Riding the rails to England – a track to many opportunities

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American postgraduate student Chris enjoys spending his spare time exploring new places by train.

"The ability to get practically anywhere by train is one of the perks of studying in the UK"

As an American in Edinburgh, I probably get a little too excited about traveling by train, but the ability to get practically anywhere by train is one of the perks of studying in the UK. In this post, I share my recent experience riding the rails to England and the diversions I encountered on the way back!

Holiday plans

At the start of my second year studying at Edinburgh Napier University, my wife and I took a quick break to England. The plan was to stay with friends of a friend just outside Birmingham and use their place as a base from which to take day trips by car to the Cotswolds. With our accommodation taken care of, all we had to do was book train tickets from Edinburgh to Birmingham.

As an American student abroad, rail journeys are a source of excitement for me. Since moving to Edinburgh to study for a masters in film at Edinburgh Napier, I have appreciated the ability to hop on a train to practically anywhere, taking day trips to other towns and cities in Scotland. No matter how many times I travel by train, there is still a sense of romance about it. In the United States, where I was born and have spent 33/34ths of my life, trains are for moving freight, not people. Passenger services are practically not existent outside commuter services in the northeast.

Booking tickets

One of the wonderful things about travelling by train is being able to go to the station and purchase a ticket on the day of travel. Not that I ever do that. Conditioned by years of plane travel, I buy my train tickets far in advance of our day of travel (which often leads to a discount). Nonetheless, there is something nice about the idea of being able to walk up to a ticket window whenever the fancy to travel strikes.

Trainline is a great site for finding deals on advance ticket bookings. Also, with a Totum card from the National Union of Students, you can get discounts on certain train journeys.

The station

Edinburgh Waverley Station is a hidden hive of activity located at one end of Princes Street Gardens next to North Bridge. Descending on an escalator from street-level, you enter a transport hub which can take you northwest into the Highlands or south to London. Waverly Station is integrated into the cityscape in such a way that I didn’t even realise it was there for a few months.

The journey

It seems like a national pastime to complain about the rail services in the UK, but our journey down to Birmingham was smooth and uninterrupted. And in the spur of the moment, we decided to spend the day in Oxford, thanks to the ease with which we could go to the station and buy a train ticket.

The return trip, on the other hand, was much more of an adventure. What was meant to be a simple journey from Birmingham to Edinburgh on a single train turned into a guessing game. Before we left Birmingham, we were informed that our service was being cut short just south of the Scottish border. According to the helpful station agent, we could take our original train to the end of the service where we could get another train to Glasgow.

On board the train, we were told by the conductor not to go to Glasgow, but to Carlisle, where we could get a train to Edinburgh. After about an hour hanging about the station in Carlisle, we were on the train to Edinburgh.

Even though our return journey was a little longer than we’d expected, I was happy that we were able to complete our journey without having to book any additional tickets. As it turned out, because we arrived two hours later than scheduled, we got a full refund for the return portion of our journey! That refund went right into the budget for our next railway adventure around the UK!

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