Stops on train route from Oxford UK to Bath?
February 15, 2020 5:14 PM   Subscribe

For a big milestone birthday (60!) I'm going to the UK for the first time in May. For part of my trip I'll be alone. I was thinking I would take a train to Oxford, then rent a car in Oxford and drive to Bath, breaking my journey for the night.

I really wanted to meander along in the Cotswolds, stopping in villages and towns along the way, hence renting a car rather than the train. But now I'm feeling very anxious about driving in the UK (I'm American). I know there are trains from Oxford to Bath, but I can't figure out if there are stops along the way or only direct trains. And, if there are stops, what is a good one to get out at--or more than one? This is more to see the scenery and indulge my Anglophilia, so on this part of the trip I don't really need to focus on big museums or churches, just pretty villages and landscapes and maybe some interesting industrial-type mill museums or the like. I'm not a terribly experienced traveler so I'm feeling a little trepidatious about this part of my travels.
posted by primate moon to Travel & Transportation around England (8 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What are your timelines? You can easily spend a week in Oxford before catching a train to Bath. Both are fabulous places to stroll, ramble, tour, sit, or amble. A week isn’t quite enough for either.
posted by u2604ab at 5:31 PM on February 15, 2020

You really don’t need a car, it’s a faff! I say this as an American who lives in England. The train from Oxford to Bath is only an hour or so, with about four stops. It’d be a bit silly rent a car and drive. There are lots of little villages and that feel you’re after in both places, or you could catch a slower train slightly outside your route to go see some other things, but really there’s plenty right where you’re at. Download the Trainline app in case you’re feeling spontaneous.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:48 PM on February 15, 2020

Not only are there stops: there are no direct trains from Oxford to Bath at all. You have to change at Didcot Parkway. Didcot is emphatically not a "pretty village", and Didcot Parkway is not even the nice bit of Didcot. That said, Didcot Railway Centre is next to the station, and might be of interest.

There are slow trains and fast trains (i.e. what Americans call local and express) from Oxford to Didcot Parkway. The fast train does not stop. The slow train stops at Radley, Culham and Appleford. Radley and Appleford are perfectly pleasant villages (church, pub, etc.). Culham is fine but I wouldn't visit there if I could visit one of the other two.

The train from Didcot Parkway to Bath stops at Swindon and Chippenham. Of these, Chippenham is far more picturesque than Swindon for a tourist. I can't find any evidence of a slow train on that route, but it probably exists.

I find the simplest/fastest UI for exploring UK train timetables is "Accessible UK Train Timetables". Once you know what you want, you can then buy the tickets on the Trainline app on your phone.
posted by caek at 8:28 PM on February 15, 2020 [1 favorite]

I wouldn’t catch a train from Oxford direct to Bath. Instead I would catch a train from Oxford to Worcester and stop at some of the Cotswold villages on that line. And then I’d get the train from Worcester to Bath, stopping in Cheltenham. Worcester itself is also nice. It looks like a big detour on the map, but it’s less than 1hr30 from Oxford to Worcester and same again from Worcester to Bath.
posted by plonkee at 12:51 AM on February 16, 2020 [6 favorites]

Hi! Taking the train is the easiest, quickest, most convenient way to travel, and if you do so this railway industry bod strongly advises you actually use National Rail (the website or app) to find timetables/tickets instead of the Trainline (which sometimes allows you to book services that do not actually exist, very helpfully). Purchasing tickets still just involves clicking 'buy now' but it'll take you to the relevant train operator's site for the transaction, which will get you the cheapest fare anyway, since there's no commission involved anywhere.

The most direct train route isn't going to be as scenic as the more meandering drive - and none of the towns on the way are hugely worth the trip. You have plenty of time though, and could take a more meandering train route instead, like the one plonkee suggests above. It'll take a bit more playing around with the timetables to see what's possible, but if you like the planning stage as much as I do that's the best bit anyway :)

Another option not mentioned would be to take the train from Oxford to Bath, and separately book a coach tour of the Cotswolds that departs from either one. For some people this is an immediate no-no, but you'd be able to see the best bits and enjoy the view out the window without having to stress about the driving.

Driving yourself would definitely give you the most freedom to take the prettiest roads and stop at whichever town or village takes your fancy. In the towns, the roads might seem narrow and you'll have roundabouts to contend with, but just familiarise yourself with road rules before heading over. Brits don't drive like maniacs in relative terms (our roads are some of the safest in the world!) BUT, out of town, locals do have a habit of driving very fast down twisty, narrow country roads since they know them inside out. The national speed limit on those roads is 60mph, which is much too fast unless you know the road well. If you drive well below this, the roads themselves are very safe (if likely narrower than you're used to), but it can be uncomfortable sometimes if a queue of locals starts to build up behind you for what seems like an age before they have a chance to overtake. If you can get into a zen headspace with that then go for it!
posted by FifteenShocks at 1:13 AM on February 16, 2020 [2 favorites]

There are also various steam railways in and around the cotswolds which might be of interest.

Plonkee's suggestion is a good one.
The Oxford to Worcester route (also known as The Cotswald Line) features in two notable poems: "Adlestrop" by Edward Thomas and "Pershore Station, or A Liverish Journey First Class" by John Betjeman.
You could stop off at Shipton, Honeybourne, Evesham, or really any of the stops in between and find a nice small town or village to wander about in.

If you armed yourself with some bus timetables you might have some luck jumping off, exploring a village, bussing about to a few others and then getting back on the train further down the line.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 4:53 AM on February 16, 2020 [1 favorite]

A few years ago my mom did this by doing a small coach tour of the Cotswolds. She's a similar age to you, similar goals (just seeing a bit of scenery and villages). She actually is a pretty experienced traveler but didn't want the stress of renting a car on unfamiliar roads or figuring out timetables. I don't remember which company she used but I believe they did London to Bath over a couple of days, staying overnight in a village, lots of chances to get out and wander around and take photos. She really enjoyed it and had a great experience.

As others have said above - I think it's totally doable by train as well. But if you want to take the planning hassle out of the equation do look into the coach tours.
posted by cpatterson at 5:39 AM on February 16, 2020

One thing to be aware of is that driving and parking in Bath is a nightmare of one way systems and hidden cameras, driving down the wrong street can easily cost you £60.

What I suggest is taking a train all the way to Bath, then drop off your luggage at one of the storage places next to the station and take a second train to Freshford which is only 15 mins away and has trains running every hour during the day.
posted by Lanark at 9:51 AM on February 16, 2020

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