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The great rail trips you can do at home

From experiencing The Canadian’s trip through the Rockies to travelling around the world with Tony Robinson, the great rail trips you can do at home

  • Channel 5 is airing Around The World By Train With Tony Robinson on Monday 
  • Take a virtual ride on the White Mountain Central Railroad, New Hampshire  
  • Get some inspiration for a future trip from train buff Mark Smith 

Every week our Holiday Hero Neil Simpson takes an in-depth look at an important holiday topic, doing all the legwork so you don’t have to. This week: How to go on a great train journey from the safety of your own home.

There’s always been something about a train journey that stirs the imagination. Today’s locomotives may not have the romance of steam trains, but the grandeur of city-centre stations has actually increased as renovations bring glamour back to great public buildings such as St Pancras in London, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s Grand Central in New York and the palm-filled Atocha station in Madrid.

The journeys themselves are as exciting as ever, and travellers can enjoy them all, even under the pandemic lockdown.

Plan for the future

All aboard: Experience The Canadian’s trip through the Rockies

Start with Mark Smith, the train buff whose Man In Seat 61 website (seat61.com) began as a hobby in 2001 and became an award-winning travel phenomenon. Seat 61 is his favourite place to be on a First Class Eurostar train, and the website shows how to get from A to B by train all around the world.

Why not take a look now as inspiration for future trips? Then, for a fuller flavour, go to The Man In Seat 61’s series of short videos on YouTube. Most are step-by-step guides to different journeys.

You are led from concourse to platform as you make connections across the Continent and beyond, and you’ll see how trains differ as you head from France to Italy, for example. Images of a bottle of beer and a bowl of soup in the buffet car on the London to Vienna video bring home one of the small joys of travel. Seeing the sun bounce off the gleaming silver carriages of The Canadian does the same, as the classic train crosses the Rockies on the Toronto to Vancouver video.

 Read all about it

Let the power of the written word take you on a short trip on the White Mountain Central Railroad in rural New Hampshire, USA. The team which runs the railway’s heritage centre say it’s ‘where history meets fun’, and if you click on Virtual Tour – Steam Train Ride on the website (whitemountaincentralrr.com), you feel it straight away.

‘The engineer has just informed me that we have a full head of steam so I’ll give him the High Ball sign and we’ll be on our way,’ the text begins, as the endearingly old-fashioned travelogue describes almost every part of the trip.

Driver’s eye view

The trend for ‘cab-ride’ films was born in Norway in a ‘slow TV’ experiment 

Hop into a train cab for a driver’s-eye view of an entire journey. The trend for ‘cab-ride’ films was born in Norway in a ‘slow TV’ experiment that found a huge market for lovely but uneventful real-life films. The original, seven-hour Bergen to Oslo journey from 2009 is hard to find online, but YouTube has plenty of amateur alternatives, and once you click one you’ll be recommended many more.

Staying closer to home, you can enjoy the ride from Glasgow to Mallaig, or head to the other side of the world and follow the journey from Christchurch to Greymouth in New Zealand amid stunning mountain and ocean views. 

TV stations

TV fans are in for a treat for the next few weeks. Channel 5 is repeating Around The World By Train With Tony Robinson on Monday nights and is putting The World’s Most Scenic Railway Journeys on its Freeview service My5. A favourite is Episode 2, riding through Spain’s Picos de Europa and ending near Bilbao’s Guggenheim museum.

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