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Exploring Lesser-Known England by Rail

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Dec 1, 2021

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Pullman cars winding their way through the British countryside

Pullman cars winding their way through the British countryside

Escape the crowds in favor of the British country’s UNESCO sites, diverse landscapes, ruins, and undiscovered cities—and minimize your carbon footprint from the comfort of a train car at the same time.

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Riding the rails is surprisingly one of the best ways to get off the main tourist track in England. While the country may cover just a tiny area of the world map, it's home to a diversity of landscapes and one-of-a-kind destinations that travelers can reach easily by train. From coastal ruins to idyllic vineyards, England’s trains will take you to the more undiscovered nooks and crannies of the region and let you minimize your impact along the way.

A journey all its own

The elegant interior of a Pullman dining car

Train trips in England aren’t always about getting from Point A to Point B. On board many of the country’s luxury trains, the “in-transit” part of the trip is the best part of buying a ticket. 

Climb aboard the Belmond British Pullman to be transported back in time to the golden age of travel. Focused on creating distinctive, high-end adventures, the design of the Belmond British Pullman’s carriages celebrates their early 20th-century charm while offering a stylish modern-day experience. Choose from a variety of customized itineraries, including a Murder Mystery Lunch based on Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. All the same-day voyages let you experience the English countryside from your window while enjoying afternoon tea or a 1920s themed five-course meal.

Discover Heritage Train Routes

England has one of the densest rail networks in the world. From London, you can travel nearly anywhere your heart desires by train, reaching far-off distances in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Designated Heritage Train Routes traverse the country, connecting quaint villages to metropolises like Manchester and Bristol. Along the way, you’ll get to know authentic British life, staying in family-owned inns and savoring treats from local bakeries and taking it slow.

Southern seascapes and vineyards

Craving the seaside? The Night Riviera Sleeper train will tuck you into a comfortable one or two-bed compartment at London’s Paddington Station. In the morning, you’ll open your eyes to the wild moorlands and harbors of Cornwall out your window. Spend a weekend exploring the sandy beaches, hiking the oceanside cliffs, or discovering historical sites like Pendennis Castle. And you won’t miss the carbon footprint or annoyances of a road trip. 

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In Sussex County, the Bluebell Railway’s steam engine chugs across 11 miles of southern England, calling at Sheffield Park, Horsted Keynes, Kingscote, and East Grinstead. Buy a ticket to hop on and off as much as you like so you can experience the old-fashioned rail stations, each preserved in a different historical era (Victorian, 1930s, and 1950s). 

Petworth Railway Station, Sussex // Photo by ©VisitBritain/Chloe Gunning & Macca Sherifi

To top off a Sussex Adventure, you’ll find the small but delicious heart of England’s wine region nearby the Bluebell Railway. Wineries like Bluebell Vineyard Estates and Ridgeview Wine Estates let you delight in a glass of local wine, plate of cheese, and vineyard tours in the English countryside. Ridgeview Wine Estates hold themselves to a high sustainability standard and have invested in solar power, waste treatment, and cover crop diversity, among other sustainable initiatives.

Want to stop and stay awhile in any of the cities you pass through? Immerse yourself even deeper into British culture by spending the night in a traditional English Pub. Historic pubs and coaching inns across the country offer cozy accommodations along with traditional English pub fare and pints of ale.

Adventures in the North

Manchester is England’s second biggest city after London and it’s full of eco-friendly things to see and do. Support the region’s best artists with a visit to the Manchester Craft and Design Center where you’ll find artists-in-residence hand-making jewelry, glassware, ceramics, and more. You can also stop by The Factory, the permanent home of the Manchester International Festival.

Dive deeper into the city through the eyes of someone who used to live on its streets by taking a walking tour with Invisible Cities, a social enterprise that empowers people affected by homelessness to curate and lead city tours. Each tour is based on the guide’s personal interests, be it the city’s history, British pub culture, or music and art. 

Manchester // Photo by Orry Verducci/Unsplash

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Manchester is also England’s Gateway to the North. Trains departing Manchester connect you to other charming British cities like Liverpool, Chester, Sheffield, Leeds, and York. Another Heritage Train Route, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, will take you on an incredible scenic journey through the Yorkshire countryside. This is a great “slow travel” experience where you can unwind, take in picturesque views out your window, and experience lesser-traveled regions of England.

Manchester puts you a stone’s throw away from the Lake District, as well. Neolithic stone circles, gingerbread shops, and Victorian villages combine to make the Lake District one of England’s loveliest getaways.

Gingerbread and other treats available in the charming Lake District // Photo by Visit Lake District

UNESCO’s 2021 City of Culture and the Great West Way

Well connected to London by train, the 1.5-hour ride to Coventry makes an accessible and cheerful day trip to UNESCO’s City of Culture 2021. Have a peek at their monthly programs and plan your visit to experience a wide variety of performances, exhibitions, and screenings, all part of the city’s cultural events designed to celebrate its long history of innovation and activism. 

Go west, young traveler, on The Great West Way which stretches from London to Bristol on a path lined with some of the country’s most fascinating ancient sites. Stonehenge, Windsor Castle, and Bath’s classical Georgian architecture are all along this route that follows the River Thames. Travel slowly on the Great Western Railway and enjoy the foot and cycle paths when stopping along the way for another mindful way to experience England’s charms.

Trains with (Eco-Friendly) Initiatives

Taking the train is typically a safe choice for environmentally-conscious travel, but there are new trains going beyond the call of duty to help our planet. With entirely electric trains, Lumo is a new company looking to present a cheaper, more sustainable alternative to the frequent air travelers between Edinburgh and London. In about 4.5 hours, and for around $40, you can make the journey aboard a Lumo train. The company is also committed to publishing its carbon emissions data and ensuring 50% of the food menu onboard is plant-based.

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The company that owns and operates Britain’s railway infrastructure also has a few sustainability goals of its own. Network Rail has made public declarations for creating a more sustainable railway, focusing on low emissions, climate change resistance, minimal waste, and sustainable use of materials. The company refurbished London’s Liverpool Street Station with sustainably sourced seats that can be cleaned without chemical detergents. In addition, they’ve drastically reduced carbon dioxide emissions by utilizing solar power at multiple stations and on rail lines.

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