The journey home for Christmas is always an exciting, emotional one.
The price of trains in England has been steadily increasing for the last decade.
Yet despite more and more money leaving our pockets we’re rarely given any improvement in the standards of our train journeys.
The galling price of train travel is most notable when travelling long distance and is enough for even regular train travellers like myself to reconsider their options when the time comes to travel home for the Christmas season. Staying up in the North of England certainly has its benefits when it comes to saving money. Living expenses are much lower up here, rent is cheap and the food in shops cheaper than their counterparts in the South. Still when I came to book my journey home last year I found myself a little strapped for cash and simply unable to afford the prohibitive cost of the return journey home to Devon.
At a loss at what to do, I consulted a few of my favourite travel blogs for advice which led me to a number of airport parking comparison sites which revealed that that flying down from Manchester to Exeter was a more economical way to travel home for the holidays. Not only did choosing to fly save me £40, but the overall journey would also save me 45 minutes of time. The journeys might have gone without a hitch, I might have saved money and time, but the experience was certainly lacking. Despite the cost, there are still many benefits to taking the train over flying, chief of those being convenience.
This year I saved up the money that I needed to jump on the train and settled into a 5 hours-plus journey that reminded me of just how romantic a train journey can be.
The wind was brisk as I stepped aboard the first of my two trains which would take me all the way home to Devon. I’d booked a window seat as usual, and was pleased to find that my seat offered me the full width of a window (rather than the slither of a gap you are sometimes lumped with). My bag was packed with all the things I needed to enjoy a long train journey: plentiful sandwiches, a grab bag of my favourite crisps (Walkers’ Prawn Cocktail), my tablet for reading and headphones. I’d learned a long time ago that being properly prepared for a journey was a imperative to the enjoyment of the day, and if you’re going to pay up to £90 for a train ticket, you may as well enjoy the experience!
The train trundled out of the station and took me out of the city reaches towards Birmingham New Street. This stretch of rail features a few pleasant vistas; northern suburbs mixed with the occasional green field. It’s not until I embark on the second leg of my journey that I can sit back and really enjoy the view. Travelling in the afternoon, I’m afforded some truly stunning views of bucolic countryside on my way down from Birmingham which are complimented by the slowly setting sun. I read for half an hour stretches, punctuated by the occasional snack and cup of tea; anticipation slowly building for the holiday to come.
You just don’t get this kind of relaxation on a plane……
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.…
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.…