Off the Beaten Track

26 July 2021

Escape the crowds and discover new places this summer with a day out by rail.

From traditional seaside towns and coastal walks to peaceful wildlife reserves and fascinating heritage sites, there's lots of places to explore off the beaten track by rail.
Below are some of our suggestions of how you can uncover some of Britain's hidden gems by rail, it's sure to get your travel tastebuds tingling! Although we can't guarantee you'll have these places all to yourselves, you may find them a little less crowded.

Train times are subject to change. Please check your route before you set off and allow extra travel time. We strongly suggest you travel outside of busy periods (usually mid-week is best) and book in advance where possible. Many train operators have capacity checkers or provide advice on when services may be quieter, check their websites for details.

North West

Uncover the rich history along the Mid Cheshire Line

Imagine what life was like in Roman times as you explore Chester's Roman Gardens. Featuring pieces taken from the nearby Roman fortress, including from military buildings, main baths and legion headquarters, the gardens allow you to get up close and walk among the artefacts. Nearby you can explore the largest Roman Amphitheatre in Britain, used for entertainment and military training.

Take a ride along the picturesque Mid Cheshire Line to reach Knutsford, a quaint town that provided the inspiration of Elizabeth Gaskell's Cranford.

Knutsford, a great day out by rail.

Take a guided walk from Knutsford Heritage Centre to discover the fascinating history of this market town.

Head back to the station and journey further along the Mid Cheshire Line, leaving the train at Delamere. Here you can explore the largest and most complex hill fort in Cheshire, Eddisbury Hill Fort. Dating back to before the Iron Age from the top, you'll be treated to panoramic views over Delamere Forest.

Scenic railway route: Manchester Piccadilly to Chester

Yorkshire & North East

Escape the bustling city along the Calder Valley

At the foothills of the South Pennines the large town of Rochdale is often overlooked for the bustling city of nearby Manchester. However, with easy train, tram and bus connections there's lots of places to visit in Rochdale that make a great day out.

Visit Touchstones Rochdale boasting five stunning galleries in a historic Grade II listed building, uncover how the worldwide co-operative movement first began at Rochdale Pioneers Museum and marvel at the Gothic architecture on the outside of Rochdale Town Hall (inside closed for renovations until 2023). Finish your trip with a visit to The Medicine Tap, located in the Grade II listed Old Post Office, featuring a menu with light bites, afternoon tea, evening dining and expertly crafted beers and cocktails.

Exploring Rochdale as part of a day out.

Scenic railway route: Manchester Victoria to Leeds

Journey time from Manchester Victoria: 15 min

Journey time from Leeds: 1hr 10 min

Discover Derbyshire on foot

Bamford Station sits along the beautiful Hope Valley Railway and provides easy access to the quiet Thornhill Trail, a great place to recharge and leave the busy hotspots behind.

Explore Ladybower Dam as part of a day out by rail.

The trail leads up to the Ladybower dam and is even laid-back enough to be listed on the Cool Places website. You'll walk through stunning countryside, pretty meadows and past the historic Bamford Mill.

Don't worry if your legs are tired at the end of the trail, you can catch the Hope Valley Explorer bus to make your way back.

Scenic railway route: Manchester to Sheffield

Journey time from Sheffield to Bamford: 30 mins


Barracks and Castles in Scotland

Take a journey along the impressive Highland Main Line and leave the train at Kingussie. From here take a scenic walk over the River Spey and out to the historical site of the Ruthven Barracks, providing fantastic views over the Insh Marshes, Monadhliath mountains to the east and Cairngorms in the west.

Further along the railway you'll reach Blair Atholl. From here take the 5 minute walk to the remarkable Blair Castle and Gardens. This majestic castle boasts a nine-acre walled garden and Dian's Grove of exotic conifers with the northern part of the estate located in the Cairngorms National Park.

Discover Blair Castle, perfect for a day out by train.

Scenic railway route: Glasgow/Edinburgh to Inverness via Perth

Journey time from Perth to Blair Atholl: 40 mins


Shakespeare's England

Take time out from the crowds exploring nearby Stratford-upon-Avon, birthplace of William Shakespear, and board the train to the quaint town of Henley-in-Arden, along the picturesque Shakespeare Line. As one of the oldest market towns, Henley-in-Arden is a secret gem in Warwickshire.

Home to the Henley Museum and Heritage Centre as well as fantastic historical buildings and plenty of quirky shops, including the fabulous Henley Ice Creams, it makes a great day out. Don't forget to take a look at the amazing work the Friends of Henley Railway Station have done in bringing the station to colour with plants and artwork.

Join tours run by Go Cotswolds from Stratford-upon-Avon explore all the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has to offer with a fun friendly tour. Train station pick up points mean it's easy to connect to the tours from places like London, Oxford and Birmingham.

Exploring Stratford Town Walk.

Explore the hidden history of Stratford-upon-Avon as you follow the Stratford Town Walk, a self-led tour uncovering the area's hidden gems and unknown facts. The railway station is a 15 minute walk from the station.

