This one-day ranger gives travellers the freedom of what is a diverse county. The ticket allows unlimited off-peak journeys (after 9am, or any time at weekends) on all trains within Derbyshire, as well as out-of-county routes to Sheffield, Burton upon Trent and Uttoxeter. The ticket can also be used on most buses within Derbyshire and some beyond the county borders.
For lungfuls of Peak District air, take the Hope Valley Line from Sheffield and hop off anywhere from Grindleford to Edale for a circular walk or ride. From Edale it’s walking distance to Kinder Scout. Meanwhile, a bus from Grindleford or Hathersage will take you to Eyam, the village whose residents famously sacrificed themselves to save others during the plague of 1666 and whose story is movingly told there.
Ashbourne – south of Dovedale and accessible by direct bus from Derby or Belper stations – is awash with historical buildings. Its annual Shrove Tuesday/Ash Wednesday “hugball” match (25/26 February this year) is a medieval forerunner to football and involves hundreds of players (visitors are welcome to join in), plenty of enthusiastic scrimmaging, and goals three miles apart.
The branch lines of Devon and Cornwall are one of the wonders of the British Isles. The plucky remnants of a network that once threaded itself over south-west England are like a living fossil, a memory of more innocent times. These sleepy tributaries are a treasure trove for fans of railway request stops – stations that see so little custom that prospective passengers must hold out their hand in order to stop the train (and – for the unwary – passengers must tell the guard as they board which tiny halt they want to get off at).
This rover ticket encompasses all eight of Devon and Cornwall’s branch lines, as well as the Great Western mainline from Penzance to Tiverton Parkway, the trunk from which they all diverge. For good measure, the stretch of the West of England main line between Exeter and Axminster has been thrown in, too. There’s a choice of tickets: one offers three days of travel within a week; the other, for those who fancy passing over every single sleeper in the region, allows eight days in a fortnight.
Six of the lines are designated Rail Ale Trails – self-guided pub crawls using trains to visit hostelries close to stations. I can personally vouch for the Tarka Line Rail Ale Trail from Exeter to Barnstaple, although I was glad I stuck to half pints …
The other Devon spurs are the line from Exeter to Exmouth, which includes Lympstone Commando, the only station in the land where alighting requires written permission from the army; another from Newton Abbot to the old-school resorts of Torquay and Paignton; and one that crosses the Cornish border to the former mining village of Gunnislake.
You can rattle down to Looe, Newquay, St Ives or Falmouth, four quite distinct Cornish seaside towns that, between them, cater for all manner of tastes. Or simply stay on the mainline and sample the delights of Exeter, Plymouth, Truro and Penzance, taking in two cathedrals, some Beryl Cook artwork and a subtropical garden. •3-in-7 adult £54, child £27; 8-in-15 adult £87, child £43.50, gwr.com
North-west Round Robin
The “round robin” in question is a mighty loop encompassing Carlisle, Settle, Leeds, Halifax, Hebden Bridge, Lancaster, Oxenholme and all stations in between. But you don’t have to travel in a circle: the ticket offers unlimited off-peak travel for a day in any direction. It also includes a couple of short cuts: the lines from Shipley to Bradford, and Carnforth to Long Preston.
It could be tempting to spend the whole day going back and forth along the 73-mile stretch between Settle and Carlisle, arguably England’s most scenic railway line, but that would mean missing out on a hatful of other pleasures. Jump out at the recently restored Ribblehead station (home to a little museum) to see the extraordinary viaduct whose construction cost the lives of hundreds of navvies, then climb (on foot) up Whernside, the highest of the Yorkshire Three Peaks, for Dales views. A few stops south-east, Skipton is home to a fine Norman castle. Carry on south-east to Saltaire station, right next to it is eponymous Unesco world heritage site – a fascinating Victorian textile mill and model village on the Leeds and Liverpool canal.
The glass-roofed Victoria Quarter in Leeds is always good for a wander. The restored late-Victorian/early-Edwardian arcades were designed by theatre architect Frank Matcham and are cathedrals of commerce, rich in marble, mosaics, mahogany and wrought iron.
Head west from Leeds for the Upper Calder Valley. If Hebden Bridge is too touristy for you, try Mytholmroyd – a village packed with listed buildings – or Todmorden, whose award-winning market hall is especially lively on Saturdays. If you’ve time to go on west and north, there are paintings, theatre and music at Lancaster’s creative hub The Storey ; Carnforth station’s Brief Encounter cafe; and artsy Kendal, served by Oxenholme Lake District station.
These are all worth seeing, but so is just staying on trains all day doing the complete round robin with a big flask of tea and a huge pile of sandwiches, gazing out at the ever-changing scenery. • Adult £40.50, child £20.25, northernrailway.co.uk
Explore South Wales Pass
There’s more to south Wales than Cardiff and Swansea, and this rover ticket provides a great way of going beyond the two cities. It covers every line in south Wales and crosses the border to Shrewsbury and Gloucester, offering unlimited off-peak rail travel on any four days within an eight-day period. The pass comes with a bonus feature: on all eight days it’s valid on a plethora of bus services throughout the region and beyond.
Start with the Valleys – an underexplored corner of the country with a rich seam of Welsh heritage. Half-a-dozen branch lines snake up a landscape once dominated by coal mines, and the terminus at Merthyr Tydfil is close to Cyfarthfa Park museum and art gallery, in 65 hectares of parkland. For a delve into one of the old mines, hop off at Cwmbran station and take a bus to Blaenavon for Big Pit, one of the finest free museums in Britain.
The Gower peninsula, south of Swansea (bus 118), is attractive at any time of year. But in winter, the tidal island of Worm’s Head, with sea crashing all around it, is spectacular. Heading inland, the Heart of Wales line from Llanelli to Shrewsbury offers a leisurely three-four-hour pootle up river valleys, past forests and hills and through tiny stations, before squeezing between the Long Mynd and Wenlock Edge.
The Welsh Marches Line – from Newport to Shrewsbury via Hereford and Ludlow – also has much to recommend it. Abergavenny, a market town that has become a hub for the arts and festivals, is particularly worth a visit. And don’t forget to venture to Pembrokeshire in the far south-west, with its coastal path and Blyton-esque seaside villages, such as Manorbier. And if you didn’t get quite enough Gavin and Stacey at Christmas, you can head to Barry and Barry Island – both served by stations – for a bit of location spotting. •Adult £69, child £34.50, tfwrail.wales
The Highland Rover
A trip to Inverie was just one of a host of mini-adventures I enjoyed thanks to a Highland Rover rail ticket. It allowed me unlimited travel on any four days in eight on the West Highland line from Glasgow to Oban, Fort William and Mallaig; and on all lines between Aberdeen, Aviemore, Kyle of Lochalsh and Wick/Thurso in the far north. Since these two areas don’t actually join up, the pass is also valid on buses between Fort William and Inverness; and it gives discounts or free trips on some ferries, too. Read the full Highland Rover adventure here. • Adult £95 (£58.75 with certain railcards), child £44.50, scotrail.co.uk
Further information on rover tickets can be found at railrover.org. Certain railcards grant discounts on the prices stated below
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