By Ruth J. Katz (Style and Travel Editor / Promenade magazine / New York City)
I love train travel, but unfortunately, we do not have a very practical and efficient network in the United States for train travel, at least not the way the Europeans do throughout the Continent and the UK. But when I am across the pond, invariably, I travel by train, and always relish it. Recently, I had an exceptionally pleasant and picturesque journey on BritRail, making my way from Edinburgh to London—about a four-hundred-mile “jaunt,” and about a five-hour stint, ensconced happily in a First Class club car. It was an exceptional ride, not only for the comfort and amenities, but also, and perhaps most notably, for the lovely scenery on the circuit, an itinerary that is known as the east-coast route.
The train hugs the coast (hence the appellation “East Coast Main Line”) as it journeys out of Edinburgh. It chugs through towns and villages, through Newcraighall to Dunbar and then into Berwick-Upon-Tweed (the northernmost town in England, a mere 2.5 miles south of the Scottish border), Alnmouth, and then ultimately, the coach makes its way a little inland at Morpeth. All along this spur of the trip, it is a scenic feast, a true delight. It feels as if you are but a stone’s throw from the water, and the scenery is so captivating, it’s hard to rest your eyes on a book, as you want to keep a non-stop vigil out the window, focused on the train’s majestic backdrop: The landscape endlessly morphs—flat meadows glide into headlands, rocky outcroppings then transform into velvety, Kelly-green fields. Every shade of green ever created by the Grumbacher paint company is visible on this trip: celadon fields elide into avocado-colors, khaki-green changes to jade, then to olive, then back to translucent bottle green. It is a palette that you cannot even imagine. Fields of wheat are redolent with bales, ready for carting. Cows and sheep dot the landscape too, with staccato notes of ebony and snow, burnt sienna and raw umber. And even a few picturesque lighthouses punctuate the scenic drama.
Upon pulling into Berwick-Upon-Tweed, the horizon is suddenly quite urban, yet ancient at the same time. This walled city is arguably England’s most imperial walled town, the perimeter of which was constructed to keep invading Scotsmen out. Upon leaving Berwick, you are quickly back in the country.
Your visual reveries are periodically interrupted by the polite BritRail stewards who periodically pop by with beverage and a food carts. For the kind and thoughtful people at BritRail, it’s not enough that you are pleasantly stimulated by the scenery; they want to ensure that you want for nothing in the snacking department. The staff offers plenty of nourishment, and by the time you pull into Kings Cross, you are satiated with both scenery and treats.
I cannot recommend this journey enough.
In general, BritRail sells many different kinds of passes and tickets for travel, including the BritRail Flexi Pass; it is a great pass, and since it is not sold in the UK, it’s best to get it here before you leave. It is good for four trips within a three-month period, and is activated when you take your first trip. In general, BritRail offers 19,000 daily train departures to 2,500 destinations in England, Scotland, and Wales.