For many of us, a self-catering holiday in the UK usually involves packing the car until bursting point, often with bikes hanging off the back and the dog taking up the vast majority of the boot. This is then followed by a lengthy discussion on whether to risk the traffic on the motorway, or to take the scenic route and pop into that National Trust property that you have always fancied visiting. With the car packed, route planned and sandwiches made it is time to set off on holiday!
However, whilst travelling by car does give you flexibility, both in terms of space and time, it is not the only way to travel. As we are all becoming increasingly aware of the current climate crisis and the need to reduce our carbon foot print it is time to start thinking about alternative modes of transport. After walking and cycling, the most environmentally friendly way to travel is by train. According to Save a Train the greenhouse effect of gas emissions per kilometre on trains is 80% less compared to cars. As global warming is only going to get worse, and other towns and cities are likely to follow Bristol’s recent ban on diesel cars, perhaps now is the time to get on board.
As well as doing your bit for the environment, there are other advantages to travelling by train. Instead of starting your holiday stuck in traffic jams and getting frustrated with google maps, sit back, relax, watch a movie or read a book. Many train lines travel though some beautiful parts of the country so enjoy the views as the countryside flies past your window. A lot of train journeys are also quicker than travelling by car. For example, you can travel from London to Edinburgh in less than 4 and a half hours on the train whilst it is likely to take you nearly 8 hours (without stopping) by car. Another good example is London to York which takes less than 2 hours on the train or over double (4 hours) by car.
With more than 2,500 stations in the UK it is easy to leave your car at home. As well as the obvious city break destinations such as Oxford, York, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Bath and Cambridge here are a few ideas of places that you might not have considered travelling to on holiday by train.
If you are looking for a quaint English town surrounded by green rolling hills and picturesque honey coloured villages look no further than Moreton-in-Marsh in the Cotswolds. This postcard perfect market town is a fantastic place to browse antique emporiums, independent shops and various eateries. But it isn’t all about quaint tearooms. The small country roads and numerous footpaths that link the surrounding pretty villages makes Moreton-in-Marsh the perfect location for either a lazy bimble to the village pub or a long hike surrounded by beautiful countryside.
Located just over a mile away it is an easy stroll to Batsford Arboretum where you can explore 56 acres of woodlands and meadows. Or head south to Sezincote House and Garden and be wowed by a 200 year old Indian palace set in a gorgeous garden including an orangery, grottoes, waterfalls, canals and a large lake. The excellent public transport links in Moreton-in-Marsh means it is easy to hop on a bus to explore the equally pretty nearby towns of Stow-on-the-Wold and Bourton-on-the-Water.
Moreton-in-Marsh is just over an hour and half on the train from London making it the ideal destination for a last-minute weekend get away from the big smoke.
The rugged landscape of the Peak District makes this National Park an ideal location for any outdoor enthusiasts to go on holiday. The vast expanse of forests, hills and moorland are perfect for hiking, mountain biking or climbing. From Edale you can tackle the start of the infamous Pennine Way National Trail which includes the ascent of Kinder Scout, the highest point in the Peak District. Often described as one of the greatest crags in England, Stanage Edge, easily accessible from Hathersage, is a fantastic spot for any climber. Or if you fancy heading underground you can explore the vast limestone caverns at the Heights of Abraham in Matlock or Poole’s Cavern in Buxton. Alternatively, simply enjoy the culture and history of the many charming towns and villages set against the backdrop of this beautiful landscape.
The Peak District’s central location arguably makes it the most accessible National Park in the UK. With direct trains running from Manchester, Sheffield and Derby to beautiful villages such as Hope, Edale and Hathersage, as well as popular towns such as Buxton and Matlock, travelling by train to the Peak District is easy. If you don’t mind changing trains at either Sheffield or Derby you can be in Matlock in under 2 and a half hours from London or Edale in under 3.
