Planning your own adventure by train

With over 20,000 miles of train track and over 2,500 stations to explore, there are plenty of reasons to set out on a UK outdoor adventure by train. Whether you’re interested in canoeing down a leafy river, learning winter mountain skills or  backpack camping high on a wild hillside, our train system can get you there.

You could even invite some family and friends.

Just hop on board at your nearest station, sit back to admire the view, then hop off again to take in a whole new landscape, enjoy exciting new experiences, and breathe fresh new air.

But don’t forget to buy a ticket.

Switch up for more sustainable travel

Riviera Line – Teignmouth to Dawlish Warren walk

I’m a keen walker, navigator, wild camper and outdoor swimmer. At the start of 2022 I decided to find out if I could continue to enjoy some of my favourite outdoor activities at the same time as swapping the car for the train. I’ll be honest here; I didn’t think it would work.

But outdoor adventure by train actually works.

So far I’ve had some marvellous train adventures. I’ve been river swimming in South Devon. I’ve walked from Birmingham to Worcester. I’ve even been wild camping on Dartmoor. Not all my adventures have gone to plan but I’ve got some great stories to tell.

Find out what happened when I nearly didn’t walk across the Severn Bridge.

I’ve documented all the above, as well as why trains are so important for the future of outdoor activity, in my adventures by train section on this website. Each adventure includes helpful information, walking routes, and tips about how to enjoy your day, as well as the story of how my own adventure went.

Your adventure of course, will be completely different.

You’re welcome to try my adventures out yourself but I think you’ll have far more fun inventing your own outdoor activities by train. Here are five reasons why your train adventure is likely to be much better than mine.

  • You’ll have the freedom to explore exactly how you want
  • You’ll know how far you want to push your comfort boundaries
  • Planning your own adventure will give you a greater sense of satisfaction
  • Local line tickets are a whole lot cheaper than long distance ones
  • You won’t be able to blame me if it rains and your tent blows away

How to plan your own outdoor adventure by train

Snow Hill Line – Worcester and Birmingham Canal walk

You either love planning or you don’t.

And let’s face it, great adventures can happen when you’re least expecting them. But I’m a planner, so I’m going to take you through how I would plan a train adventure. If you want to know how to choose a train station and how to find exciting outdoor destinations, as the same time as getting some top tips on train travel for outdoor adventure, you’ve come to the right place.

Choosing your outdoor activity
Finding your railway station
Understanding map symbols
Exploring your adventure possibilities
Finding your outdoor instructor
Making your train journey more affordable
Enjoying comfortable train journeys

Route planning

How to plan a walking route in OS Maps

How to use snap-to-path in OS Maps

Choosing your outdoor activity

Wild camping

You don’t have to start your adventure planning by deciding on an activity. You could choose a train station and do a bit of cold exploring (hopefully not too cold) but there are a couple of problems with this approach, the main one being kit. There’s no point arriving at a stunning river pool without a swimsuit (you can manage without a towel) or setting off to go wild camping without your tent.

And some activities require booking.

Try not to limit your activities choices to options right next to a train station. In other words, be prepared to do some walking or wheeling to reach your activity. During a recent quick online search I found kayaking, surfing, coasteering and even bison spotting all within four-miles (40-minutes) walk of  UK train stations.

Nice bison!

Of course, if you don’t want to walk or wheel, and are clever enough to pick the right train station, your adventurous activity will be just around the corner. If you like to get active as soon as you arrive, one of the below might suit you but there are plenty more outdoor options to choose from. My best advice would be to look at an Ordnance Survey map (I’ve added a few map symbols clues in the next section).

Finding your railway station

Once you’ve picked your activity, the rest will be a mixture of common sense and knowledge. You’re unlikely to be able to coasteer if you’re not near the coast, walk up a mountain in Norfolk, or wild camp in the middle of London.

That really would be an adventure.

The UK’s a big place when you’re trying to narrow things down so here are my top tips for finding a railway station that can take you to your outdoor adventure.

  1. Bookmark the super-useful National Rail All Stations Route Map
  2. If your activity requires instructors, use Google maps to find outdoor centres near train stations
  3. Use OS Maps to see what’s available near a station of your choice.

If number three in our find-your-railway-station tips is proving a bit tricky, we have a few useful map symbols for you below (but don’t forget that the OS Maps app gives you a legend on both the mobile and web versions).

