Top Ten Tips for a Rail Tour of England

Since its Victorian era heyday, rail travel has been a major means of transport for us Brits and a popular way for overseas visitors to explore Britain. With a far-reaching network, quality service providers and frequent connections coupled with the range of flexible passes and superb value offered by the Britrail scheme, Britain, and England in particular, is an excellent destination to explore by rail. So if you don’t fancy joining a large coach group and want to ditch the rental vehicle, why not hop aboard a train to traverse Britain.  Here’s our top-ten tips and practical advice for your independent rail tour:

  1. Pack light

This may seem obvious but pack as light as possible – there is no porterage service or luggage assistance at the train stations so you’ll need to be able to manage your own bags.  For this reason, we recommend you travel with minimal luggage, ideally no more than a mid-size bag or suitcase with wheels and one item of hand luggage such as a small rucksack. Most stations will have elevator access to the platforms but it is easier if you’re able to carry your case up or down a short flight of stairs, at the very least you would need to be capable of lifting your bags up two or three steps to board the train.

  1. Avoid the rush hour

You’re on holiday so have a lie in or enjoy a leisurely breakfast! It may be tempting to get your journey underway early but by waiting until after 9am to board the train you’ll avoid the local commuters which means less crowded platforms and quieter carriages meaning more space and a more enjoyable journey!

  1. Download an app

All adeo Travel rail tours include full printed service and departure information in your travel pack, but if you’re travelling with a smart-phone or tablet, we recommend that you download a rail app too. Most are easy to use and offer up-to-the-minute schedule information so that you can check your journeys and keep on top of any local service changes or potential delays. Ask your adeo Travel advisor for the best rail apps to download.

  1. Give yourself time

Britrail passes off amazing flexibility allowing you to choose any departure time for your journey without pre-booking times and seats, however if you’re aiming for a particular service ensure you give yourself plenty of time to catch it. If you plan to get to the station on foot, check how long the walk will take you before you set off. Or if you plan to take a cab, you can ask your concierge or hotel receptionist to pre-book one for your planned departure the night before.  Bear in mind that it can take time within the station to pass through ticket barriers and reach the correct platform, especially in larger stations.

  1. Stay central

It may be tempting to book low-cost hotels away from the town-centre or guest house accommodation located in the residential suburbs, however we would generally recommend centrally located hotels and all adeo Travel rail tours include central accommodation as standard. Even if you choose to take a taxi to/from the station when you are transferring your luggage, you still want to be in a downtown location to ensure you can easily explore the destination on foot; extra time and money spent in cabs could be better spent on enjoying your trip!

  1. Ask for help

Generally, the staff on the railways are extremely knowledgeable and very friendly; if you need help to figure out a timetable, check a platform or clarify a connection, simply ask someone – there are ample staff and ticket conductors, platform staff and barrier attendants will all be more than willing to help.

  1. Do day tours in rural areas

Many British cities are compact and easily explored on foot; rural areas on the other hand can be difficult to explore by rail as many smaller towns and villages no longer have operational railway stations. Our recommended solution is to combine your rail tour with pre-booked day-tours in selected destinations.  Small-group operators offer excellent insight in to countryside regions such as the Lake District, Yorkshire and South Wales but don’t forget to pre-book as they prove popular in the Summer months! If you want recommendations on such tours, simply ask your adeo Travel expert.

  1. Check seat reservations

Many train carriages will have reserved seating denoted by a ticket or digital panel – it may seem that many seats are reserved but always check the tickets; seat reservations are often only in place between selected destinations on the route – if you check the tickets you’ll find that the traveller may not be boarding the train until later on the journey or indeed may already have alighted at a previous stop. If a seat is left free, just use it.  If the owner of the seat reservation comes along, they’ll just politely ask you to move.

  1. Use your passes to their full potential

One of the real benefits of the Britrail scheme is the value the passes offer.  They are specifically designed and valid only for overseas visitors. They provide completely unlimited travel on each day of use, so don’t just set aside your ticket once you’ve arrived in your overnight destination – drop off your luggage at the hotel and get back on the rails to explore the surrounding towns and villages accessible by train.

  1. Enjoy the views

It can be tempting to bury your head in the newspaper or become glued to your phone as you travel between destinations, but don’t forget to look up occasionally; Britain is home to some of the world’s most beautiful rail journeys, and you can enjoy stunning vistas of coast and countryside on your travels by rail. The beauty of a rail tour is that you can sit back and lose yourself in England’s landscapes. Just ask your adeo Travel advisor if you want to include any particularly picturesque or famous routes.

