Five railway escapes
A railway track lays the path for a weekend escape. (Fred Adler/BBC)
Travel fast to Provence on a French TGV train or take it slow over afternoon tea in a vintage stream-drawn railway carriage on these UK-based weekend trips.
Forty miles of Welsh heritage
Stand on the platform of Porthmadog’s Harbour station and you’ll see a remarkable connection – two restored, narrow-gauge railway lines heading north and east into the mountains. The Ffestiniog Railway runs from Porthmadog up to the slate-mining town of Blaenau Ffestiniog, on a track where engines – some dating from Victorian times – climb the only spiral loop train line in Britain. Linking up with this train, and open at last along its full route since April 2011, the Welsh Highland Railway runs for 25 miles between Porthmadog and Caernarfon, and through the foothills of Snowdonia.
Take a direct train to France’s Vatican
How far can you travel by train from Britain without once having to move your suitcase from the rack? In the summer, at least, as far as the medieval walled city of Avignon – one of the cultural highlights of Provence. Every Saturday morning in July and August, a direct train runs from London St Pancras to the city’s TGV station in less than six hours. For a weekend trip, pick a train back to London that changes in Lille – you’ll have to wait until the following Saturday for the next direct service. In Avignon, take in the Gothic bulk of the Palais des Papes, built for the pope in 1309 as an escape from the political intrigue of Rome.
Through the night to Cornwall
The Night Riviera Sleeper travels from London to Cornwall every evening except on Saturdays. Penzance is the end of the line – for an art inspired alternative, get off a stop early at St Erth and change for a train to St Ives in time for breakfast, followed by a drop-in class at the St Ives School of Painting (classes from £15).
Wake up to dawn in the Highlands
Celebrate the continued service of the Caledonian Sleeper, which received an early Christmas present last year with new funding. These overnight trains with single and twin-berth compartments link London with Edinburgh, Glasgow, Aberdeen and Inverness. However, to wake up to the choicest views from your carriage window, the Fort William route takes some beating. On arrival, you are within easy reach of magical Glen Nevis and its 1,344m-high sentinel, Ben Nevis.
To Stratford by steam locomotive
Taking an hour to cover the 50 miles between Birmingham and Stratford, the main engine of the Shakespeare Express shines in its 1926 GWR livery. The Bard must think himself accurs’d that he is not here to see his namesake steaming through the Warwickshire countryside. Round trips take place on Sundays in summer – if you want to see a play, come by regular train on a Saturday and take the Shakespeare Express to Birmingham the following day.