Published: 23rd November 2015
December is always a busy month for charter trains across the UK national rail network. The short daylight hours mean that trains often start in darkness but that breakfast can be taken as daylight breaks while travelling amongst stunning scenery. The return journey is always undertaken in darkness but this adds to the occasion as dinner is taken in decorated carriages. The reasons for travelling are to visit the ever-growing Christmas markets or Carol services.
There are also many other services which are circular journeys lasting maybe three hours which are solely for a Christmas Lunch. Belmond operate many of these from London Victoria using their British Pullman while their Northern Belle Pullman style train operates around the UK on these dining trips.
The last weekend in November kicks off the Christmas markets and events designed by the local tourist authorities to attract visitors to their event. Just before this though on November 26, there is a steam hauled special promoted by The Railway Touring Company (RTC) to the Bath Christmas Market’ starting at Poole calling at Bournemouth and Southampton.
On the same day, Steam Dreams (SD) is offering ‘Dunster Christmas Carols’ running from London Victoria via the southwestern suburbs, Feltham, Staines, Ascot and Wokingham, Reading, Newbury to the old village of Dunster and the Bristol Channel resort of Minehead on the West Somerset Railway. November 29 sees a SD charter also running to the Bath Christmas Market from Paddington calling at Slough, Twyford and Reading.
The Christmas feast of specials starts on November 28th when Portsmouth hosts its huge annual Victorian Dickensian Festival in the famous Portsmouth Docks just a couple of minutes walk from Portsmouth Harbour station. Pathfinder railtours is promoting a charter train to this event called ‘The Jolly Marketeer’ from Derby, running via Burton, Coleshill Parkway, both Birmingham major stations, Leamington and Banbury to Salisbury, Portsmouth Harbour and Chichester.
On the same day, East Anglian based Nenta Traintours is promoting a special train called ‘Yorkshire’s Xmas Festivities’ from North Walsham, Norwich, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, Cambridge, March and Peterborough to Skipton, Leeds and York. The Christmas market at York also attracts a UK Railtours (UKR) charter from St Pancras via Luton Airport Parkway, Bedford, Kettering and Leicester to York. Also on November 28, the RTC is promoting a steam charter train from Bristol via Gloucester and Cwmbran to Chester for their Christmas Market.
The Statesman Pullman charter starts is seasonal activities running to Bath on November 28 from Aberystwyth and stations to Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Parkway-Birmingham International to Bath. Be warned though that most Statesman trains are fully booked weeks in advance with repeat passengers. The same day sees the Worcester Christmas Market take place with an RTC train from Paddington calling at Slough and Reading.
This is one of the largest Christmas Markets and like the others, runs for three days. This year it is on from December 4 to 6th inclusive. As with other city centre Christmas street markets, parking is a challenge. This is why charter trains are so popular.
One charter runs to this market from Scotland promoted by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society on Dec 4. It starts at Edinburgh Waverley and calls at stations to via Berwick-upon-Tweed, Newcastle and Durham to Lincoln. On the same day, the Belmond Orient Express also visits Lincoln departing from Victoria.
The RTC runs a steam charter from Kings Cross calling at stations to Peterborough to Lincoln on December 5th when a Vintage Trains steam special from Tyseley, Coleshill Parkway, Leicester and Loughborough also runs.
If Lincoln doesn’t attract you on December 5th, the West Coast Railways (WCR) is running two specials, ‘The Festive Jorvik Express’ starts at Worcester and runs via Kidderminster-Rowley Regis and the West Midlands to York. Their second service runs from the Skegness on the East Coast to the Manchester European Christmas Markets calling at stations to Boston and Grantham.
Edinburgh is a popular destination for December specials with WCR running a charter on December 9 starting at Todmorden and running via Sowerby Bridge, Wakefield and then Shipley, Skipton the Settle and Carlisle line to Edinburgh. Their second Edinburgh train runs on December 12 from Bridlington and stations to Brough and Selby.
The same company also runs to Edinburgh on December 18 from Blackpool North, Preston, Clitheroe and the Settle Carlisle route. The following day WCR operates a train from St Neots and stations to Doncaster to Edinburgh.
Statesman Rail are promoting three trips to Edinburgh. They run on December 5 from Holyhead calling at stations to Chester, Warrington and Preston and a week later on December 12 from Wolverhampton running via Shrewsbury, Crewe and Preston. The third one is on December 19 from Cambridge and stations to Peterborough, Doncaster and York.
There are several trains aimed at enthusiasts rather than Christmas markets. UK Railtours on December 8 takes a train to Fawley on the Solent from Waterloo and the following day the curiously named ‘The Fifth Continent’ runs from London Victoria to Romney Marsh. Both south coast destinations do not see regular passenger trains and should provide an interesting, but not long day out.
UKR is also promoting two trains after Christmas. On December 30th, ‘The Waverley’ runs from Kings Cross and stations to Doncaster to Tweedbank on the newly opened Borders Line. The following day brings ‘The Peppercorn Phoenix’ from Finsbury Park and stations to York where Tornado takes the train to Newcastle and back via the Blythe & Tyne route.
There are many other special trains running in December so why not have a stress-free day out on a special train which all offer decent food, large windows and lots of legroom. Check out rail.co.uk listings at http://www.rail.co.uk/charter-train-directory/