We hope our tips have been helpful – when booking a rail tours with adeo Travel you’ll benefit from our local expertise every step of the way.  We are official Britrail agents and we regularly ride the rails of Britain in our daily lives.  For a full selection of our rail tours please click here.  Alternatively, for a fully customized rail tours simply enquire here.

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Liverpool – My Home City

As I’m travelling back up to the North of England to my hometown of Liverpool this weekend for a baby shower for my younger sister, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk about what’s great about this city full of character, and what makes Liverpool stand out from other

Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool
Beatles Story Exhibition, Liverpool

cities in the UK as well as the events for 2017!

If you look back at our other blog from 2013 “Liverpool – A Capital City” you’ll find a great introduction in Liverpool, from its history as a major port during the industrial revolution, to its dedication to the infamous Beatles, as well the friendly atmosphere the people of Liverpool create.

Crowned the “Capital of Culture” title in 2008, Liverpool is famous for many other reasons other than the Beatles, including of course the football teams Liverpool & Everton (a great game when against each other… named the Merseyside derby), the Grand National at Aintree Race course (the biggest horse racing championships in the UK, established in 1839 – you can catch this year’s Grand National on the 6/7th April 2017) as well as its great universities, restaurants, bars and music events…

Renowned for its Victorian Albert docks, a major port which a lot of people are unaware has a strong part to play in the history of the Titanic and was considered her home port. The story being that Titanic’s managing company, the White Star Line, had its head office in James Street, Liverpool. White Star’s main New York service sailed from Liverpool until 1907, when it was transferred to Southampton which is where Titanic departed from in 1912.

Albert Docks and Liver Building, Liverpool
Albert Docks and Liver Building, Liverpool

Today, the Albert Docks demonstrates the largest single collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK made entirely out of cast iron, brick and stone is home to a few key museums of Liverpool including The Beatles Story, the Merseyside Maritime Museum as well as the International Slavery Museum. It is also home to a selection of great restaurants and cocktail bars, stylish and slick in their decoration with fantastic views of the docks… the international Mersey River festival is hosted this year on the 23rd-25th June 2017 which demonstrates a series of narrow boats & tall ships, as well as sporting tournaments including polo, and demonstrates a great selection of music and entertainment from local artists.

“Ferry across the Mersey”, a song by Gerry and the Pacemakers, was made famous by the Beatles and then was even later turned into a film was based on the Mersey Ferry which runs along the river Mersey along the docks & through to the Wirral Peninsula, and still runs today it can now be experienced by guests to Liverpool.

You’ll also find “The Super Lambanana”- what exactly is a Lambanana you ask? It’s a bright yellow sculpture located in Liverpool, weighing almost eight tons and standing at 17 feet tall. Created by Japanese based artist Taro Chiezo, it stands in front of John Moors university and during the year that Liverpool help the European Capital of Culture local community organisations and businesses invested in 125 individually designed replicas that can be found in and around Merseyside and one in North Wales. The artwork was designed reflecting Liverpool’s history as a port city, trading in commodities such as Lancashire wool and Fyffes bananas, and in my opinion is quite reminiscent of the artist Jeff Koons, and his sculptures of balloon animals.

Not far from the docks you’ll find its “three graces” which consists The Cunard Building, The Port of Liverpool Building as well as famous Royal Liver Building which portrays the Liver birds (mythical creatures symbolising Liverpool), all of which are great examples of Liverpool’s architecture.

If you’re visiting the UK this year, take a night or two to experience Liverpool, with Chester not far away and the breath-taking Lake District just an hour and a half’s drive, it’s a great taste of northern attitude, culture and history.  The perfect driving tour for this region would be our driving tour of the North of England; Yorkshire and the Lake District Tour.

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Highlights of Britain Small-Group Tour – My Experience

As you may have seen from my last blog, recently I had the opportunity to go on one of our more popular group tours the ‘Highlights of Britain’.

