Let’s face it, train travel in the UK has a bad image due to ever increasing fares and poor service.
But a scenic holiday by rail is something else entirely – journeying through incredible landscapes with passengers who have similar interests to you.
A solo break by train has many unique benefits for single travellers over other types of holidays.
Lindsay Dixon, head of trade sales at Rail Discoveries, says: “Our tour groups are formed
of like-minded travellers of similar ages, so it’s easy to make friendships and socialise.
“Excursions and many meals are included and can be enjoyed as a group. Short breaks include free time, so those who want to explore on their own can experience that too.”
Lakes and Dales by Steam is a new tour from the operator for 2019 featuring two national parks, an iconic rail journey that might even bring clients to tears, and another that’s delightfully quirky.
I join the group for dinner at the four-star, 1853-built Hallmark Hotel in Carlisle. It couldn’t be more convenient, being only a few yards from the station entrance – practical for Rail Discoveries’ mainly over-60s clientele, especially when travelling with luggage.
We enjoy a trip through the Lake District fells before arriving at Muncaster Castle, beautifully situated where the mountains sweep down to the sea with England’s highest peak, Scafell Pike (978 metres), on the horizon.
One of the owning family, Peter Frost- Pennington, shows us around. The Pennington family have owned Muncaster since the 13th century and, as the expression “tomfoolery” is said to originate here, it now stages a Festival of Fools in honour of court jester Tom Skelton.
There’s nothing foolish about the twice-daily hawk and owl show in the castle grounds, and I love the little burrowing owls, who demonstrate their penchant for dashing through purpose- built tunnels. Then it’s a short trip to our first rail experience, the Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway.
Opened in 1875 to transport iron ore from the hills, “la’al ratty” (in the Cumbrian dialect) runs to a gauge of only 15 inches compared to 4 foot 81⁄2 inches on the “real” railway. And it’s delightful, with our waist-high engine working hard as we hurry uphill on the 40-minute trip past woods, streams and sheep-grazed hillsides to Dalegarth.
We return by rail along the Cumbrian Coast, reaching Carlisle in time for a stroll around and another tasty dinner in the Hallmark grill. Tomorrow we have the Settle and Carlisle Railway to look forward to. The route has iconic status, with beautiful Dales scenery; romantic names such as Ais Gill, Blea Moor and Wild Boar Fell; and Ribblehead viaduct, which at 402 metres is a great feat of Victorian engineering.
Yorkshire by Steam is a four-night holiday costing from £415pp (no single supplement on selected dates), which includes the North Yorkshire Moors and Keighley and Worth Valley railways.
Great Little Trains of Wales is a seven-night half-board holiday from £465pp (£596pp single occupancy) visiting the Ffestiniog, Welsh Highland, Bala Lake and Llanberis Lake railways.
The British Pullman o ers luxury day trips from London to places of interest, such as Stratford-upon-Avon by Steam departing on 9 October, priced at £480pp.
Smarter: Clients can download the Rail Discoveries app to manage bookings and share their experiences. raildiscoveries.com/travelapp
Better: Suggest adding a night or two in Carlisle to discover the Border City and nearby Hadrian’s Wall Country.
Fairer: Instead of driving, suggest clients travel by train to Carlisle, which has plenty of direct services from London, Birmingham, Manchester, Newcastle, Leeds, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
The two-carriage diesel train takes us to the Dales town of Settle, before it continues
to Leeds. The 73-mile route opened in 1876 to passengers, but was badly neglected and proposed for closure by British Rail. When public opposition saved it in 1989, the Friends of the Settle-Carlisle Line (FoSCL) set out to market the line and conserve its stations, some of which have lovely gardens.
We have about four hours free in Settle. I enjoy the town’s traditional shops and pubs, calling
in at Victoria Hall (the oldest, still functioning musical hall in Britain, dating from 1853), and at the Folly, a grand 17th-century house.
Volunteer guides are onboard many Settle and Carlisle trains during the summer, and ours, Mark Rand, brings the journey alive as we head back north. But we have to scramble to find a seat on this two-carriage service, and train operator Northern is being urged to put on extra capacity.
Rand points out the landmarks and the “Three Peaks” of Whernside, Pen-y-Ghent and Ingleborough. His stories of how the line was saved are inspiring, and in the case of Ruswarp, bring some close to tears.
Ruswarp was the beloved dog of Graham Nuttall, co-founder of FoSCL, and being a fare- paying passenger, added its paw print to the petition against closure. When Graham died on a lone winter walking holiday, Ruswarp stayed with his master’s body for 11 weeks until it was found.
I take a picture of Ruswarp’s statue at Garsdale station, reflecting that it’s still possible to love our railways and the people they inspire.
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