Brockenhurst, New Forest
If you fancy getting away from it all for a few days consider a holiday in the New Forest. The pretty woodlands, enchanting forests and stunning coastal scenery makes it the perfect place to unwind. Add picturesque villages, cosy pubs and the infamous wild ponies into the mix and it’s hard to beat the New Forest for a relaxing break away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
The best way to enjoy this magical part of the country is on one of the large number of walking or cycling trails. Either embark on a full days hike though ancient forests and open commons or take a short stroll around one of the pretty villages. There are plenty of places to hire bikes, or even have a go at pony trekking if you fancy opting for a slightly different mode of transport! Water-sports fans can enjoy the miles of beautiful coastline. Try your hand at stand up paddle-boarding, kayaking or windsurfing. Or enjoy a coastal walk followed by a dip in the sea.
You can arrive at the charming village of Brockenhurst, in the heart of the New Forest, just an hour and a half after leaving London Waterloo, or under 3 hours from Birmingham New Street. If you are after some sea air, just another 15 minutes away on the train is the coastal town of Lymington.
Fort William, Scotland
If you have been put off visiting Scotland because you can’t face the long drive then you should definitely consider taking the sleeper train to Fort William. You can fall asleep in London and wake up 500 miles later ready for breakfast in the middle of the breathtaking Scottish Highlands. Climb the highest mountain in the UK, go white water rafting on River Garry or going ski-ing at Aonach Mor. And no visit to Scotland would be complete without a visit to a whiskey distillery and taking part in a ceilidh.
Keeping in line with the train theme, the train line from Fort William to Mallaig is arguably one of the most scenic in the country. As you puff away from the majestic peak of Ben Nevis in Fort William you will pass huge lochs, towering mountains and pretty seaside villages. For any Hogwarts fans the highlight of the trip will be crossing the 21 arched Glenfinnan Viaduct, which was used in a number of the Harry Potter films. Enjoy lunch in the pretty fishing port of Malliag before either returning to Fort William or continue your adventure by catching a ferry to the stunning Isle of Skye.
For your fill of salty sea air, dramatic coastline, spectacular seafood and wild moorlands head to Cornwall. Located on the far south western tip of the UK, Penzance is a fantastic location for a family friendly holiday. Visit one of the nearby beaches, explore exotic gardens or ‘walk on water’ to reach the castle at St Michael’s Mount. Just 3 miles away you will find the charming fishing village of Mousehole. Wander through the narrow cobbled streets, watch the boats bob about in the pretty harbour or go for a walk on the nearby coastal footpaths. Where ever you stay in Cornwall you won’t be far from one of its stunning beaches. It’s the perfect place to catch some waves, explore hidden coves or enjoy a blustery cliff top walk.
For a lot of us, possibly the only drawback to a holiday in Cornwall is the long drive. Although the tailbacks on the M5 soon become a distant memory as soon as you hit the beach, you can avoid them altogether by taking the train. You can catch a direct train from London and be in Penzance just 5 hours later. You can also catch a direct train from London to Par (just under 4 hours) or Turo (under 4 and half hours). Or with a quick change it is also easy to get to St Ives (5 and half hours from London) or Newquay (5 hours from London). If you want to avoid the journey altogether you should consider taking the Night Riveria Sleeper from London to Penzance. Hop on the train after work on Friday and wake up the next morning to a coffee and croissant with the sand between your toes.
Lake Windermere, Lake District
Surrounded by mountain peaks, woodland trails and pretty villages, Lake Windermere, in the Lake District National park, is a stunning place to visit at any time of the year. At more than ten miles long, Lake Windermere is the largest lake in England and the number of watersports on offer will certainly not disappoint! Try your hand at sailing, kayaking, paddle boarding or rowing. Or if you would like to enjoy being ‘on’ the water whilst reducing the risk of getting ‘in’ the water enjoy a cruise on a slightly larger vessel.
Once you have finished playing on the water you should grab your walking boots and head for the hills. There is a fantastic variety of walks in and around Windermere, from short strolls to exhilarating mountain hikes. If getting about on two wheels is more your thing there are numerous bike trails from family friendly tracks around the lake to adventurous mountain bike routes. There are plenty of places to hire bikes for the day if you don’t fancy bringing your own. When you have finished sailing, walking and biking any Beatrix Potter fans can spend the afternoon with Peter Rabbit and Benjamin Bunny at the delightful World of Beatrix Potter.