Oxford UniversityWe had an early start from the centre of London, where everyone met in a timely fashion. Once the luggage was loaded onto the mini-coach, we headed straight for Oxford.
It was here that we had our own personal walking tour of the city by a local resident who was very knowledgeable of all the sites and answered all questions our group had with accuracy.
It was especially great to learn about the history of the famous Oxford University while inside the buildings themselves and having plenty of picture opportunities.
After the walking tour, we were allowed two hours to ourselves to explore the city privately. There was an opportunity to get food before exploring landmarks such as Blackwell’s Bookshop, which stocks over 200,000 books and its Norrington Room is the largest single room devoted to the selling of books in Europe at 10,000 square feet.
Departing Oxford, we headed to the Cotswolds where we got to see Bampton, famously used as a fictional village in Downtown Abbey.
Our stay for the evening was in the lovely Three Ways House hotel, where we treated to a three-course meal before becoming dessert connoisseurs by taking part in their famous ‘Pudding Club’.

Leaving the Cotswolds on day two, we headed north to Worcester Cathedral; it was here that we had a tour by a knowledgeable and charismatic historian. The Cathedral houses the tomb of the infamous King John and there were plenty of photo opportunities in this stunning builIronbridgeding.
After the tour concluded, we headed to Much Wenlock where we had an hour to get food and explore the quaint and picturesque village.
After our stomachs were satisfied, it was back on the mini-coach and up to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Ironbridge which was a stunning sight. The bridge was the very first bridge in the world made with an arch-shape out of cast iron. Again, picture opportunities were in abundance and I am still using the photo I took of Ironbridge as the wallpaper on my phone to this day!
After a long day of sightseeing, we crossed the border into North Wales where we retired for the evening.

After a lovely breakfast on day three, we departed our hotel and headed for the Area of Outstanding National Beauty known as Snowdonia Park, home of the impressive Mount Snowdon. The weather was good to us on the day that we visited; the lakes a beautiful blue and the valleys gorgeous green in colour.
Departing Snowdon, it was up to the island of Anglesey where we crossed the Menai Suspension Bridge to visit the famous village of Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch and of course we all took turns trying to pronounce it!Snowdonia
Coming back to mainland Wales across the Britannia Bridge, we visited Bodnant Welsh Food Centre where we had a lovely three course meal followed by a Welsh cookery lesson and a tour of the centre itself.
It was then that we headed back to our hotel after a thoroughly enjoyable day of sightseeing in North Wales.

At the beginning day four, it was time for me personally to leave the tour and return home, but the tour itself lasts nine days and continues through Britain where the rest of the group got to see places like Chester, York, The Lake District and Scotland, concluding in Edinburgh.

With the dates for 2017 recently released for the Highlights of Britain tour, what better time is there for you to enquire to book with us today – I couldn’t recommend this tour enough!

adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary, Week 7: End of the Road(trip)

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

We continued travelling north, following the picturesque lochs and valleys to Mallaig. Here we boarded a car ferry for a somewhat “bumpy” voyage to the Isle of Skye where we drove across the bare, windswept, mountainous spine to reach the blue waters and sheltered bays of Skye’s beautiful north coast.

img_1191The Isle of Skye has a reputation for wild, wet and windy weather and it well and truly lived up to this reputation for our journey around its coasts. However, we saw enough through the horizontal rain and obscuring mist to enjoy Skye’s rugged beauty, to appreciate her volcanic geology, and to admire those hardy, tenacious individuals that were able to make their livings here.

 

We crossed back to the mainland via the gracefully arching Skye Bridge… with an icy cold south-westerly gale doing its best to get us airborne. We visited two castles on our way to Inverness, both of which revealed the usual stories of invasions, medieval arms races, ever-changing alliances, inevitable betrayals, and power-seeking, war-mongering, egomaniacal despots – with brief periods of peace between the senseless, wasteful, bloody battles. But the views were superb.

img_1192Scottish highlanders have never forgotten “the 45s”, those clans who rallied to the cause of installing Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne in 1745. Charlie’s ill-conceived plans, however, came to a terrible, bloody end a year later at Culloden, an otherwise unremarkable field just outside Inverness.  Standing where 1,500 “rebel” highlanders were cut down in less than an hour, and listening to real stories from the perspectives of the routed Jacobites and the victorious government troops, sent awful chills down our spines.

img_1194Heading east from Inverness, we explored the Moray Coast, surprised to find long sandy beaches on parts of it. Not so surprised to find ruined forts, ruined palaces and even a ruined cathedral (at Elgin). We also stumbled upon the remains of a very ancient Pict fort at Burghead, and a tiny 17th century man-made harbour at Portsoy that was still partly operational. We passed through several very neat little fishing villages trying to survive after the collapse of their traditional fisheries.

