All The Stations - top five reasons to take a railway adventure

10 October 2018

Fresh from our All The Stations adventure in 2017 we, that's Vicki and Geoff, have written a book. The Railway Adventures publishes today (16 October) and is both an insight into our journey as well as a guide for other would-be adventurers.

During our trip, we travelled to all 2,563 railway stations in Great Britain (since then three more stations have been added to the network – Kenilworth, Maghull North and Corfe Castle). Along the way, we visited places we'd never seen before, met people we'd never otherwise encounter and learnt fascinating facts about the railways and the country we'd never have believed possible. It truly was a journey of discovery.

Some of our favourite moments were along beautiful branch lines where it is clear communities cherish their local stations and work together to celebrate their culture and heritage – past present and future.

We wanted to share with you our top five reasons why you shouldn't hesitate to book your own railway adventures (just don't forget your railcard!).

1. Places

How pleasant is Pleasington, is there really a Hall 'i 'th Wood? Britain has some of the best place names we've ever come across, and all with interesting stories to discover.

Looe for example, along the Looe Valley Line in Cornwall is a tiny picturesque town with a strong history of fishing, changed forever by the arrival of the railways in the 19th century. Trains which originally carried copper ore from Bodmin Moor down to South Wales (via boats in Looe Harbour) later became a thriving passenger service turning the town into an attractive tourist resort.

The town is split east and west, either side of the River Looe. It costs 50p to take a boat from one side to the other, or you could enjoy a walk over the town's iconic seven arched bridge.

You can find out more about the town's history at the local museum, situated in Looe's oldest building, previously the Guildhall and former goal, with many a ghost story to tell.

The picturesque town of Looe

2. Trains

Now before you say anything, we didn't write down any train numbers during our journey and we're not urging you to start. However, you can't help but get a little bit excited about some of the different train experiences you might encounter along your adventure. From what many people call a 'proper train', such as the Class 37 diesel locomotives that run along the Cumbrian Coast to the contrasting Parry People Mover, or as Vicki describes it 'the cutest train I've ever seen!'.

Parry People Mover
Parry People Mover

Operating as a shuttle between Stourbridge Junction and Stourbridge Town, the Class 139 Parry People Mover is one of the most unique features of the British Rail network.

Cheap, easy to maintain and environmentally friendly it is a triumph of engineering and a delight to ride. As a passenger one of the best things about the train is that you have a clear view of the driver and the cab so you can see everything going on in front – just as if you were driving the train itself. And who hasn't ever dreamt of being a train driver?!

3. People

The railways are one of the most sociable ways to travel, not only is there no designated driver (that decision has already been made) you never know who might be sitting just across the aisle from you. If you feel comfortable to do so, chatting to passengers is a great way to get a feel for the area you're visiting. Chances are it will be someone local to where you're going who will have all the inside knowledge about the best attractions, places to eat as well as where to avoid. We cannot count the number of delicious cafés we discovered based on recommendations from fellow passengers and train staff.

4. Stations

Our favourite stations were not always the largest or most opulent on the network (though there is something to be said for Victorian grandiosity) but it was the smaller and less obvious architectural gems that really captured our imaginations. Stations with much loved gardens, well-kept vintage signs and installations of local artwork really showed us the importance of the railways to their surrounding communities.

A recently unveiled mural at Smethwick Rolfe Street, created by local art students represents the diverse languages spoken within the area and the ambition of the community to continue to live and work harmoniously together.

Smethwick Rolfe Railway Station
Smethwick Rolfe Railway Station
Westhoughton Railway Station
Westhoughton Railway Station

The incredible gardens at Westhoughton station in Greater Manchester, turn what might otherwise be two straight forward, uninviting platforms into an Eden of colour, culture and fun.

The depiction of a cow's head trapped in a gate and threatened by an overhanging handsaw reminds us of the local legend of how a farmer, upon discovering his cow trapped in a gate, sawed its head off rather than demolish the gate. Practical, as the gate cost more than the cow. Since when, the folk of Westhoughton have been known as Howfens (cow heads).

5. Spontaneity

One of the most important advantages of traveling by train is the opportunity to be spontaneous. If you have time, why not get off one stop early and finish your journey by foot, stopping off at that castle you've always wanted to get a picture of? Or, perhaps you could 'break your journey' (which you can do with a flexible ticket where 'any route is permitted') and get out for a mini explore en-route to your final destination? Some of our best moments were made when we decided to change our route at the last minute, you just never know what you might uncover.

Whilst it can be confusing, with a bit of research there are lots of ticket options available that could give you the chance to make more than one stop, or multiple stops throughout your adventure. Especially look out for local 'Rover' tickets which often provide unlimited travel in a specific part of the country.

'The Railway Adventures: Places, Trains, People and Station' is published 16 October. Available online at September Publishing, Waterstones and other online retailers.

The Railway Adventures book cover
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