17 Feb 2016 14:27 UTCWed 17 Feb 2016 - 2:27 pm UTC
There's the iconic subway tube map for London, but I wonder if there isn't some sort of the same thing for BritRail?
I'm flying from Dublin to Edinburgh and would like to take scenic trip down the western coast of Great Britain, stopping whenever I felt like it, staying at pubs overnight, doing some hiking and sight-seeing.
Edinburgh to London would take a week, 10 days.
1. Are there railways which travel down the western coast so I can see the sea? Show me.
1. What's an American to do for a cheap 10 day or fortnight pass to travel as such, in a leisurely fashion?
17 Feb 2016 15:12 UTCWed 17 Feb 2016 - 3:12 pm UTC
This is not meant as an answer, rather just to mention some links to show you where you could travel by train.
Several maps of the current railway services can be accessed by going to:
In case you are thinking of travelling down the west coast from "Carlisle to Barrow-in-Furness" and then from "Barrow-in-Furness to Lancaster / Preston" then the respective company would be "Northern Rail", with their timetables here:
18 Feb 2016 01:22 UTCThu 18 Feb 2016 - 1:22 am UTC
Here is the iconic (stylized) map of the British rail network (as a PDF):
National Rail Network Map
This map shows only the main stations. There are many more stations. Some rural routes are not shown on this map.
As a rough approximation, the thick lines represent routes with at least one service per hour, and the thinner lines would average one service per two hours, but there is much variation and some lines have little or no service on Sunday mornings.
For a journey from Edinburgh to London, the general pattern is that there are fast and frequent services down the West Coast Main Line. You may like to trace it out on the iconic map, so that it is easier to locate this route on the more detailed maps. The Main Line services run along the route from Edinburgh - Glasgow - Carlisle - Preston - Crewe - Stafford - Nuneaton - Rugby - London Euston. Sometimes through Stafford - Wolverhampton - Birmingham - Coventry - Rugby as an alternative to the more direct route through Nuneaton.
Although you will glimpse the sea from this route if you are looking at the right time, it's not a coastal route. Although it has its scenic stretches, much of the Main Line passes through old industrial areas (which some people find fascinating in their own right, but it's not what everyone is seeking). So the general pattern would be to make your way down the main line then take a branch line to the more scenic coastal destinations. The branch lines are generally "out-and-back" with the exception being the loop through Barrow-in-Furness (shown as Barrow on the map). But even there, the bottom half of the loop is most scenic and you can do this as an "out-and-back" too.
Let's now look at another network map. This one makes no distinction between main line and branch line, but it is not so stylized and shows a better indication of which lines run close to the coast:
National Rail Timetable Map
It's called the Timetable Map because it shows the timetable numbers for each stretch of line. But nowadays few people use these master timetables. Instead, they do a direct timetable search on the web, or get small "pocket timetables" from a staffed railway station. I say "staffed" because most of the smaller stations are unstaffed nowadays.
From the Timetable Map you can see that the Main Line goes far inland south of Crewe. It's only two hours by fast train from Crewe to London, so you have two main choices. Either you spend your time sightseeing north of Crewe then go directly to London, or you take some slow local trains on long journeys to the south and west coasts of Wales. Personally I think there's plenty to do in Scotland, England and the north coast of Wales.
Here is a rough "first cut" of some possibilities:
Edinburgh - for its historical tradition, in particular the "Royal Mile" starting at Edinburgh Castle.
Glasgow - for its culture (museums, galleries, and events)
Main Line to Oxenholme then local train to Windermere. The line ends about a mile from the lake. This is in the middle of the Lake District, and you can take the lake ferry to some nice walks. Could spend a couple of nights here.
Back to the Main Line then down to Lancaster. This is where I live, although I'm not there at the moment. The castle tour is a must (it was a working prison until recently), and there are some nice river and park walks, but it's not a major tourist destination.
Along the coastal line through Barrow-in-Furness and on to Ravenglass, a small coastal fishing town. Then take the very-narrow-gauge steam train up the Eskdale valley. Some very authentic pubs to stay in, and a great place to walk up into the hills. The steam train fare won't be included in your rail pass. Services are frequent in the warmer months but during the colder months it only operates during school holidays.
Back to Lancaster then down the main line to Preston. Change for the local service to Blackpool North. Head for the coast (half a mile) then walk south. Initially it's a downmarket resort town which gradually gives way to coastal and dunes and then the genteel suburbs of Lytham and St Annes. You are never far from the Blackpool South to Preston line, so you can hike as little or as far as you like.
Back to Preston then to Liverpool (leaving the Main Line). You can see the Beatles museum and catch some music in the restored Cavern Club. There's plenty of maritime interest around the old docks, and lots of cultural interest too.
Catch the Ferry Across The Mersey to Birkenhead, from which you can get a train to Chester. This city dates from the Roman days, and still has almost-complete city walls which you can walk around the top of.
