From a very young age, Julian Holland has had a fascination with railways. Having spent much of his adolescent years chasing the smoke and steam of elusive locomotives across Britain’s once extensive railway network, Julian has since become a writer and photographer of many bestselling railway books. His impressive backlist includes Railway Day Trips (2017) and Lost Railway Walks (2019). Julian’s latest book, Britain’s Heritage Railways (2022) is out now and to celebrate we caught up with him to ask about his favourite railway adventures.
Best railway adventure for a beach holiday
Weymouth is one of my favourite seaside destinations as I travelled there from Bristol behind a steam engine a few years ago. As well as from Bristol, Weymouth can also be reached by fast train from London Waterloo. This superb seaside resort was made famous by King George III who spent many summer holidays there, its Blue Flag winning beach of golden sands and safe, shallow waters is one of the top 10 beach destinations in Europe. It even features one of the last traditional Punch & Judy shows in Britain! The wide esplanade and historic fishing harbour are only a short walk from the railway station. Walk or cycle down the Rodwell Trail along the route of a long lost railway to the Isle of Portland. Great for a day out, weekend break or an extended vacation.
Best railway adventure for a countryside retreat
Travel from Cheltenham Racecourse station by steam train below the Cotswold escarpment to the beautiful and historic village of Broadway. One of my favourite English rail journeys and operated by the Gloucestershire-Warwickshire Railway, this 14-mile heritage line was reopened to Broadway in 2018 and en route calls at Gotherington, Winchcombe and Toddington. The ‘Jewel of the Cotswolds’, Broadway is a memorable place to stay with its pretty tree-lined High Street, period Cotswold stone houses, old pubs and the famous Lygon Arms Hotel. It was here that Parliamentarian leader Oliver Cromwell stayed overnight before the Battle of Worcester in 1651 when his army roundly defeated King Charles II’s Royalists.
Best railway adventure for a scenic view
Having recently travelled on this myself I rate the railway journey from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh as one of the most scenic and dramatic in Britain, if not Europe. With refreshments served by a trolley hostess, the 82¼-mile winding and switchback journey takes about 2½ hours each way and offers travellers a never-ending vista of Highland rivers, lochs, forests and mountains. Having survived several threats of closure, small wayside stations along the single-track line serve many remote communities such as Achnasheen, Strathcarron, Attadale and Plockton. Featuring a railway museum, the restored station terminus at Kyle of Lochalsh is dramatically located on the shore opposite the wild and mountainous Isle of Skye.
Best railway adventure for treating a loved one
This is not for the faint-hearted but is highly recommended for an adventurous couple! Travel overnight in style from London Euston tucked up in a sumptuous double-bed on the Highland Sleeper to one of the most remote stations in Europe – set in the Highlands near Rannoch Moor, miles from anywhere and 1,339 feet above sea level, Corrour station is reached after breakfast at 9am following a 12-hour journey from the capital. Featuring in Danny Boyle’s 1996 film Trainspotting which starred Ewan McGregor, the station offers accommodation in a converted signalbox and a restaurant which is claimed to be the most remote in the UK, only accessible by train or a 20-mile walk. With its self-catering Youth Hostel, magical Loch Ossian is a short walk along a track from the station. When I visited a few years ago I certainly left the mad world behind here! The Highland Sleeper departs from Corrour at 20.53 (earlier on Sundays) and arrives back in Euston just before 8am the next day. Advance booking is essential.
Best railway adventure for children to enjoy
This is a great day out with the children by train from Bristol, Taunton and Exeter to Totnes and Buckfastleigh, en route travelling alongside the dramatic coastline between Dawlish and Teignmouth. Alighting at Totnes station, walk across a pedestrian bridge over the River Dart to Riverside station on the South Devon Railway from where steam trains depart for Buckfastleigh. Close to Riverside station is the Totnes Rare Breeds Farm where children can stroke the owls, feed the red squirrels and meet friendly hedgehogs. One of my favourite country railways, the South Devon Railway is a 7-mile heritage line along which vintage steam trains follow the beautiful Dart Valley to Buckfastleigh. Close to the station here is the Dartmoor Otters Centre, a fascinating railway museum, a play area, rides on a miniature railway and riverside walks.
Julian Holland is interviewed by September Withers, a freelance travel copywriter and marketing copywriter with a love of the British countryside.
Follow Julian’s adventures and discover fascinating facts about some of Britain’s most magnificent railways on his Instagram page: @julianhollandrailways
You can find out more about Julian’s series of railway books by clicking on the covers below.