Out and About: by train round the beautiful northeast

Continuing our occasional series of things to do and see on a day out.

Recently we spent a day taking a train journey from York to Leeds, Leeds to Carlisle, Carlisle to Newcastle, and Newcastle back to York. On hearing of our plan, a friend asked “Whatever for?” If that’s your reaction, return to the main page and read something else. If it sounds intriguing, read on….

You can do this journey on a single one day ticket, called the North East Round Robin, and the point is to ride trains (which some of us regard as a treat in itself) through some of the north’s – some might say England’s – loveliest scenery. The route takes you across the country from “sea to shining sea” (well, almost), through a delightful variety of landscapes, and includes the famous Settle and Carlisle line.

Ribblehead Viaduct, from Ingleborough, by Steve Partridge for Geograph

OK, the York to Leeds section doesn’t qualify for rave reviews, but soon after you leave Leeds you are into the Yorkshire Dales National Park, and onto the Settle and Carlisle Railway, trundling through a harsh landscape of fells and dales. The high point of this section – in both senses – is crossing the Ribblehead Viaduct: you know this is special when walkers in the valley below stand and watch you going by. Yorkshire’s famous Three Peaks, Ingleborough, Whernside and Pen-y-Ghent are all visible (unless you are unlucky with the weather), and there’s just emptiness – in the nicest possible way – except for a few sheep and the occasional walker. This section is well served by the Friends of the Settle and Carlisle Railway who may well be on board with guide books and refreshments, and who do a great job maintaining a period look on the remote (and unmanned) stations.

Out of Carlisle, the train roughly follows the line of Hadrian’s Wall, which once marked the northern edge of civilisation (sadly nothing is visible from the train). The scenery becomes much gentler, and greener, with rolling hills and woodland interspersed by fields of sheep and grain. On the day we travelled, both the rapeseed in the fields and the gorse in the hedgerows gleamed golden in the sunshine. Eventually you reach the headwaters of the Tyne and drift down into Newcastle, crossing the river just before it reaches the sea.

From Newcastle you are back on the east coast main line, with which you are probably already familiar, for the return to York, but don’t miss one last spectacular view, of Durham’s majestic cathedral and castle.

Durham Cathedral from the train; Andrew Tryon for Geograph

The practicalities

The tickets cost £48 adult, £24 child, £31.70 with a rail card, and can be bought in advance, or on the day of travel, from any manned station on the route. Tickets are not available on line.

You can travel on any trains that serve these routes except Hull Trains and Grand Central, but you may not begin your journey before 8.45 am Monday to Friday (no restriction on weekends and bank holidays). Arming yourself with timetable details from the web before you set off saves time and confusion.

You can get off at an unlimited number of stations en route, and continue your journey on any subsequent train, though in practical terms, two stops are probably the most you can comfortably manage. We had a couple of hours in Carlisle, strolled through the town to stretch the legs, visited the cathedral, and had a nice Italian lunch. And later we had tea and cake in Newcastle, but at the station, so that didn’t really count. The link above has a route map with a full list of stations.

Train buffs all, we voted this a grand day out.

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