Have you seen all the hype about this month’s Great British Rail Sale? Half price train tickets aren’t to be sniffed at. Especially if you’re interested in getting outdoors and adventuring in new and exciting ways, at the same time as considering your environmental impact.
Which I definitely am!
Read on for a whole load of useful tips and observations on how to make the best of the Great British Rail Sale, and how to create your own adventures by train.
UK adventures by train
If you’ve been following my social media accounts (please do) you’ll have noticed that since the start of 2022 I’ve been exploring the great British outdoors in a new and exciting way (well new for me).
I’ve been enjoying adventures by train.
I’ve been doing this partly because I’m not a big fan of driving but also because public transport has taken such a hit since the pandemic. Down here in Devon this has led to unprecedented traffic levels, especially during the summer months.
Which is bad news for us, and for the planet.
My two favourite train adventures so far have been very different experiences. I’ve been wild camping on Dartmoor (travelling by train to Ivybridge), and I’ve walked the Birmingham and Worcester Canal (travelling by train to Birmingham New Street). One was rainy, one was long, but I loved them both.
I also loved not having to worry about driving and parking.
Where can you adventure by train?
Although we have 9,902 miles of mainline train track around the UK, there are still places that are tricky to get to by train. But we do have 2,569 mainline railway stations.
That’s at least 2,569 possible adventures.
There are of course plenty of UK locations that don’t have a train station but think laterally and you’ll see how the challenge of reaching your desired summit, beach or forest can enhance your sense of adventure and exploration.
For example, Land’s End doesn’t have a train station.
But that doesn’t stop you from turning the train ride to the nearest station, Penzance into an adventure by walking from Penzance to Land’s End along the South West Coast path. There are plenty of campsites along the way.
Or if you haven’t got the time or inclination for 21-miles of backpack camping, how about a night at the fabulous YHA Penzance and a walk across the causeway to St Michael’s Mount. You could even stay two nights and adventure round to picture pretty Mousehole on your second day.
All that and you’ll be able to enjoy the view while you travel!
How to get Great British Rail Sale tickets
If you want to take advantage of the current Great British Rail Sale, you need to move quickly and book your tickets before midnight on Monday 2nd May for travel between 25/04/22 and 27/05/22.
I’d get on with it if I were you.
At first glance finding a sale ticket seemed a bit complicated but I persevered and found the National Rail Great British Rail Sale website the most helpful. I realised pretty quickly that trying to go to a specified location wasn’t necessarily going to work.
So I kept an open mind about destinations.
Remembering that an adventure can be anywhere, and an exploration anywhere you haven’t been before, here are my top tips for finding a train station from which you can start your own adventure by train.
- Open up the National Rail Great British Rail Sale website
- Find your home station (in my case Torquay)
- For maximum adventure click ‘destination’ then choose ‘inspire me’
- For more control insert your own chosen destination
- Use OS Maps to ‘explore’ the area
- Repeat the process for your ticket home OR…
- Choose another destination to extend your adventure by train
Here’s how I got on (hint the OS Maps app was very useful)
I’ve already completed a couple of adventures by train so I felt brave enough to let the system inspire me with destination ideas. I was looking for a day adventure so these two in Somerset and Cornwall looked promising. I already have a plan for Bridgwater so I opened up OS Maps and directed it to Lelant Saltings.
A seaside adventure by train
This one’s interesting because it is timed nicely with the sleeper train from London (alight this at St Erth then hop along to Lelant Saltings). This early morning train is the only one that stops here but there are plenty back from St Ives or you can alight at Carbis Bay Station. I haven’t tried the walk yet but I have travelled to St Ives by train. The last section has fantastic views and delivers a real sense of excitement.
I already knew Lelant Saltings was near St Ives, and that this was a lovely bit of train line but it’s potential for adventure hadn’t occurred to me before.
I could arrive in St Ives on foot.
Anyone who has arrived in St Ives by car will know what a mistake this can be. Small lanes, nowhere but the sea to go, a stunningly beautiful location.
It’s a recipe for holiday traffic nightmares.
But not if you walk there (or indeed take the train all the way in).
- Train journey 1: Torquay to Lelant Saltings
- Rail Sale Cost: £7
- Walking distance: 6km to Porthminster Beach (1km more to the harbour)
- Train journey 2: St Ives (above Porthminster Beach) to Torquay
- Rail Sale Cost: £7
- Usual return fare: From £33
A cross-border adventure by train
I haven’t tried this adventure yet either. Like most people I’m usually in a car when I cross this estuary. I always feel as though I’m missing out on something special.
Although you’re walking into another country on this adventure by train, it’s the bridge you have to cross to get there, that will really make your day out.
It’s time to cross the Severn Bridge on foot.
Which means that, not only will you be crossing an area of water with one of the world’s biggest tidal ranges (average 15 metres), and walking underneath two motorways.
You’ll be crossing the border into Wales.
Just to be clear. The nearest bridge to Severn Junction Railway Station is the Prince of Wales Bridge (M4). You can’t walk across this one but a seven kilometre walk along the side of the Severn Estuary will get you onto the original Severn Road Bridge (M48).
After that it’s a short 3km flight across into Wales.
I say flight because all the information warns about high wind levels and exposure.
Which is I guess what could turn this walk into an adventure.
- Train journey 1: Torquay to Severn Beach
- Rail Sale Cost: £9
- Walking distance: 10km (one way)
- Train journey 2: Severn Beach to Torquay
- Rail Sale Cost: £9
- Usual return fare: From £59
- Adventure Note: If 20km there and back in one day is too much for you, you could always stay in Chepstow, visit Chepstow Castle, then walk back the next day. Or catch a train home from Chepstow (but for me this one didn’t work with the Great British Rail Sale).
The disadvantages of adventures by train
There are of course also a few disadvantages to travelling by train but ever the optimist, I’ve turned these negatives into plus points in the adventure stakes.
Because it’s the adventures that go wrong that make the best stories.
Here are some disadvantageous advantageous elements you might want to consider before your adventure by train.
- Trains can be busy – the perfect excuse to practise your lightweight packing skills
- Trains are sometimes late – having to rethink an adventure can often improve it
- Trains can be expensive – all the more reason to take advantage of this month’s Great British Rail Sale
The advantage of adventures by train
The biggest advantage to taking a train over the car has to be that you’ll be doing the environment a favour.
According to the Campaign for Better Transport, transport (not international) was responsible for 22% of UK greenhouse gas emissions (set to rise to 28% by 2035). The more we can all do to avoid single occupancy vehicle journeys the better.
Making better use of public transport is just one way of doing this.
But if you’re not feeling planet-friendly at the moment, there are plenty of other reasons to choose to adventure by train. Here are a few.
- Train travel allows you to swap stress for excitement
- It requires you to be more creative with your adventure ideas
- It allows you to observe the environment through which you’re travelling
- It means you don’t have to worry about parking spaces or time limits
- You will know how much your journey is going to cost before you set off
- On a train you can read, check your map, and safely drink a gin
- On the train you might get chatting to other explorers
- If your train breaks, there’s usually a replacement bus service
Where will my next train adventure be?
Ironically I am off on an adventure this week but this time by camper van. I’ve got some cracking ideas for train adventures when I return. Watch this space for some unusual, interesting and even remote train adventures.
And please follow me on social media or comment here to tell me about your own adventures by train!