Scenic railway route: Shakespeare Line

Journey time from Birmingham Moor Street to Stratford-upon-Avon: 55 mins

Staffordshire delights

Enjoy a scenic ride along the charming North Staffordshire Line. Leave the train at Blythe Bridge Station and take a 15 minute walk to discover one of Britain's oldest heritage steam railways, Foxfield Railway. This journey takes you through beautiful Staffordshire countryside and is a great day out for the family. Nearby you can explore Heath House Farm and Garden Centre that's perfect for a bite to eat or afternoon tea after your steam journey. For those looking for thrills, you'll love the axe throwing experience with Active Aardvark Activities, located at Heath House Farm. These sessions must be pre-booked in advance.

Scenic railway route: Derby to Crewe via Stoke

Journey time from Birmingham New Street: 45 mins to Stoke-on-Trent


Explore Flitch Line by foot

Grab your walking boots and take a journey along the beautiful Flitch Line, stretching across lush Essex countryside. Leave the train at Braintree to join the Flitch Way, a safe traffic-free environment for walkers, cyclists and horse riders, that forms part of National Cycle Network Route 16. The route follows a disused railway line and includes plenty of wildlife, countryside views and traces of the areas industrial heritage. Pause for a bite to eat at the charming Booking Hall Café at Rayne and from there you can walk to Great Notley County Park or continue along the Flitch Way for the 15 mile walk to Bishops Stortford.

For a different route consider leaving the train at White Notley and joining the Essex Way. This 82 mile footpath takes you through ancient woodland, open farmland and tree-lined river valleys and can be broken into smaller routes using the nearby railway and bus networks.

Explore Essex countryside

Scenic railway route: Witham to Braintree

Journey time from London Liverpool Street: 45 min

Discover traditional seaside towns

Photo of Cromer Pier

Explore the traditional seaside towns of Cromer and Sheringham with easy access by train from the historic city of Norwich, perfect for a day out. This picturesque journey along the Bittern Line connects city with coast and travels through the beautiful Broads National Park. You may even catch a glimpse of the North Sea from the train.

Expand your rail journey with a visit to the nearby heritage railways; Bure Valley Railway, with connections at Hoveton and Wroxham, or leave the train at Sheringham to join the North Norfolk Railway.

Scenic railway route: Norwich to Sheringham

Journey time from London Liverpool Street: 1hr 50 mins to Norwich

South west

Uncover hidden history & gems along the Blackmore Vale Line

A five minute walk from Templecombe station and you'll reach St. Marys Church – look out from the train as you can usually spot the church's Norman bell tower. As you enter the cool interior of the church look for one of England's finest hidden gems, the only 'Head of Christ' panel painting in the UK that legend says is linked to the Knights Templar.
Back on the train head to Sherborne, a picture perfect town full of history, independent shops and plenty to see and do. Sherborne's Terrace Meadow is one of the undiscovered joys of the town, located around a 15 minute walk from the railway station.

A wonderful setting for an alfresco picnic, surveying some of the most panoramic views of the town and surrounding landscape. Here you can also discover many rare species of wildlife and plants including orchid, thanks to the rich and unusual soil found in the area.

Discover the rare species of flowers

Scenic railway route: Tisbury to Crewkerne

Journey time from Exeter: 55 minutes

South east

Hertfordshire's Hidden Gem

Scott's Grotto, a great day out by rail idea along the New River Line

Close to Ware Station, along the scenic New River Line, you'll come across Scott's Grotto. This fascinating Grade I listed building consists of a series of interconnected chambers, extending some 67ft into the chalk hillside. The chambers and tunnels are lined with shells, flints and pieces of coloured glass and dates back to the 18th century.

If you're in the area before 7 August, be sure to look out for fairies, pixies, elves and woodland creatures hiding at Scott's Grotto. This exciting event, in collaboration with the Secret Society of Hertford Crafters, aims to transform this interesting area into an enchanted grotto.

Scenic railway route: Hertford East to Broxbourne

Journey time from London Liverpool Street: 50 mins

Sea creatures in Sheerness

Uncover one of Kent's lesser-known beaches as you travel along the scenic Swale Line to reach Sheerness Beach. Just under a 15 minute walk from Sheerness-on-Sea railway station, this beautiful shingle beach is great for spotting sea creatures in the exposed pools during low tide and boasts views out towards the Essex coastline. The beach is a winner of the prestigious Blue Flag and Seaside Awards for 2021 so feel free to bring your swimsuit, just double check tide times before visiting.

Scenic railway route: Sittingbourne to Sheerness

Journey time from London St Pancras: 1 hr


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We encourage you to explore these journeys safely by adhering to the latest government advice. Before planning any journey, please check the government guidance on travelling on public transport, relevant to where you are: England, Scotland, Wales. Please research your journey in advance as timetables can change and check for disruptions before you set off.

These scenic railway routes are supported by community rail partnerships, you can find out more about each partnership on the individual line pages linked above. Community rail is a growing grassroots movement made up of community rail partnerships and groups across Britain. They engage communities and help people get the most from their railways, promoting social inclusion and sustainable travel while working alongside train operators to bring about improvements. Learn more about community rail across Britain and how you can get involved through the Community Rail Network website.

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