Ben le Vay’s top ten rail journeys

Britain from the Rails author Ben le Vay gives his favourite British railway journeys. 

Written by Ben le Vay


1. The West Highland Line

Glenfinnan Viaduct Scotland UK by Andrew ShaplandThe glorious Glenfinnan Viaduct is a highlight of this remarkable route © Andrew Shapland

Come in by sleeper from London, and finish off with steam. This sensational route will change your life with indelible memories. Beautiful ones. 

2. The East Coast Main Line

Forth Bridge Scotland UK by Copycat37 ShutterstockThe Forth Bridge is an internationally recognised outline © Copycat37, Shutterstock

Speed, style and scenery in abundance, plus the double drama of the Forth and Tay bridges. Two great capitals, with stunning views north of Newcastle. The Flying Scotsman route – rightly railway royalty. 

3. The Wherry Lines 

Reedham Swing Bridge UK by Gerry BaldingCrossing the Reedham Swing Bridge © Gerry Balding

Charm on wheels. The layout of the lines is eccentric, like the waterways they follow, and defies explanation; their survival inexplicable too. Much overlooked gems. 

4. The Skye Railway 

Isle of Skye Scotland UK by Tom DawsonThe line from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh, the iron road to Skye, rightly attracts superlatives © Tom Dawson

This is what they mean by remote possibilities. Sea to shining sea, and a chance to avalanche on the way! A classic that tells almost incredible tales.

5. The Settle & Carlisle Line

Settle & Carlisle Railway England by David HornerTravel through miles of pristine countryside on this famous railway © David Horner

A mad, moody, magnificent and mountainous main line – England’s highest. Unmissable. 

6. The Looe Branch  

St Ives Cornwall England UK by Dan Breckwoldt ShutterstockThis quaint line is just lovely © Dan Breckwoldt, Shutterstock

Or maybe the St Ives, it’s so hard to choose in Cornwall. These Enid Blytonish short-but-sweet numbers will charm the socks off you, guaranteed. Do both in a day, go on! 

7. The Cambrian Coast Line 

Barmouth Viaduct Wales UK by Kevin Eaves ShutterstockThis line isn’t just one of the great railway journeys of Britain – it is one of the great railway journeys of the world © Kevin Eaves, Shutterstock

Wales has a total treasure trove of railways, but this is the best. Made into a North Wales circuit with the help of the Ffestiniog line – it’s simply superlative. 

8. The Great Western

Maidenhead Bridge UK by Andrew ShaplandMaidenhead, a stop on one of the Thames Branches © Andrew Shapland

It might be well known, but it offers constant joys: from Brunel’s billiard table in the Thames Valley to viaducts over Cornish rivers, curving around bays and coves.

9. The Wessex Main Line

Bradford on Avon station England UK by Pitamaha ShutterstockBradford-on-Avon: a thoroughly charming station for a thoroughly charming town © Pitamaha, Shutterstock

Very little known outside its region, it brings before you a glorious variety of scenery and, with its long arm to Weymouth, returns you to Hardy’s Wessex.

10. West of England Main Line

Salisbury UK by Eleanor HowellSalisbury © Eleanor Howell

The forgotten way west. As you near Salisbury it starts getting lovely and then just gets better and better.

Inspired by these routes? Read more in our window-gazer’s guide:

Britain from the Rails

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