How else are you going to find the pub?

Understanding map symbols

Pink circle – railway station

Green dotted line – footpath (public right of way)

Green diamonds – National Trail (this is the Wales Coast Path)

FB – footbridge (this one crosses the railway line)

Yellowish area – access land (you can roam where you like here)

More information about footpaths, bridleways and byways

Exploring your adventure possibilities

You can see from the map above that Machynlleth is an excellent example of an adventure-by-train station. Not only is it a fun and bustling town, with a Museum of Modern Art and its very own comedy festival, Mach’s surrounding countryside offers all kinds of options for outdoor activity.

  • With a footpath right next to the Afon Dyfi (River Dovey), you might find a river swim
  • The access land nearest the station looks like a fun hill with some crags and river views
  • The Wales Coast Path (north) is definitely worth a look as it has some great access points from stations
  • Glyndwr’s Way (east) is an exciting walking route that covers all kinds of interesting terrain
  • The surrounding area has some of the best bikepacking possibilities in the UK

Finding your outdoor instructor

Navigation and wild camping Dartmoor

Whilst there are some outdoor activities you can try for yourself, if you want to make sure you’re safe or need a confidence boost for the first few times, a good outdoor instructor really can help.

And there are plenty to choose from.

A quick Google search in the area you’re planning to visit will help you find either an activity centre or a local freelance coach or guide. I’ve had great experiences with both. Seeking recommendations from people you know well, or local experts can help you find the right fit but if you feel you need more information about choosing an outdoor activity instructor, I’ve added a few points about the industry below.

So now you know!

  • If an organisation offers outdoor adventure activities to anyone under 18, they need to hold an AALA licence. Adventurous activities include caving, climbing, trekking and watersports.
  • British Canoeing is the UK national association for watersports (including paddleboarding). They have a really useful finder for paddling course providers as well as a list of local paddlesports clubs.
  • The BMC (British Mountaineering Council) is the UK national association for walking, climbing and mountaineering. Their Climbing Wall Finder Map will help you find affiliated climbing  clubs and indoor climbing walls.
  • The Association of Mountaineering Instructors or Mountain Training is the UK national awarding body network for outdoor instructor training (including climbing and hillwalking). Their coaching qualifications page explains the qualification system and can help you find the right walking, climbing or camping guide or instructor.
  • The NNAS National Navigation Award Scheme can help you learn personal navigation skills. You can find a list of NNAS navigation training providers here.
  • If you want to find someone to go for a walk with, the Ramblers organise group walks for all levels of fitness, they also have a great bank of tried and tested walking routes (for members)
  • If you’re travelling to Devon by train, and want to learn to navigate or wild camp on Dartmoor, I can recommend the Two Blondes Walking team because one of them is me!

Making your train journey more affordable

Elizabeth Line Paddington

If you’re thinking train tickets are expensive, you’re not wrong. At current prices, you’re unlikely to arrive at your destination for less money if you travel by train but most comparisons miss out something really important.

The overall cost of car ownership.

Your car costs you money. Not just in fuel but in purchase price, depreciation, finance repayments, tax, insurance, MOT fees and maintenance. Whether you drive your owned car until it breaks or pay for a rental agreement, you aren’t going to get any of that money back.

The average annual cost to run a car in the UK in 2022 is £3000.

Add on additional holiday fuel costs and that’s a fair number of train tickets but train travel, especially for families can be difficult to afford. We all want to look after the environment, and enjoy more relaxed journeys but it can be harder to do that without a decent budget behind you. I’ve listed a few ideas about how to save money on your train journey below.

Money-saving tips for train tickets

  1. Invest in a National Rail Family and Friends Railcard
  2. Check out the 16-17 Saver Railcard for young adults
  3. Travel at off-peak times (outside Mon-Fri rush hours)
  4. Book your tickets well in advance
  5. Consider using a ticket splitting app to find cheaper prices
  6. Check out local rates and local rover tickets in your area
  7. Your rail company may offer fixed price fares for families and mega-cheap kids fares. For example Kids for a Quid on selected lines and GWR’s Family Train Tickets. So it’s worth checking before you book.

Enjoying comfortable train journeys

If you’re used to travelling by car, the prospect of a train journey might seem a bit daunting. Please don’t worry, once you’ve settled into your seat, you’ll realise just how relaxing it can be to be away from other drivers, traffic queues and road works.