There are frequent train departures from both London (less than 3 and half hours) and Manchester (less than 2 hours) to Windermere. Trains on the West Coast mainline, which connects London to Glasgow and includes stations such as Milton Keynes, Crewe, Preston and Carlisle, stop in Oxenholme. It is just 20 minutes on the train to Windermere from here. Kendal and Staveley stations are also less than ten miles away from Lake Windermere.
Conwy, North Wales
If you can’t decide between the coast or the mountains, head to the world heritage town of Conwy on the north Wales coast. This pretty little town is home to an impressive medieval castle, a quaint harbour and the smallest house in Britain! Spent the day admiring the views from the castle walls, crabbing with the kids or exploring the independent shops and cafes.
Located on the northern border of Snowdonia National Park there are no shortage of wonderful walks both in and around Conwy. Hike up to the top of Conwy Mountain where you can join the North Wales Coastal path that runs all the way from Bangor to Prestatyn. Look out for the beautiful wild Carneddau ponies that live on the hills. If you want to head for the sea, the large sandy bay at Conwy Morfa beach is a great spot to build sand castles, go for a paddle or fly a kite. Or take the short bus ride into Llandudno for a day out at a traditional British seaside town.
If you fancy heading inland to the heart of Snowdonia hop on the train along the beautiful Conwy Valley to Betws-y-Coed. Often described as the gateway to Snowdonia this pretty town is a great place to go for a walk, bike ride or bounce, hop or fly through the trees at Zip World Fforest.
You can get to Conwy on the train in less than 3 hours from London or under 2 hours from Liverpool.
Located on the coast of the beautiful North York Moors, Whitby is the ideal holiday destination if you are after blustery seaside walks, winding cobbled streets and first class fish and chips. Go for a dip or catch some waves at either Whitby or Sandsend beach; or if you want to get your fix of sea air whilst keeping your feet dry admire the sea views on one of the many stunning sea cliff walks. If you fancy getting out to the beautiful moors catch a steam train on the North York Moors Historical Railway which runs from Whitby to Pickering. Either admire the vast landscapes from the train or if you want to stretch your legs get off at Grosmont and enjoy the scenic walk back to Whitby.
No visit to Whitby can be complete without visiting the impressive gothic ruins at Whitby Abbey. Set high on a cliff above the town these atmospheric ruins have been home to saints, vampires and monks. The best way to reach the Abbey is to follow in the footsteps of Dracula up the 199 ‘Church Steps’ that wind their way from the harbour to the top of the East Cliff. When you reach the top, the view alone is worth the climb!
It takes just over two hours to get to Whitby on the train from Manchester making it an ideal location for anyone wanting to escape the city for a short break.
Top tips for travelling by train
Travelling by train is usually an easy and fun way to start your holiday, but in order to make your journey as relaxing and cheap as possible there are a few things that are worth bearing in mind. If possible, we recommend that you plan ahead and book your train ticket as soon as possible. Not only will you be able to reserve the seat of your choice but ‘Advanced tickets’ are often a fraction of the cost of a full priced fare. Advanced tickets tend to be available about 12 weeks before the departure date, although some will go on sale as far ahead as 6 months so keep an eye out for these! It is also worth checking to see if you qualify for a railcard which will enable you to get further discounts on the price of your ticket.
As tempting as it is, it really isn’t necessary to fill the entire boot of your car when going on holiday to a self-catering property. Most holiday houses have washing machines and many also provide towels, hair driers and a variety of games, books and films, so just throw in a few clothes and off you set! You can take your bike on most trains but we advise that you contact the train line to reserve a space as there can be restrictions on peak-time trains. You can also take well behaved dogs on the train so long as they are kept on a lead. If you are bringing your dog with you it is a good idea to avoid travelling during rush hour and try to find a quiet seat. You may also want to read our tips for a dog-friendly holiday.
Independent Cottages has a large range of self-catering properties that are accessible by train. Travel to the bright lights of a new city, explore one of the many beautiful National Parks or escape to the coast. Travelling by train is not only a fun and relaxing way to start your holiday but you will also be helping to reduce your carbon footprint. Therefore, where ever you decide to go for your next adventure, why not let the train take the strain.