Out of London Adventure...Along This One Train Line
September 16, 2019 10:47 AM   Subscribe

Due to a poor mix of research, ambition, and logistics, my mom and I have train tickets between London and Oxenholme (and back) next Tuesday. I hoped to see the Lake District, but we'll only have about 3 hours between arrival and departure in Oxenholme. Any thoughts on how to best use our time out of London (vacationing from the US)?

My current best idea is to hop off the train before it gets to Oxenholme and use the half-day to explore somewhere in England that's smaller/different than London, then check timetables so we're on the correct train back down.

- Mom booked the train (on Virgin, via TrainLines), so I'm not sure about transferring or refunds
- This is our first time in the UK, so not super enthusiastic about renting a car (right hand drive)
- The train trip is on day 6 of 10 of our vacation in London
- If we're not going to get Full Nature up north, should we go to the seaside instead? Will that give a similar "train through the countryside" experience?
posted by itesser to Travel & Transportation around London, England (14 answers total)
I mean, it's a long way, but 3 hours in Oxenholme should give you the time to get a taxi to Windermere and a short boat trip and a coffee, and it is absolutely spectacularly beautiful.

And if you need a semi-rest day, sitting on the train should be reasonably comfortable.

I can't think of that much on the way that would be worth stopping for, to be frank. They're all fairly small towns in between.

If your tickets are listed as Off-Peak (and cost £106 each), then you can travel on any train outbound from the 09:30 one and later and travel back to London as late as 20:00, so that's also a possibility.
posted by ambrosen at 11:06 AM on September 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

Pre-booked tickets at discount rates aren't generally transferable or refundable, so you'll want to check which train you'll need to be on (this unofficial site is best) and it might be a bit tricky on the return leg if the station has automated gates.

Where those trains stop may also be tricky: there are routes that stop in the Midlands, and ones that go non-stop until Lancashire, and the train back might not have the same stops as the outbound one. If you're booked on trains that stop at Birmingham New Street, you could take a local train out to Bournville to see the model village and, um, Cadbury World. Or perhaps Coventry? There's a very slight chance you get to stop at Lichfield.

Or how about this: take the train to Preston, take another train to Blackpool (25m or so) and see the Illuminations. You get the countryside and the seaside in one trip.
posted by holgate at 11:14 AM on September 16, 2019

Your ticket may not be valid to get off at intermediate stations. Depending on the intermediate station this may or may not be a problem.

Having said that, which exact trains are you booked on? Different trains call at different intermediate stations, but along that route I'd have said that only Lichfield and Lancaster are really tourist-y small towns/cities that are worth visiting. Coventry has an interesting history (one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Europe was almost totally destroyed in the war) but I wouldn't recommend it very strongly.

If you want to spend less time on the train, then you can go to the seaside in Kent or Sussex (eg Margate, Brighton) and you'll get that 'travelling through the countryside on a train' experience. Off-peak tickets probably aren't that expensive even on the day. Or for getting in to nature, it's 47 minutes from London Waterloo to Box Hill, which is pretty beautiful for the South East of England and has good pubs and views.

If you enjoy train travel, then it will be comfortable and as long as the visibility is reasonable the lakes are spectacular, even if you don't get in to the hills.
posted by plonkee at 11:18 AM on September 16, 2019

If you're booked on trains that stop at Birmingham New Street, you could take a local train out to Bournville to see the model village and, um, Cadbury World

From an industrial/social history point of view this isn't bad. You can see the houses themselves, and there is an exhibit by Bournville Village Trust at Cadbury World: the influence of Quaker belief on the progressive but paternalist social reforms of the Cadbury family is a genuinely interesting subject. The Birmingham central library is also fantastic building to visit, but I think the opening hours have been significantly curtailed by austerity, so you'd need to check if it was open.

The fact that England is more than London, castles and countryside is obscured by most coverage, so a visit to Birmingham would certainly be enlightening.
posted by howfar at 11:26 AM on September 16, 2019

Seeing the English countryside is really worth it, but I would not sit in the train all day to spend three hours in the Lake District. You really need to see the lakes from the top of a nice fell, after hiking for at least an hour.
Personally, I would take the train to Windsor, see the castle and take a nice boat ride on the Thames, which looks like a completely different river compared to Central London. Try and get a refund, or just forget about those tickets.
posted by Akke at 12:03 PM on September 16, 2019

Many UK train companies offer refunds or exchanges on pre-booked tickets, for a fee of £10. If you need to change plans, it may not be too expensive. See here and here.

