Timeless Travel

Let yourself be spirited to some of Britain’s most beautiful destinations aboard a vintage train

Modern trains might be convenient, but where’s their charm? They neither send out billows of smoke, nor whistle as they pull into stations. Meanwhile, Agatha Christie – or her characters – wouldn’t be seen dead on the carriages, as clean and functional as they might be. Where’s the crystal in the buffet car? Where is the buffet car?

Fortunately, several hundred steam locomotives and, even better, their carriages, still run in Britain – and on historic routes, too. Many are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Most came out of regular service in the Sixties, and are now run by volunteers. Here, we chuff through some of the best of Britain’s heritage railway lines.

Belmond British Pullman

Looking for marquetry decorated with leaping antelope, deep-pile carpet or cut-glass tumblers? You’ve come to the right place. The 11 carriages of Belmond British Pullman – sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – were once part of the Brighton Belle and the Golden Arrow, celebrity trains of their time, and display Twenties and Thirties glamour. They even have names, including “Audrey”, which has carried HM The Queen, and appeared in the Agatha Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express.

Destinations include Bath, York, Canterbury, Blenheim Palace and a new route to Stratford- upon-Avon. Pop-up dinners are hosted by Michelin star chefs such as Michel Roux, Jr and Raymond Blanc, while murder mystery lunches give you the chance to recreate those Agatha Christie moments.

West Somerset Railway

At 22.75 miles (36.61km), The West Somerset Railway is the longest heritage railway in England. And it has vintage appeal, too: parts of the line opened in 1862. Window seats offer views of the Quantock Hills, the sea and myriad villages. Explore the countryside from Williton Station, near the Coleridge Way – a 36-mile trail through landscape that inspired the 19th-century Romantic poet. Or from Crowcombe Heath eld, where you can take a one-and-a-half-mile circular walk, crossing a couple of railway bridges (look out for the aming leaves of the beech trees in autumn). Bring a bike to recreate Beatle Ringo Starr’s appearance in A Hard Day’s Night, where he cycles down Crowcombe platform. Or a bucket and spade, if you prefer the seasidey lure of Minehead, at the end of the line.

North Yorkshire Moors Railway

You don’t get more historic than this route, if only because it was planned, in 1831, by George Stephenson, the Father of Railways. Today, the 18-mile (29km) heritage line, from Pickering to Grosmont, carries more passengers than any other in Britain. The heathery moors, marked by the quaintest of stations, are the draw. Both Pickering and Goathland stations, built in Victorian times, have been restored to their Twenties and Thirties glory. (The former appeared in Brideshead Revisited.) The War-Time Weekend in October will maximise the historical charm: expect actors in period dress to roam the area. Christmas will be even more spirited, with elves and mince pies. Even Santa thinks this railway is worth a visit, from Lapland, at his busiest time of year.

For the full article, see the 2019 BRITAIN Guide on sale here