arrival from Manchester with an 0237 departure to Carmarthen aren’t particularly convenient for the ferry arriving from Rosslare at 2125 and leaving at 2345! My favourite journey is the 1250 flyer to Cardiff which takes the Swansea avoiding line. Even more exciting after Llanelli the train took the line via Pontlliw last time I travelled on it.
97 Chippenham – Melksham – Westbury
This lovely connecting single track line (grandly called the TransWilts Line and which starts in Swindon) is well worth a ride between Chippenham and Westbury. It got a frequency boost a few years ago when the County Council funded extra journeys and which luckily still find themselves in the timetable – there are now nine on Mondays to Fridays, eight on Saturdays and six on Sundays. Due to electrification works on the main line through Newbury, West of England express trains have been using this link as a diversion on many occasions during 2018.
98 Stevenage – Hertford North – Moorgate
99 Hitchin – Welwyn Garden City – Moorgate
100 Enfield Town – Liverpool Street
And finally my last three entries are all totally self indulgent – well after all, this is MY Hundred Best Train Journeys, not yours. My childhood was spent living close to Winchmore Hill and Grange Park stations on the Hertford North line and I’ve many happy memories of travelling when very young to adjacent stations at Enfield Chase and Palmers Green & Southgate (as it used to be called) and often catching the bus home. Even better were extended trips to the hustle and bustle of Kings Cross and seeing steam engines taking express trains to places far far away, especially from Platform 8. Other memories include peak hour journeys through the adjacent York Road platform and going ‘underground’ on the ‘widened lines’ to Farringdon, Aldersgate (now Barbican) and Moorgate and also peak hour journeys to Broad Street which left the line at Finsbury Park and ran via Canonbury and Dalston (now part of the Overground).
At Wood Green (as Alexandra Palace used to be called), where the Hertford North line branches off over the East Coast Main Line by the Bounds Green depot, it was always fun to see the Bounds Green tunnels and wonder if a train would emerge from “up north” and even more exciting to catch a suburban train as far as Hitchin where many terminated. The Welwyn Viaduct still brings a joy to this day as I pass over sadly also knowing how restrictive it is in pathing more trains on the main line.
In my youth these lines together with the Enfield Town to Liverpool Street line were all within British Rail’s Eastern Region but the main difference was the former had mostly two or four car DMUs, whereas Enfield Town had swish electric trains making them appear a little more superior for a ride up to London especially as, after Lower Edmonton it seemed to be on stilts as it passed through Edmonton and Tottenham (keeping an eye out for the Spurs ground at White Hart Lane of course). However, such superiority was always brought back to earth by the manual level crossing at Lincoln Road, Bush Hill Park which unbelievably lasted as a vehicle crossing right up until 2012.
So, that’s My Hundred Best Train Journeys. There’s no better way to enjoy the wonderful scenery this country has to offer than by train (and bus)…. from the delights of the West Highlands (entry no 1) through to a suburban-journey-with-a-view through Edmonton and Tottenham (entry no 100). You can’t help but enjoy the scenic variety along the way. Happy travelling.