Leeds, ENG – Carlisle, ENG//16October17[Northern Line]

As a Cumbrian lass, born and bred, there’s nothing quite like returning home.

Not only do I get the benefits of a nostalgic home cooked-meal, I also get to enjoy one of the most scenic rail journeys in the UK.

I was brought up in Carlisle by my Grandparents who, bless them, are still going strong up North. When I eventually moved away from Carlisle and out of my childhood home, they both made me promise that I would come back and visit at least 4 times a year (not including Christmas which, apparently, goes without saying). I still remember that first train ride ‘down South’ to my new home in Leeds as if it were yesterday. I’d been taken out on the Yorkshire Dales before on school trip and weekend hikes, but never before had I seen them from this perspective.

The rail line that runs south, specifically from Carlisle to Settle (a small town on the edge of the Dales), is so well-loved that it is supported by two separate charitable organisations, in addition to the continual servicing it receives from it’s Northern Rail operators. The Friends of the Settle – Carlisle are a group of volunteers who dedicate their time to raising money to support the constant work that is needed to beautify the stations and properties associated with the line, this includes the station buildings themselves, as well as adjacent gardens and houses.

So why all this fuss over such a short piece of track?

Put simply – there are no other stretches of railway track in the UK that can compete in terms of natural beauty.

Construction for the line began all the way back in 1869, as a result of competing rail companies, Midland Railway and London & North Western, vying for market dominance. The line was engineered to carefully trace the natural curves of the Pennines, in order to maximise speed and efficiency – unfortunately, this efficiency came at a cost for some local people, who found that their town’s station could be as far as 4 miles away. After 7 years of construction, involving the work of 6,000 men – the last hand-constructed rail line was completed in 1876.

Many men died throughout the years that it took construct this route, either as a result of small pox or work-related accidents – this is no wonder, especially when you consider the gargantuan effort it would have taken to lay a track that covers 72 miles, running through 14 tunnels and over 20 viaducts. These diversions, combined with the stunning scenery, makes for a dramatic journey, however you’ve got to feel sorry for whoever has the unfortunate job of railway track monitoring such a complicated route!

Tickets for my journey from Leeds to Carlisle can come as cheap as £20, if you book the right train ahead of schedule; an off-peak return is also reasonable at around £36. If you’re only interested in the historic Settle-Carlisle route, then tickets will be even cheaper as the round trip will take you less than four hours. The only downside to catching a ride on this stunning route is the average diesel Sprinters that you travel in, courtesy of Northern rail.

Still, when a home-made roast dinner is waiting for you at journey’s end, it’s a difficult ride to beat.

Edinburgh, SCT – Long Preston, ENG//20January17[CrossCountry+Northern]

When you start approaching my age, your holiday plans become a little less adventurous.

As a younger man, I would think nothing of taking a week’s holiday off and improvising my way around continental Europe.

It might have been a little trickier to navigate your way around the continent at that point; back in the 80s less Europeans spoke English and there was no mobile telecommunications, but that was part of the thrill of travelling. I’ve talked to my grandchildren about this and they were, quite frankly, shocked. Then again, it takes little to shock young people from this day and age.

They were worried when I told them that I’d be taking the train down to Long Preston, from my home in Edinburgh, to meet them at Bowland Fell Park for a long weekend. They really had no need to be.

I sold my car, a lovely little MG Roadster, a couple of years back. I adored that car, but it was always more of a hobby than anything else. I loved tinkering with it in the garage and meddling with the engine more than actually driving it. Although my aforementioned children and grandchildren saw this as my final retreat into old age (and senility), it was more akin to the beginning of a renewed phase of travelling throughout Britain.

Our train system gets a great deal of criticism.

OK – it’s expensive, often runs off schedule and the staff vary greatly in their helpfulness. But, those focussing on these negatives are missing out on what makes train travel so enjoyable in our country. Our railway system allows us to travel in relative comfort to over 2,500 different locations throughout the country.

For old folks like me (anyone over the age of 60), we can use a Senior Citizen Railcard to get a 1/3 off any of our train tickets, hugely reducing the overall cost of any journey. If you’re aged between 18-24 then you can get a similar discount. This means that a great swathe of young and old people can make their way safely around the country, at little expense to themselves.

By searching online (yes, us old folks know how to do that too!) I found tickets that cost me around £60, a steal considering the distance. All that was left for me to do was pack my bags, get to the station on time and watch the world go by.

Many of my train journeys have begun at Edinburgh Waverley Station. Its a station with half-buried in the past, almost as old as our railway station, with parts of the grand building date back to 1847. Having lived in Edinburgh for the past 30 years, each time I embark or arrive here my mind drifts back to one of those times. If nostalgia is my greatest weakness as an old man, then train journeys are the catalyst for those moments.

Although I fall asleep as soon as the train leaves the station (a napping addiction is perhaps by second greatest weakness), when I wake up, the train is lazily drifting down the Eastern Coast of the UK and I’m treated to a view of England’s stunning coast line. By the time I arrive at Long Preston, my family are waiting to pick me up.

They ask me if I’m OK, I wipe the mist from my eyes and tell them I’ve never been better.