Rail Travel in England


By Glynn Burrows


ON BIG BLEND RADIO: Glynn Burrows, owner of Norfolk Tours UK, shares the history of rail travel in England and what visitors can experience today as part of their vacation. Listen on YouTube or download the podcast on Acast.

In the UK, we are still quite fortunate that we have a reasonable rail service, enabling us to travel between most major towns and cities on the train network. It isn’t always a simple journey from “A” to “B”, but traveling on a train can be a very pleasant experience, seeing parts of the country which you just don’t get to see from a car or bus.

If you are visiting the major cities, instead of hiring a car for the whole time you are in the UK and driving all over the country, why not use the train on those longer stretches and pick up a car at the station? Trains can be taken from Heathrow and Gatwick, straight into the centre of London and then, it is relatively simple to take the Underground to get to all parts of the city. From London, you can then journey on to all corners of the UK and, using the Channel Tunnel, even into France and Paris!

As the UK has had railways since the middle of the nineteenth century, we are fortunate to have some amazing Victorian Station buildings and many of these are still in use today. The architecture and construction of these masterpieces of engineering are amazing and, if you are interested in any aspect of art and design, a visit to some of the old stations is a must.

The fact that many of the railways have been in regular use for well over a hundred and sixty years also means that the land around the tracks and buildings is often a haven for flora and fauna as the land has not been developed. The tracks have obviously been kept clear and the immediate areas are well maintained, but the banks on either side of the rails are often covered in wildflowers and plants which have been left to flourish since the first trains passed by.

The history of railways is also a very popular subject in the UK, and we have hundreds of museums devoted to the development of steam-powered locomotives and many places where you can not only see the old trains and carriages, but where you can actually travel on them. Sitting in one of the old-style carriages and seeing the smoke billowing beside the train as you travel through the open countryside is an amazing experience and the smell is something you will remember too.

Only this year, we took our grandchildren on one of our local steam trains which run along the North Norfolk coast and even though they are very young, they really loved the things they saw and enjoyed the whole experience. We got on at the station in Holt and went out to Sheringham, passing through the woods, fields, and along the coast. Seeing the countryside from a train is totally different from similar views from a car or bus, and going over the bridges and through the tunnels is always exciting, especially for a four-year-old, (but also for a sixty-four-year-old).

Sheringham station is set up as it was in the 1940s, with all the old equipment, signs, and artifacts dotted around. It is a real journey back in time. One weekend during the year, the whole town holds a special 1940s weekend, when there are hundreds of people dressed in 1940s clothes and the whole town goes back to the days of gas masks and rationing.

  • A beautiful old station.
    A beautiful old station.

If you are seriously into the history of the railways, engineering, art and design, or anything to do with Victorian architecture, a vacation looking at railways and only using rail transport will be a great way to combine all those subjects whilst having a great, fun time in the UK.

As an idea, you could arrive at Heathrow and take the train to London. London has some of the most amazing station buildings in the country, many of them, with a structure that has remained relatively unchanged since the time they were built. There are so many of them, to choose from, you could spend a week in London, just looking at railway stations. (You do need to look up though, as many of the old features at eye level have been replaced as fashions changed, but the roof structures and the main buildings are often quite breathtaking.)

After a few days in London, a train up to York is a must as that is where you will find the National Railway Museum. It houses many locomotives and, for the serious researcher, information, and many experts to help with specialist knowledge. York is also an amazing place to visit, with The Minster, the city itself, and the Castle Museum, with the recreated period streets.

I would suggest at least two days in York, before another train journey to Cambridge. Cambridge is another two-day destination, although not really a railway destination as such, it is a place not to be missed, with its beautiful architecture, Colleges, and the spectacular King’s College Chapel.

After your relaxing time in Cambridge, a journey to Norwich and out to Sheringham will find you on the North Norfolk coast. Not only will you be able to enjoy some sea air, but you will also have the chance to have a trio on a steam train too. Your day ticket gives you unlimited journeys, so, if you want to stay on the train all day, you can. If you like a game of golf, there is a Links course here too, so having a game of golf while looking out over the sea is another opportunity for you.

From Sheringham, a stop on the way to London could be Colchester, one of England’s Roman settlements. The Norman Castle and the many remaining Roman ruins make Colchester a great place to explore.

Arriving back in London, there is the chance to stop for more sightseeing or a short trip out to the airport for the flight home.

The whole vacation would be using just the train, with the choice of using a taxi to and from hotels if your chosen accommodation was not within walking distance of the station.

Rail travel in the UK is not always very cheap, although there are some discounts for the holders of a rail card. Pensioners, students, and some disabled travellers can get a discount card, but it is best to do your research before you arrive. It is also often a lot cheaper to use the trains during the day, rather than during busy times, so planning journeys will be very advantageous.

Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history. Past guests have visited and experienced stately houses and gardens, castles and churches, ruins and villages, birding and wildlife, World War II airfields, and general area taster tours too. Accommodations can be in all types of establishment, from character buildings such as windmills, thatched cottages and castles, self-catering or five star luxury –  just say what you want and it can be arranged. Nothing is too much trouble for Glynn! Visit www.Norfolk-Tours.co.uk


Norfolk Tours in England

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Glynn provides customized, private tours and also helps his clients trace their English family history.

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