Most of my travel in recent years has involved flying, although taking a ferry somewhere is always a big attraction. Train journeys have been less frequent, unless you count airport connections. I do love good train travel however, and before the pandemic shut life down I was thinking of doing more of it – especially when I finally retire and have all the time in the world.
Recently I noticed publication of the latest edition of Europe By Rail, and perhaps tempted by the picture of Blair Atholl station on the front cover, I took the plunge.
As an aside, Blair Atholl is a village in northern Perthshire (Scotland) on the line between Perth and Inverness. I spent some time there in 2017. I had taken the train from home (in Fife) for a day of hiking in Glen Tilt, which heads east from Blair Atholl. It was a great hike, and going by train rather than just jumping in the car made it even more enjoyable. The traffic on the A9 between Perth and Blair Atholl can be… tedious.
The downside was having to wait quite a while in the village for the train home. Not all services stop there. It is a lovely village, so it was not a big hardship. I remember taking a nap in the sun while lying on a park bench.
Coming back to the guide, it highlights a number of long distance routes and advocates taking them in bite sized chunks, with overnight stays along the way. I like that idea.
I know some of them already. Madrid to Cadiz was part of my journey from Toulouse to Marrakech in 1973. The same year I took the route over the Pyrenees between Barcelona and Toulouse, passing close to Andorra.
I took the train between Ljubljana and Zagreb in 2009, and more recently, the Öresundtåg between Copenhagen and Malmö in 2020 – my last foreign travel before the pandemic, as it turned out.
The guide also includes the Fort William to Mallaig service, which I used in 2017 to catch the Calmac ferry to Eigg.
Brussels to Köln and Koblenz to Mainz are others I have enjoyed in recent years.
The guide made me reflect on journeys I have enjoyed which did not make it into the guide. Trier to Koblenz is one. The valley of the Mosel is just as much fun as that of the Rhein.
I would recommend Copenhagen to Helsingør as well. It is a short excursion from the city, but gives a real impression of the real Zealand.
The short trip from Vilnius to Trakai is similar – a lovely destination plus the genuine Soviet built (but refurbished) EMU experience too.
What might be on my wish list?
Well, some segments of the Moscow to Vladivostok line are strong possibilities. I cannot see me spending days on the whole journey – cabin fever would drive me crazy very quickly. However a day on the train (or even an overnight journey) here and there would be fun.
Cabin fever aside, passing through cities like Irkutsk and Ulan-Ude without stopping to explore them is just unimaginable.
Heading for the Arctic Circle in Norway or Sweden are others – the overnight sleeper from Stockholm to Luleå appeals, as does the service from Oslo to Bodø, with ferry connections to the Lofoten Islands.
Now, if we could just get the pandemic sorted…
ⓒ iain taylor, 2021