24 June 2022
Choosing our top five was difficult, be we got there in the end – we think. Here’s our selection…
The brief? To select five – and only five – of the most scenically attractive heritage lines in the UK. It wasn't a simple task.
While our top five please us, others might disagree. It's a luxury that we have so many preserved lines in the UK from which to choose, and so many offer views from the windows over rolling hills, rivers, beside the sea, or woodlands. Some would argue that a beautiful view is offered by overlooking lots of high-rise architecture, but is it really comparable to views such as these? We think not.
The North Yorkshire Moors Railway
The rolling landscape of the North Yorkshire Moors offers a scenic backdrop like no other. Add a steam-hauled train into the mix, and the drama is increased ten-fold. Most of the line runs through the North York Moors National Park, with miles of its lineside being part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest, a Special Area of Conservation and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trusts nature reserve, Fen Bog.
The 18-mile-long lineside is full of differing habitats from bogs, meadows, ancient woodland and moss-covered rocky outcrops, and is home to a raft of species that give colour, texture and shape. The lineside is also part of the NYMR living museum, with heritage features galore including, walls, bridges, tunnels and huts, showing great ingenuity and beautiful architecture – all cared for by its staff and volunteer teams.
West Somerset Railway
Best enjoyed ice cream in hand starting from its coastal terminus at Minehead, the West Somerset Railway welcomes family days out and is a major attraction in the area, carrying more than 200,000 visitors per annum. Minehead is dominated by the Butlins Holiday Centre and the usual features of a resort town. For those looking for a quieter day out the old town area on North Hill rewards exploration, as does the area beside the harbour. For walkers, Minehead is the start of the South West Coastal Path.
The line continues to snake the coast offering sea views, before turning south to terminate at the foot of the Quantock Hills at Bishops Lydeard.
Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway
You could be forgiven for thinking that the above scene is in the heart of Wales, but no, this is West Cumbria, just a few miles from the coast. The Lake District offers scenic beauty and many views that are difficult to beat, particularly on foot when exploring, but if you're feeling a little lazy – or let's face it, you just want to ride the narrow-gauge railway – it offers a different perspective, too.
If you can, get on a tour departing Ravenglass with an option of either an immediate return journey from Dalegarth for Boot station or time to alight at the station. Another option allows you to enjoy the facilities, pre-book lunch, or explore Boot Village and visit England’s oldest working Watermill.
Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Steam Railway
Running between Broadway in the north and Cheltenham Race Course in the south, the GWSR is over 14 miles long. There are stunning views of the Cotswolds to the south and east and the Malvern Hills to the west. It passes through a 693 yard tunnel at Greet and over a 15-arch viaduct at Stanway. If you have time to explore more of the surrounding area, 'Railway Rambles' publications providing walking routes are available at the start and end of the line's stations.
Bluebell Railway Severn Valley Railway
Running from Sheffield Park and East Grinstead in Sussex, and calling at Horsted Keynes and Kingscote, this 11-mile-long line travels across the beautiful East and West Sussex border, surrounded by peaceful countryside. The Bluebell Railway was one of the first preserved heritage lines in the country, resulting in one of the finest collections of vintage steam locomotives and carriages – many of which were preserved straight out of service from British Railways.
Do you agree with our choice? Let us know in the comments below, or email us at [email protected].