Towns & cities that offer a very-different-from-London vibe, are popular with tourists & are also a short-ish train ride away would include Oxford, Cambridge, Stratford-upon-Avon, Winchester, Bath & many others.
posted by rd45 at 12:14 AM on September 17, 2019 [2 favorites]

Could you be specific about the train and time - start station, destination, time? Are there any changes? Are you travelling First or Standard class?

Ideally you want to get to a National Trust property in the Lake District, West of Oxenholme. This is a UK charity that owns lots of countryside, old houses, woods and farms. They open them to visitors. Properties will generally have a house or castle, some grounds or gardens, and a tea shop. Going to National Trust properties is what middle-class (UK version) people do in England when visiting the country, so you are getting an Authentic Experience! National Trust Lake District

However, this requires you have a car, or a private hire taxi. Hmmm. Have you checked out to see if a taxi can collect you from Oxenholme and take you back? There isn't a taxi rank. It's a small town. So I guess you phone in advance and book it: they'll probably be reliable, ask how much in advance, pay in cash.

The alternative is to get the train from Oxenholme to Windermere, 20 mins, then walk the half mile to Barrow on Windermere. Windermere is the biggest lake in the Lake District: you'd see some woody hillsides and the lake. There are tea shops. You might have time to go on the ferry or take a pleasure boat, but maybe not. View from the ferry station.

Or sack off the Lake District proper, turn East and head to Kirby Lonsdale, 20 minutes by car. It has pubs, tea shops, old houses, and you can walk to the cool old Devil's Bridge to see the river.

I'll be frank: I would fuss about the limited time to get to anywhere, then back. Let me know about your train details and I can see if there are other options.
posted by alasdair at 2:25 AM on September 17, 2019 [1 favorite]

I was in the Lake District last week. We didn't get as far east as Kendal and surrounds, but if we had we would have visited one or both of these, which both very taxi-able from Oxenholme judging by the map:

Levens Hall

Nth-ing the request for the exact info on your tickets because you may be able to change or use a different return time but it is hard to know without the info.
posted by girlpublisher at 7:48 AM on September 17, 2019

OK, I'm sure you're super-busy.

If you are First Class on Virgin with no changes, it will probably be fun. You get food and booze and can look out the window, rest your feet. You'll see some farmland, some bits of towns, some canals - industrial revolution!
posted by alasdair at 1:13 PM on September 18, 2019

Response by poster: Following up (probably) too late.

Early replies (plus dealing with my mom about it) were disheartening, and now I’m doing some super last minute research to try to salvage a rainy day train ride.

We’re on the 09:30 (ish) out of Euston and the 15:24 (from oxenholme) back to London.

Intermediate stations are Lancaster, Preston, Wigan North Western, and Warrington Bank Quay. (All are stops both directions).

Might try to get to Euston early and see if I can talk a ticket person into changing us to something else (staying off peak). If not, I’ll suggest we get off at Lancaster, toodle around, and take an early train home. Our tickets say “travel is allowed via any permitted route”, so I’ll point to that and lean on my American accent if we get tutted at.

I’m especially upset that I haven’t been able to make it back to a bookshop that carries a particular story collection I wanted to read on the train.

(Thanks for the help, folks. It’s been a hard trip)
posted by itesser at 4:01 PM on September 23, 2019

Response by poster: Scratch that last part. I finally followed the changing tickets link for Virgin, so we’re stuck with what we’ve got.
posted by itesser at 4:04 PM on September 23, 2019

Sorry about the weather today. It's no better further north (I'm in Leeds today).

I've been looking for a good National Trust place to suggest you go to near one of the stations on the way, but coming up short. The house at Tatton Park, for example, seems to be shut today. But if you've got train WiFi, do try and find somewhere. You can wander in a garden for 5 minutes before going inside for tea and cakes and nice fancy interiors.
posted by ambrosen at 1:51 AM on September 24, 2019

Response by poster: My mom’s ankle was acting up, so we ended up going all the way to Oxenholme, eating pies in the station shop, and hiring a taxi to drive us round trip to the lakeside and back without stopping.

Not how I would spend my money... but it wasn’t my money!
posted by itesser at 3:08 AM on September 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Well, I hope you had a lovely time in the UK, ankles and trains aside! Smile.
posted by alasdair at 7:28 AM on October 10, 2019

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