Interview with Matthew Woodward, Rail Author

7 September 2021

Rail Chatter has the pleasure of interviewing rail travel author Matthew Woodward who has completed several Trans-Siberian, Trans-Manchurian and Trans-Mongolian journeys from his bucket list.

In 2015 he successfully completed a solo journey on the longest and highest railways in the world to reach Tibet by train. He has circumnavigated the world (as far as possible) by rail.

Woodward writes for a variety of publications on long-range train travel and is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical and Royal Asiatic Societies. He is a self-confessed coffee addict and carries an espresso machine wherever he travels. His latest book Silver Streak was published during lockdown.

Interview with Matthew Woodward for Days Out by Rail
Matthew Woodward

In this interview we chat more about travelling by train in Britain.

Interviewed by: Emily Roberts

Thanks Matthew for taking the time for some rail chatter, I'm a big fan of your books but I wanted to jump straight in for you to take us back to your early days. What was your first trip by train?

You won't be surprised to know that my current passion – or should that be addiction – to rail travel started from a very young age. It might seem a bit unusual now, but as an 8-year-old lad I travelled all over the place alone on the train. I'd often spend my pocket money on the Celtic hauled InterCity trains on the Midland line into St Pancras. It made me feel like an explorer, something that set me up well for my adventures today.

You certainly got the rail travel bug at a young age! What is it about rail travel that you enjoy?

Being able to relax and not worry about how to get where I'm going - instead I'm able to enjoy studying the landscape out of those big windows. I hope that after the pandemic passes travel by train will become more social again - a chance to chat with other passengers.

Sussex coast big window views, scenic day out by train
Big window views along the Sussex Coast

The last 18 months haven't allowed us so much freedom to get out and about, when was the last time you actually travelled by train in Britain?

Last week I took the train to London for the first time in ages, which immediately felt quite normal.

We're blessed with lots of fantastic places to visit by train in Britain. Any plans?

I like the concept of the 'micro adventure'. For the rest of this year, I will be rediscovering historic sites and museums here in England - short trips, plenty of days out by rail planned. I'm normally over organised – you need to be when circumnavigating the globe by rail - but my plan is to explore Britain on the spur of the moment. Discover some new places... keep the adventure alive. Just me and my lucky Flying Scotsman thermos flask, a map and small bag. I'll need to find out more about all those off-peak ranger and rover tickets that can make these trips very affordable. I've been keeping my head down at my HQ since returning from the United States in February 2020. But now as we begin to emerge, I'm trying to get used to travel again and visit places in the UK.

Any Britain bucket-list rail journeys?

I've never been on the Night Riviera Sleeper between London and Penzance. Not only do the cabins look comfortable, but the lounge bar looks great - always a priority for me when I'm on the rails!

Any advice as to how to make exploring Britain by rail most enjoyable?

Try and maintain some ticket flexibility - you never know what you are going to discover or how long you might want to spend at a particular attraction. Slow down, and don't feel like you are in a rush - enjoy being in the present moment.

Days out by rail in Hampshire
Mottisfont & Dunbridge Railway Station, along the Southampton to Salisbury Line

Slow down... a great tip. Travelling by train lends itself to bringing the pace of life down a gear or two. What's your favourite rai journey in Britain?

Since moving to Chichester a couple of years ago, I have been amazed to discover that there is a train service between Portsmouth and Bath (occasionally even Brighton and Bath with one change) - it's a great service and I love the route it takes, especially around Roman Southampton, and then the docks before going cross country across Salisbury Plain and the countryside. All in a little over 2 hours. It feels more like a tourist train than a commuter service to me, but it must also be great for people living in towns and cities that are not obviously directly connected by rail.

Got to ask...I'm a forward-facing, window seat rail traveller. You?

Me too! Airline style seating to avoid playing footsie with fellow passengers.

Thanks Matthew for the chance to natter and we are loving the idea of micro adventures! Good luck also with your upcoming projects and I'm sure some of our followers would love to see what you're up to on Twitter and Facebook.

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