GTW lets the train take the strain as we explore the steam-driven trips and modern railway journeys that will keep your group’s itinerary on the rails
There’s something wonderfully nostalgic about travelling on Britain’s network of heritage railways. From Brief Encounter to The Railway Children, so many of our favourite classic films are set during the golden age of railway travel, which is why a day trip or short break on board a vintage carriage is such a popular choice with groups.
Only have a day to spare? Why not cross one of Britain’s wonderful national parks under steam power. Looking for a longer stay? There’s something romantic about being able to set off, suitcase in hand, on an elegant cross-country journey.
Whether it’s a sight-seeing hop across Snowdonia courtesy of the Ffestiniog Railway, a tour of ‘Heartbeat country’ in North Yorkshire, or a luxury trip on board the world-famous Orient Express, there’s a train journey to suit your group’s needs, interests and budget.
Taking a group to Snowdonia? Travel with Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways across the picturesque national park.
The 200-year-old Ffestiniog Railway takes you on a 13½-mile journey from the harbour in Porthmadog to the slate-quarrying town of Blaenau Ffestiniog. More than 150 years old they may be, but the trains are still capable of climbing more than 700 feet from sea level into the mountains through fields and forests, past lakes and waterfalls, and round tight bends (one a complete spiral), clinging to the side of the mountain or tunnelling through it en route.
The neighbouring Welsh Highland Railway is the UK’s longest heritage railway and runs for 25 miles from Caernarfon, past the foot of Snowdon and the picture-postcard village of Beddgelert, then through the stunning Aberglaslyn Pass and on to Porthmadog. Groups can enjoy first-class Pullman luxury, with freshly-cooked food delivered to their seat.
Plan your group’s trip on both the Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways at www.festrail.co.uk
In search of some old-school glamour? As well as luxurious trips across Europe, the Orient Express offers UK day trips on its sister train, the British Pullman. Opt for a city visit (Cambridge or Bath, anyone?), take in one of the historic properties that make Britain great, such as Chatsworth House, or spend the day enjoying the fine dining on offer on-board as you speed through the countryside. The choice is yours, and while it isn’t a cheap option, prices start at a not-too-jaw-dropping £215pp. Find out more at www.belmond.com/british-pullman-train
Exploring Yorkshire? Hop aboard the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, which takes in an 18-mile stretch from Pickering to Grosmont Stations, with the option of a further six-mile hop into the seaside resort of Whitby.
The route cuts straight through Heartbeat country, which was filmed in and around Whitby and the North York Moors. In fact the area’s now so synonymous with the much-loved TV series that the village of Goathland is known as ITV’s Aidensfield, and several sections of the railway line, including Goathland Station, feature in many episodes (you’ll spot them if you tune into replays of the series on Dave!). Plan your group’s visit at www.nymr.co.uk
The Lynton and Barnstaple Railway (www.lynton-rail.co.uk) cuts through Exmoor, starting from the wonderfully-named Woody Bay Station in Parracombe, Devon.
Slightly further to the south, Cornwall’s Bodmin & Wenford Railway allows groups to re-live steam travel’s 1950s heyday, as they enjoy the 13-mile return journey from Bodmin General Station to Bodmin Parkway in the Glynn Valley, and Boscarne Junction in the Camel Valley (see www.bodminrailway.co.uk).
Nudge your group to the north slightly and there’s the wonderful West Somerset Railway and all its 22-plus mile glory. Hailed as the longest heritage railway in England, download a group travel pack from westsomersetrailway.vticket.co.uk The railway runs steam and vintage diesel trains between Bishops Lydeard (four miles from the county town of Taunton) and Minehead, passing through the Quantock Hills – which is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – and between Exmoor and the Bristol Channel.
Keen to explore North Wales? Check out the Llangollen Railway, which cuts through one of Britain’s most scenic valleys – the Dee Valley – with the Berwyn Mountains towering above on either side as it follows the course of the River Dee. Find out more at www.llangollen-railway.co.uk
Organising a group day out in the Midlands? Then explore what the Severn Valley Railway has to offer (see www.svr.co.uk). Its trains take day-trippers on a 16-mile journey from Bridgnorth to Kidderminster, via country parks and stunning scenery as the railway follows the path of the River Severn.
Want a different take on the usual Cotswolds tourist itinerary? The Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway offers a 25-mile round trip between Laverton and Cheltenham Racecourse, through some of the most spectacular scenery the area has to offer – taking in the 15-arch Stanway Viaduct and passing close to Tewkesbury Abbey. Find out more at www.gwsr.com
All of the heritage railway lines that criss-cross the UK have a packed calendar of group-friendly events, from 1940s-themed weekends (where you can hope to meet a tall, dark stranger, circa Brief Encounter!) to fun ‘Santa specials’, where Father Christmas himself climbs on board to give out presents to younger group members – while the adults tuck into the sherry and mince pies.
Details of all the events can be found on each railway’s website. Look out for group deals and ‘book early’ specials.
Let the train take the strain
Enjoyable train travel doesn’t have to be steam-driven, as the UK’s more modern railway lines offer attractive group travel options for those looking for a city break that’s far from home.
On board the new Caledonian Sleeper service, for example, you can leave London and be lulled to sleep by the gentle motion of a train – then wake across the Scottish border, taking in a Scottish-themed dinner en route.
Trains run from London Euston to Glasgow, Edinburgh, Inverness, Aberdeen or Fort William, making light work of the several-hundred-mile journey. Plan your group’s trip at www.sleeper.scot
If a trip to Europe is on your group’s itinerary, take a look at the routes offered by Eurostar (www.eurostar.com), which travels from London and Kent to Paris, Calais, Disneyland Paris and Lille, and has now expanded its service to the south of France, including Avignon and Marseille. Your group could be in London one minute and sipping a kir royale in a restaurant in a French port the next!
Eurostar also offers services to many of France’s popular ski resorts, including towns in the heart of the Alps, such as Bourg St Maurice and Aime La Plagne.
Travelling further afield?
If your group’s rail plans are more modern trans-continental than vintage day trip, explore the following websites for itinerary ideas and inspiration…
The Trans-Siberian Express – which, as any train lovers among you will know, celebrates its 100-year anniversary this year – takes two weeks to get from Moscow to Ulaan Baatar, which is the capital of Mongolia. If your group has the budget for this once in a lifetime trip, get booking!
The Rocky Mountaineer – takes holidaymakers across the Canadian wilderness pioneer-style, with a three-day journey from North Vancouver to Jasper via one of the highest railway bridges in the world, a national park and the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies.
Book a flexible ticket on the Coast Starlight train – which runs daily from Seattle to Los Angeles – and your group can stop off along the west coast to see the sights of Santa Barbara, the San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and Portland. Widely regarded as one of the most spectacular train routes in the US, you’ll pass the snow-covered peaks of the Cascade Range and Mount Shasta, together with long stretches of Pacific Ocean shoreline. Hop on or off, or go the whole way, enjoying the scenery and on board catering (which is decidedly plush).
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For more ideas and inspiration for rail-themed days out and short breaks, visit www.grouptravelworld.com