On our last day with the car in Scotland we felt that we just had to visit Dunnottar Castle. It was as if we had been saving the best ’til last. Dunnottar was breathtaking – slowly revealing itself as the whisps of morning mist rolled away, perched on an island of sheer-sided basalt, tenuously tethered to the mainland by a single steep, sinuous path. The defenders of this imposing fort were able to withstand the onslaught of Cromwell’s army for eight months, thus saving the Scottish Crown Jewels!

img_1195We left the coast and drove on to Edinburgh via the tortuous roads that wind through the majestic Cairngorms National Park, following the River Dee for much of its path through the deep glacial valleys where, in its quieter moments, it reflected the snow still clinging to the looming mountains above. Wow!

img_1196Edinburgh presents a harmonious mix of the very old and the very new, and tangibly buzzes with the melting pot of humanity coursing through its labyrinthine, cobbled streets. Naturally we explored its iconic Castle, perched atop those dark, dolorite cliffs, ominously dominating the city below. But we also investigated the pokey 17th Century alleys and houses hidden beneath the streetscape of today, providing us with a fascinating insight into those smelly, unhygenic, crowded and generally impoverished times.

What would a visit to Edinburgh be without paying homage to Grayfriars Bobby? Or spending time in the not-quite-as-austere-as-it-should-be St. Giles Cathedral? Or climbing Calton Hill to view the unfinished “Acropolis” at its summit and to take in the view over this magical city

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adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 6, Heading North

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

Leaving Chester, we crossed the bleak, browned grasslands of the high Pennines into Yorkshire. York itself was like a living museum; the presence of the Romans was still palpable and the subsequent Viking and Anglo-Saxon influences are also obvious. One place which typified this was the huge Minster that dominates the town. Below its floors can be found whole Roman walls and roads. Above the floors one can read the chequered history in the many architectural changes to this magnificent structure.

York - Shambles
York – Shambles

From York we now headed northwest to the Lake District. But on the way we detoured first to the little town of Ripley where we explored the enchanting walled garden belonging to the local castle/mansion. We then stopped off at Fountains Abbey, another huge Cistercian abbey destroyed by Henry VIII’s mob. The beautiful 17th century water gardens here are now under the protective wing of the National Trust and are superbly and lovingly preserved.

On we drove towards the west passing through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales under increasingly threatening skies which decided to unleash their bucket loads of snow just as we were entering the steep mountain passes leading to the Lakes. Around every corner was a Christmas-card scene of snow-covered ground and conifers bending under the weight with bewildered sheep wondering where their grass had gone. The steep, narrow, icy roads made for some treacherous driving but it was well worth it in the end – as we gazed with delight out the window of our Ambleside hotel at a spectacular view of towering snow-shrouded peaks!

IMG_1185With our intended cruise on Coniston Waters cancelled because of the “inclement” weather, we drove down the western side of Coniston Waters to Greenodd and back up along the eastern side of Windemere, with the snow-capped mountains providing a dramatic backdrop to the windswept lakes. We had 10 minutes of rare sunshine just as we left Windemere, allowing me to capture a few stunning reflections. Near Carlisle we stopped at Birdoswald, the site of an excavated Roman fort, built in the second century as part of Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northernmost boundary of the vast Roman Empire, keeping those pesky marauding Scots at bay. We even got to walk a little of the famous Wall itself.

And so, on to Glasgow, which, like Cardiff, is another industrial city successfully re-invented as a cultural capital. The miserable weather encouraged us to explore Glasgow‘s museums, including the newly opened and very modern Riverside Transport Museum and the fabulous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Each in their own way defining the considerable impact this city has had on the social, industrial and technological milieux not only of Britain, but on the rest of the world.

IMG_1188Northwards once more; but first we decided to climb the 400 steps to the remains of the historic Dunbarton Castle, perched strategically atop a massive volcanic plug, guarding the windswept River Clyde. We journeyed alongside the enigmatic Loch Lomond, experiencing brief periods of sunshine and rain in equal measure, following a waterlogged zig-zag path into the Scottish Highlands.

If you would like to explore the wild and beautiful North of England why not try our Yorkshire and the Lake District self-drive tour.