From Chester you can take a local train into North Wales. Head for the coastal town of Llandudno where you can walk around the headland, or take the inland line south of Conwy through the valleys of Snowdonia. If you want to climb Snowdon itself, I think you will need to take a bus or taxi to get close enough to the start. Although it's the highest mountain in Wales, at the top you will find a cafe and a narrow-gauge train to take you back down (fare not included in the rail pass).
Then back to Crewe for the Main Line train to London Euston.
You could do this route over a couple of weeks, and wouldn't be short of things to do.
The pass to get is the full BritRail pass, which can be used in Scotland, England and Wales. A pass for 15 consecutive days costs $600 US dollars. You could do the journey more cheaply by buying individual tickets, but only if you are prepared to restrict your travel exclusively to the cheap trains. In contrast, some of the peak time trains are extremely expensive, but as a pass holder you wouldn't need to worry about that.
BritRail Pass (need to set your country and language at the top of the page)
The pass is wonderfully flexible. The only formality is getting it stamped at the station prior to your first journey. After that, you can get on any train without booking. There is normally a section for unreserved seating, but the UK custom is to sit in any unoccupied seat even if it marked reserved - but to be prepared to move if the holder of the reservation (who is probably sitting elsewhere, or even on a different train) asks you to. If you prefer to reserve a seat for the Main Line trains, they will do this for free at any staffed station.
If you have any days left over on your pass after you arrive in London, you can use it on "overground" services but not on the London Underground ("the tube"). Here's a map showing both the overground and underground lines around London:
London's Rail and Tube Services
Pub accommodation is not as common as it used to be, but is still widely available, particularly in rural areas. If you can't find a pub for the night, the "family hotel chains" such as Premier Inn and Travelodge are reasonably priced. If you don't want to stay in a bland chain hotel, there is plenty of "Bed and Breakfast" accommodation throughout the UK.
I hope this gives you some useful pointers to plan your trip. Let me know if there's anything else you need.
18 Feb 2016 21:53 UTCThu 18 Feb 2016 - 9:53 pm UTC
Thanks for your kind comments and tip, Ophelia. If you are coming soon, realise that it is sometimes cold, damp and muddy in the English winter, and the daylight hours are short. Prior to, say, April, Florence is sounding good :)
19 Feb 2016 11:11 UTCFri 19 Feb 2016 - 11:11 am UTC
Regarding the cost: if you can squeeze your trip down to 8 days, the cost drops to $400. There is also "any 8 days travel within one month" for $497, which might work for you if you are spending two nights in some places and taking more than 8 days overall but not travelling every day.
The Euro prices are indeed cheaper. You can get the 15 day pass for €409 which is about $455. I got these prices by changing the country to Spain (which is within the Eurozone) before visiting this page:
BritRail Euro Passes
However, the above page does say "These passes are only for European residents" so I don't know how you'd go about ordering one. There is no corresponding restriction if you set your country to US, Canada, Australia, etc, so I guess they know that the European pricing is better than the rest.
22 Feb 2016 10:39 UTCMon 22 Feb 2016 - 10:39 am UTC
Only the main line trains have a distinctive first class. On other services, either there is only one class, or else the first class seats are identical to the standard class seats but are located at one end of the train, away from the "hoi polloi".
On the main line trains, the first class carriage has three seats per row rather than the four in standard. So it is much more spacious and you can sit either side of the aisle: by yourself in the single seat, or in the double seat next to someone who will probably be wearing a business suit and trying to look important. Also, in first class there will not be screaming babies, or young children running around.
But standard class still has comfortable seats, adequate space, a carpeted floor, air conditioning, etc. Only a very large person would find the first class seats significantly more comfortable than those in standard class.
Incidentally, the main line trains have a small shop selling snacks and drinks to take back to your seat. Some of the other trains, but not all, have a mobile trolley selling snacks and drinks as it passes your seat. In both cases, alcoholic drinks are sold on board.
Be aware that most main line trains have two of the standard class carriages designated as "Quiet carriages" where the use of phones is prohibited, and any conversation louder than a murmur is frowned upon.
The main line trains, and the busier branch lines, have a luggage area near one door of each carriage. There is no checked luggage service.
Some of the seats are in sets facing forward and back with a table in between. On main line trains, and a few of the newer branch line trains, there is a mains power outlet underneath each table. These are sometimes also found on the other (non-table) seats, which are called "airline-style seats" in railway parlance - even if they are facing backwards and don't recline.
If you really want to experience a slice of English life, try to time one of your journeys for after a big football match, so that you can travel with the returning "away team" supporters. Depending on whether the away team lost or won, the fans will have either comprehensively drowned their sorrows with excessive amounts of beer, or will be in extremely high spirits and very noisy. Either way, trains back from football matches are always crowded.
12 Sep 2016 07:43 UTCMon 12 Sep 2016 - 7:43 am UTC
Jim, I'm just wondering whether you did this trip, and how it turned out?