Romance on the rails: Best British vintage train journeys

Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland. Credit: Georgy Krivosheev/Alamy

From the majestic Highlands of Scotland to the stunning cliffs of Cornwall you can enjoy some of the most heart-stirring views of Britain from the comfort of a carriage. Here’s our pick of Britain’s best rail journeys

Words: Martha Alexander

Glasgow to Fort William, Scotland

The West Highland Line is one of the most popular in the world – and it’s easy to see why. Not only does the journey take you up to Corrour, the highest station in Britain, but it also speeds across the 21-arch Glenfinnan Viaduct with views of vibrant green landscapes to the east and coastal waters to the west.

Beginning in the lively cultural city of Glasgow, with its breathtaking Rennie Mackintosh architecture, the train makes its way up the west coast. It crosses Rannoch Moor, a rugged expanse of open country and one of the last remaining wildernesses in Europe. Arriving in Fort William is a treat, thanks to the town’s scenic location at the head of the lovely Loch Linnhe.

Derry-Londonderry to Coleraine, Northern Ireland

Mussenden Temple, Derry-Londonderry. Credit: NITB Photographic Library/David Cordner

This 40-minute journey through one of the most picturesque parts of Northern Ireland begins in Derry-Londonderry, the completely walled city that is also a cultural hub. The train follows the River Foyle out of the city and into a wonderfully rich green landscape.
Before long, the track begins to hug the northern coastline, offering up dramatic views of the Atlantic Ocean as it crashes onto gorgeous sandy beaches.

After passing through the seaside town of Castlerock, you’ll enter the tunnels of Castlerock and Downhill, which were specially blasted for the railway line
and are the longest railway tunnels in Ireland.

As you enter Coleraine, the main town on the Causeway Coast, there is plenty to see. The town lies on the pretty banks of the River Bann and you’ll have an excellent view as the train follows the river’s progression before your journey’s end.

St Erth to St Ives, Cornwall

Credit: John Chard St Ives Cornwall/Alamy

This journey on the St Ives Bay Line may only take 10 minutes, but what it lacks in length, it makes up for in prettiness. This patch of Cornwall is lovely almost without comparison. Starting your journey at St Erth, you will be charmed by the simplicity of this tiny village at the old crossing point of the River Hayle.

The train passes through Lelant Saltings, then moves up the dunes above Porth Kidney Sands. Two viaducts are crossed on this journey: the Carbis Viaduct and the St Ives Viaduct, the latter forming part of a dramatic descent into St Ives.

Opened in June 1877, the line was the last ‘broad gauge’ railway to be built in Britain. This splendid feat of Victorian engineering follows the cliff edge around the coast to provide
a stunning first impression of St Ives’ colourful harbour.

This is an extract of an article printed in the latest issue of BRITAIN (January/February 2022).
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