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As the country eases its way out of lockdown, many of Britain’s celebrated heritage and steam operated railway lines have announced dates for the first post-lockdown journeys of the summer.
They have had to make a number of modifications, adapting to the changed times with face masks and social distancing.
There will be tighter booking conditions – gone for the time being are the rover tickets, allowing you to hop from train to train throughout the day as you please. Instead, in come limited pre-booked round-trips. Compartment carriages will be more in evidence than the more common open ones. On board dining will in the main be a more modest affair.
But the trains are slowly gearing up to get back on track. Here are five great journeys to whet the appetite. All aboard! (Though, of course, not all at the same time…)
English beauty: Saphos Trains
The Crewe-based mainline charter company operates long-distance day-trips with steam; the first post-lockdown mainline trip involves its flagship locomotive, No. 70000 Britannia, being at the head of the train running along the Settle-Carlisle line – arguably the most scenic in Britain – which takes in the stunning Ribblehead Viaduct. The ‘Brit’ also will have its work cut out climbing up the ‘Long Drag’ to Ais Gil, the highest railway summit in England, during the journey.
Seating capacity has been cut by 40 per cent in order to adhere to the two-metre social distancing regulations with plastic screens installed between seats, though the dining levels have not changed with meals still being prepared in a kitchen car and silver-served. However, all staff will be required to wear PPE.
Saphos Trains resumes charter trips from July 15. From £95. saphostrains.com
Scottish stunner: The Jacobite
Better known as the ‘Harry Potter train’, The Jacobite linking Fort William and Mallaig runs along the stunning West Highland Line, crossing the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct en-route. During the summer months, two trains a day run and West Coast Railways says it will board passengers in a staggered formation while the overall seating capacity has been halved to aid social distancing measures.
The Jacobite resumes daily from July 17; return fare from £43; westcoastrailways.co.uk
Sussex splendour: Bluebell Railway
Celebrating its 60th anniversary in August, the oldest preserved railway in the UK offers views of the Ashdown Forrest and will operate trains between its southern terminus of Sheffield Park and Kingscoate; East Grinstead station shut. Three or four dining trains a day are also planned as well – these will start and finish at either Sheffield Park or Horstead Keynes. On the dining services food will not be silver-served; instead meals will be pre-boxed and collected from the station platforms before boarding.
Aims to reopen from August 7. For prices see bluebell-railway.com
Midlands magic: Severn Valley Railway
The SVR will operate along the whole length of its line which hugs the River Severn with ample opportunities to take in the view. Two trains planned to start out of its Kidderminster headquarters and one train out of Bridgnorth at the northern end of the line, though passengers will be able to alight at Highly (roughly halfway along the railway line) and have the option of visiting the engine house museum.
Likely reopening date August 1. Compartments, which can seat up to six people, cost £75; svr.co.uk
Cotswolds class: Gloucestershire and Warwickshire Railway
The volunteer-run organisation is operating round-trips out of its base at Toddington along the 14-mile line which offers views of the rolling Cotswold hills. Unlike the other lines and companies mentioned here, facemasks are unlikely to be obligatory when passengers are seated in their compartments. An open carriage will also be offered for single travellers.
Likely reopening date August 15. Compartments £25 per head for a minimum of two people with a £10 surcharge for additional passengers. See gwsr.com