We take a leaf out of news broadcaster Nicholas Owen’s book to discover why train travel and rail experiences are worth considering as the main course for a group trip, rather than a means of just getting from A to B.

News broadcaster Nicholas Owen, a self-proclaimed train enthusiast, is one of four celebrity speakers at this year’s Group Leisure & Travel Show, which takes place at the NEC Birmingham on 12th October.

He’s a well-known face and a presenter with BBC News, and Nicholas will be talking about some of the world’s great rail journeys – a subject he is passionate about, having explored a number of fascinating areas by rail, at home and abroad.

To match his enthusiastic spirit, we’ve put together some of the best rail experiences for groups in the UK, from mountainous climbs to heritage steam journeys through charming countryside. GTOs should note that many of these railways will be represented at the Group Leisure & Travel Show, offering plenty of opportunity to discover more information about any that take your fancy.


The East Lancashire Railway

The East Lancashire Railway provides both steam and diesel journeys along a scenic 12-mile route across the county of Lancashire. The railway hosts events throughout the year including vintage weekends and real ale rail trails, plus dining experiences like a mid-week two-course luncheon or afternoon tea on board a Pullman-style dining carriage. A visit to the East Lancashire Railway can also be combined with visits to Bury Market, Oswaldtwistle Mills and the town of Ramsbottom, all of which are close by.

East Lancashire Railway.

Kirklees Light Railway

The Kirklees Light Railway offers a scenic steam journey through the beautiful South Pennine foothills between Clayton West and Shelley. The railway is a popular attraction for visitors of all ages with a café, tea room, play areas and miniature train around the duck pond. Seasonal events throughout the year offer something extra to incorporate into a group visit, from Halloween train rides to Santa specials at Christmas. Group rates are available, too.

West Somerset Railway

The West Somerset Railway, which runs for 20 miles between the village of Bishops Lydeard and the seaside town of Minehead, is said to be England’s longest heritage railway. The 80 minute journey in a 1950s coaching stock takes you on a scenic journey through Western countryside landscapes, which promise to be as varied as they are beautiful. You’ll discover the gentle rolling Quantock Hills, the unspoilt villages and farms in Exmoor, the cliffs and coast of the Bristol Channel and the imposing castle of the Medieval village of Dunster. Pre-booked groups of 16 passengers and above can enjoy discounted travel.

West Somerset Railway.


ScotRail operates a number of rail journeys across Scotland which boast both easy A to B travel, and attractive views along the way. The Borders Railway, for example, runs from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, and offers panoramas of the Scottish Borders, wide open farmland and former mining towns. Other group-friendly rail journeys include an hour and a half trip on the Mallaig section of the West Highland Line. This rail experience passes over the Caledonian Canal and Neptune’s Staircase (a series of canal locks), and the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Group rates and different types of rail pass to suit extended travel intentions are available.


Snowdon Railway

Those seeking amazing mountainous views might like to consider a rail journey up Mount Snowdon in Wales on a traditional diesel or heritage steam train. On the journey up to the summit you can take in the views of the waterfall plunging into the gorge and the incredible sights over the sheer edge of the Rocky Valley ridge. Once at the top, a stop at Hafod Eryri gives your group a chance to treat themselves to a cream tea but more importantly take in the panoramic view of the valleys below. On a clear day a venture to the cairn can even be rewarded with views that stretch out as far as Ireland.

Snowdon Railway.

Didcot Railway

At Didcot Railway Centre 170 years of railway history comes together. The centre recreates the golden age of the Great Western Railway with a collection of over 20 steam locomotives – many of which are housed in the original engine shed – as well as passenger coaches and freight wagons. Groups can travel on board 1930s carriages behind a Great Western steam engine on the main demonstration line, and in a 1940s Railcar operating on a sleepy rural branch line. Groups receive 10% off standard prices when booking a visit in advance.

South Devon Railway

The South Devon Railway boasts a steam train journey along the banks of the River Dart, running for seven miles through some of Devon’s most beautiful countryside on a typical West Country rural branch line once run by the Great Western Railway. It’s a top destination for groups, offering plenty in addition to the rail journey itself. At Buckfastleigh station, there is a World War Two period allotment, a museum, an engineering workshop and a viewing area where heritage steam locomotives and parts are made, repaired and restored. You can also spot the railway’s fleet of historic locomotives and rolling stock. Group rates are available, too.

South Devon Railway. (Photo credit: Roy Smallpage).

All aboard for the Group Leisure & Travel Show

Group travel organisers seeking further travel ideas like these will find plenty at the Group Leisure & Travel Show, taking place at the NEC Birmingham on Thursday 12th October.

The GLTS is Britain’s number one event for people who organise group trips and holidays, where GTOs and coach operators can meet with experts from attractions, hotels, tour operators, airlines, cruise lines, events, tourist boards and much more.

At the end of the day you can expect to take away lots of ideas, new contacts and exclusive offers, plus discover plenty of information and top tips from the Seminar Theatre line up. Joining the aforementioned Nicholas Owen will be gardening expert and television presenter, Chris Beardshaw; travel expert, Simon Calder; and historian Dan Cruickshank.

Visitor registration is open for free entry – and if you register now you can qualify for the show’s special free parking offer, saving £12*. Complimentary coach transfers will also be available and details are expected in the coming months. Visitors to the NEC can also get discounts with Virgin Trains.

You can claim free entry and register for the show now by clicking here.

Companies interested in exhibiting at the GLTS should contact Sharon Yandell for more information and advice on how the show can help increase their groups business. Telephone 01908-613323 or e-mail sharon.y@yandellmedia.com.

*Terms and conditions apply to visitor registration and the free parking offer.

Lead image: Didcot Railway. (Photo credit: Frank Dumbleton).