Adventure is out there with an All Line Rail Rover
Join our guest blogger Michael Scott as he takes us on an epic rail adventure across Britain.
Great Britain has some of the most beautiful and diverse scenery packed into a small space, and we are lucky enough to have a reliable railway network that takes you right through the heart of it all. From the mountains of the Scottish Highlands, the dramatic cliffs of the North East coast, through the flat fenland of East Anglia and over the hills of the Heart of Wales, the train takes you in comfort to every corner of our island.
I recently returned from a seven-day first class All Line Rail Rover adventure with my Dad, and it was worth every penny of the ticket price. We travelled 5020 miles, and this is our story.
Day one – Leeds to Bristol via London and Salisbury
I took the early train to York to meet my dad who was coming down from Durham. I took a walk around the streets at 7 am on a Sunday and I had the city to myself. York is a beautiful place at any time, but seeing it deserted was really special.
We intended to explore the south coast, but the beauty of the All Line Rover ticket is that you can get on any train you like. When our intended Thameslink train from Peterborough was cancelled, we ended up travelling via London Marlylebone into rural Oxfordshire; miles of gentle green hills speeding past the window.
We ended up in Salisbury and caught glimpses of the 760 year-old cathedral before making our way with Southwestern Railway through rolling countryside towards Exeter. This was the highlight of the day for me – England at its best. Hills, forests, farmland, genteel towns and villages, and perfect weather.
Day two – Bristol to Holyhead via Looe
We eventually got to Bristol and walked from the station along the river past restored industrial buildings steeped in history.
It was an early start from the magnificent gothic Temple Meads station. It felt like walking into a cathedral.
The railway line down through Devon is one of the most spectacular in the country. It hugs the coast for several miles around Dawlish before passing over one of the most famous bridges in the UK: Isambard Kingdom Brunel's Royal Albert Bridge.
As we approached, the sky put on a dramatic show; the morning sun just breaking through clouds for us.
We'd never taken the train down to Looe before. Just before Liskeard, the train from Bristol passes over a viaduct, with a single railway line far below, snaking along a valley. This is the beautiful Looe Valley Line.
Descending steeply, the train reverses after a few miles, probably as a means to get down the steep, wooded valley to the river which it hugs for a few miles before arriving at Looe; a small coastal town typical of Cornwall.
We took the long way up to Holyhead – travelling with GWR to London Paddington and then with Virgin Trains up the West Coast with the direct service to Holyhead from Euston. In First Class, Virgin have great food on this service. The weather was not being too kind as we crossed the Britannia bridge from the mainland onto the Isle of Anglesey late in the day.
Day three – Holyhead to Dundee via Newport and Glasgow
A highlight of the week was our trip on the early morning Transport for Wales Premier Train to Cardiff, which we caught as the sun was coming up on this characterful old station.
This is the only Transport for Wales train with a first class service and a chef on board. We were cooked a wonderful breakfast as we travelled along the North Wales coast; the sea on one side, and the distant Welsh Mountains on the other.
From Newport we took a meandering route north towards Glasgow via Birmingham. The West Coast Mainline travels through some of the industrial heartlands of England and into the beautiful Lake District, the Cumbrian mountains easily rivalling those of Wales in magnificence.
From Glasgow we travelled along the Strathallan line through Stirling and Dunblane towards Dundee. Despite drizzle, Dundee is a characterful city and home to the newly-built V&A museum.
Day four – Dundee to Norwich via Lowestoft
Leaving Dundee travelling south, the railway line crosses another famous bridge, the Tay Bridge, which was built to replace the original which was washed away during a storm in 1879 with the loss of 75 lives. Snaking over the Tay for almost three miles, it makes an awe-inspiring sight.
Today though, the weather was not being kind at all and it looked like our CrossCountry train was taking us into oblivion...
In Edinburgh we appropriately enough caught LNER's Flying Scotsman-branded train for our journey south.
The East Coast Mainline south from Edinburgh hugs dramatic cliffs for several miles; sometimes it feels like the train is only metres from plunging down into the North Sea far below.
The train crosses the Royal Border Bridge in Berwick Upon Tweed.
And then you see the Farne Islands, the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, beautiful Alnmouth...
Eventually the train crosses the viaduct in Durham giving breath-taking views of the city I grew up in and its 925 year-old Cathedral. (If you like Lego, be sure to go and see the scale model of the cathedral built from 300,000 bricks – it's fabulous!).
We changed trains in Peterborough and made our way through flat fenland of Cambridgeshire, Norfolk, and Suffolk on the Hereward Line and eventually joined the East Suffolk line from Ipswich to Lowestoft. The weather picked up, and this 50-mile line became another highlight of the week.
We glimpsed Woodbridge through the trees and made a note to come back one day.
The line travels through gentle Anglian farmland, which was glowing in the sunshine.
We couldn't continue our journey to Norwich due to a train cancellation because of a broken swing bridge, so we returned the way we came (which was no bad thing) and got there via the main line from Ipswich.
Day five – Norwich to Winchester via Doncaster and Sheffield
Another early start allowed us to see Norwich in the early sunlight, and it is well worth a walk along the river which is just by the station.
We returned to Peterborough and set off north again for a few miles with LNER, which was just enough time to enjoy another great breakfast, with Lincolnshire countryside passing by the window.
From Doncaster we popped across to Sheffield where a quick climb of the hill behind the station gave dramatic views of the Steel City far below.
We took a leisurely journey south with CrossCountry to Winchester. We enjoyed seeing the sun begin to set over the fields of Hampshire to end a simple, pleasing day.
Day six – Winchester to Inverness on the Highland Chieftain
The Highland Chieftain is an LNER train which runs once a day in each direction between London and Inverness
At 581 miles, it is one of the longest single journeys on the National Rail network (CrossCountry's Aberdeen to Penzance journey is 719 miles and takes 13 hours – we did this one a couple of years ago). We set off in blazing sunshine from Kings Cross on time at 12:00.
After a few hours we passed the famous bridges of Newcastle and carried onwards towards Alnmouth again.
The weather was kinder to us along the coast, passing the same cliffs as a couple of days ago, but this time looking far more inviting.
North of Edinburgh, the landscape begins to change. The hills become higher and it all starts to look more Scottish.
The line up to Inverness is stunning. Crossing high viaducts and passing rushing rivers, you see distant mountains and peer down into deep gorges. The train traverses the Drumochter Pass in the Grampians – the highest point on the British rail network at 452 metres above sea-level.
There was snow on the peaks in places, despite the glorious sunshine. Some of the hills looked as if they were drawn by children.
After about seven and a half hours, the train crossed the Culloden Viaduct, high above the River Nairn.
Day seven – Inverness to Leeds via London and Durham
Our last day was a simple one – we just wanted to sit and watch the world go by. After returning to Edinburgh from Inverness, we took the Virgin train down the West Coast to Euston.
The train passes through the Lake District and the window shows it at its best in the sunshine.
From London, it was back up the East Coast with LNER for one last glimpse of Durham.
Eventually, the sun went down on our great trip, and my thoughts started turning to the next All Line Rover, which will be our sixth...
We travelled over 5000 miles and saw some of the most spectacular scenery, and some of the most mundane, but all of it showing our country at its best. We are lucky to live in a green land of open countryside and spending the week seeing it all whilst spending time with my dad is a highlight of the year, and long may it continue.
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