I’ve put together a few tips for enjoyable train journeys

Big bags seem even bigger on the train

Great Malvern

Imagine a camping trip. What are you going to pack?

With a car it’s easy. You can throw anything you MIGHT need into the boot. You know the sort of stuff; that super comfy camp chair, your more attractive pyjamas or perhaps even a hot water bottle. You’ll feel settled, organised and kind of smug because you’ve come prepared.

But you probably won’t use any of it.

Or at least you’ll realise you can manage without it. Travelling by train gives you the opportunity to go back to the good old days of backpack camping. Think minimal and you’ll discover the joy to be found in the simple art of managing. Here’s one example of how one basic, lightweight item can save you hassle (and money).

  • Swap that thick dry bag for a rubble sack
  • Use the same rubble sack to sit on while you eat your dinner
  • Put your muddy boots on your rubble sack to protect your groundsheet
  • If your coat starts to leak, wear your rubble sack
  • Slip your rubble sack over your feet if your tent starts to leak
  • Stuff your damp tent into your rubble sack in the morning
  • Wipe down your rubble sack to use for your next train adventure

You’ve just discovered my favourite lightweight camping accessory!

Unless you walk to the station, you probably won’t appreciate your lightweight camp packing efforts until you get on the train and discover how easily you can lift your bag onto the overhead storage rack.

Or on a crowded train, sit with it on your knee.

Luggage storage areas are often on the small side. Big rucksacks are heavy. It’s more fun watching someone else squeezing their big bag into a tiny space than having to do it yourself.

Train travel packing is definitely a case of less is more.

Not all train stations have toilets

Exeter St Davids

Hands up if you don’t like train toilets.

Me neither. The combination of doors that might spring open, being locked inside a smelly swaying box, and a lifetime of being told not to flush at stations has taken its toll.

I’d much rather wait and go at the station.

But it’s this approach that has sometimes caught me out because although most bigger stations have toilets available during ticket office hours, lots are closed if you’re travelling early or late, and some smaller stations don’t have a toilet at all. Not even a Portaloo.

Not even a convenient hedge!

The good news is you can find online information about station facilities including accessibility, bike parking, meeting points and toilets. These days I check the details of all my stations on the National Rail Stations destinations page before I travel.

Don’t forget your jam sandwich

I’m a big advocate of the train picnic, and by packing one yourself you can save money at the same time as making sure you’re already happily munching while the catering trolley is still stuck down the other end of the train. My favourite train snack is the jam sandwich. Beloved by walkers of old, this often overlooked creation gives the perfect balance of sugar-rush wakefulness and longer-lasting energy. Perfect if you’re planning a day on the hills.

Or if your train ends up being delayed.

Which does happen sometimes. Train delays can be annoying but if you put together all the temporary traffic lights, pedestrian crossings, car parking faffs, accidents, road rage and traffic jams that fill almost any car journey, an extra hour at the station can seem pretty minimal in terms of disruption and stress.

How to manage train delays


There are lots of apps around, which can tell you whether or not your train is going to arrive on time. This information might be useful if you’re hurrying back off the hill or want to locate a loo before you board but it doesn’t really help you manage the practicalities of a whoops-no-train situation.

My advice would be to go prepared.

Come on! You’re a train adventurer now. Of course you’re going to be prepared. Just as you would carry emergency rations, warm clothes and a hot drink up a mountain, it makes sense to carry them on a train journey.

We all know what perfect planning prevents!

I haven’t yet set up my camp stove to cook up a pan of noodles on a station platform but I would if I needed to. Plus I know a fair few bicycle adventurers who have bivvied overnight at stations for shelter. You are unlikely to have to do either of the above however because train companies are pretty good at providing replacement buses when their services aren’t running.

But a bit of just-in-case can go a long way.

An outdoor adventure to be proud of

Family train adventures

So there we have it. Everything (well nearly everything) you need to know about planning your own adventure by train, at the same time as saving the planet (well nearly saving it). All you need is a bit of time, a rucksack and a train ticket.

Except that you don’t have to plan your own adventure.

I’m continuing my adventure research (I’m having too much fun to stop) and adding new train adventure ideas to the website as often as possible. If you want to receive updates or hear about how I got on, please subscribe to my blog and look out for my adventures by train pages.

Then please let me know how you get on with your very own #adventuresbytrain!