Congratulations! You’ve decided to have a day out by train. The weather’s set fair, and you’re hoping to find a rewarding walking route right from your train station. It’s time for some fresh air and an outdoor adventure.
Travelling by train is a great way to start a walk. You’re there to escape from the daily grind so why not swap the traffic queue and car park hassles for the opportunity to sit back and gaze out of the window at beautiful countryside or fascinating townscapes. Our train system can take you to all kinds of interesting destinations, and when you’ve finished your walk, there’s nothing to beat relaxing in your seat and letting the train crew do the work.
Outdoor adventures by train are really satisfying but they often require a bit of planning. You can switch off for your journey because your train driver and crew will be in charge. But when you reach your destination, a bit of preparation will make the walking part of your day as relaxing as the travelling part. From planning your day to finding your way, we share our top tips to help you find and enjoy great walking routes from train stations.
Planning isn’t everybody’s cup of tea but it makes sense to think about how you’d like your day to go before you set off. Especially when there are train timetables to consider. One way to get the planning juices flowing is to ask yourself the questions below.
Decide what type of walk you feel like doing. A stroll around a city park perhaps, or a longer station-to-station trail. You might feel like climbing a hill to look down on the world, or relaxing along a meandering river. Whatever mood you’re in, there’s a train walk to suit you. It’s just a case of finding the right station and walking route. Here are a few things to consider.
Unless you’re an experienced walker, working out how long you want your route to be can be tricky. It’s easier to think about how much of your day you want to spend moving around.
A fairly fit walker will cover four kilometres of flat ground in an hour. This doesn’t allow for steep hills, time to explore, picnics or the possibility of getting a bit lost, so bear that in mind when you’re choosing a route.
Top tip: On an Ordnance Survey 1:25,000 or 1:50,000 map the thin blue grid lines are 1 km apart.
You also need to think about how tired you want to be when you get back on the train. If you’ve got a walk between your home station and front door, don’t forget to factor that in.
There are walking routes from any train station but the most satisfying walks are usually the ones you’ve researched before you set off. You have two choices, you can either walk a route that someone else has written or you can create yourself. Each of these methods has its own advantages, let’s take a look at both.
Advantage: You’ll be able to start from any station, and walk in a way you know you’ll enjoy.
Drawback: You’ll need a few map skills (but not too many) and a bit more planning time.
Lots of people think they can’t read a map but you don’t need to understand all the symbols and numbers to plan your own walking route. Although paper maps are very satisfying, and don’t rely on batteries, these days, you don’t need one for each location you visit. A yearly subscription to the OS Maps app gives you access to detailed mapping for the whole of the UK.
Every map, including the OS Maps app has a legend that explains what each symbol means. For your train walk, you might like to start with train station (pink circle), visitor centre (big V), footpath (green or red dotted line) and pub (beer glass).
Top tip: When you swap maps or map scales, some map symbols change so make sure you check the legend for the map you’re going to be using.
If you're nervous about getting lost, digital mapping apps often allow you to follow your progress on your mobile device. If you are using a mobile device to track your walk, carry a print out of your map as well just in case your batteries fail.
Top tip: Batteries last longer if they’re kept warm, so keep your phone in your pocket as much as possible.
Advantage: You’ll have plenty of information about your route before you start walking.
Drawback: You can’t always tell if the route is the result of careful research.
Even before the days of digital mapping, it wasn’t difficult to find walking routes in books and magazines. These days digital mapping apps like Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps have revolutionised walking route selection. As well finding a walking route near your train station, you’ll be able to follow your progress on the map as you walk.
Top tip: A 1:25,000 scale map gives you the best balance of area size and detail for walking.
Other handy places to find pre-written walking routes include tourism websites and local visitor centres. To help you plan ahead, you could phone or email a visitor centre before you visit.
Avoid Google Maps
I wouldn’t recommend Google Maps as a walking tool. It’s great for finding toilets but the mapping isn’t detailed enough to help you appreciate your surroundings or find your way if you’re lost.
Whether you’re choosing an existing walking route or planning your own, it's a good idea to understand a few UK access laws. You have the right to roam across some coastal and upland areas, as well as a network of public and permissible footpaths. We explain these below.
When you look at an Ordnance Survey map of the UK, you’ll see areas of countryside, especially those within National Parks, coloured with a yellow wash, and surrounded by a brown edge. These are areas of open access land, where you can walk freely and don’t need to stick to footpaths. Around the coast, you’ll see similar areas coloured pink with a darker pink border, these coastal margins are also open access land.
Top tip: Keep your eyes open for the new England Coast Path. It is gradually opening in sections, and will eventually be the longest coastal walking route in the world.
Outside open access land, you’ll need to stick to lanes, public footpaths and permissive footpaths. These are usually marked with green, red or orange (permissive) dotted lines.
A leave-no-trace approach to all the land you cross will help ensure our outdoor spaces remain beautiful and welcoming for everyone.
If you can’t find an existing walking route directly from your train station; you might be able to adapt a nearby one. Most of our fantastic long-distance National Trails (England and Wales) and Great Trails (Scotland) have sections that can be walked from a train station. The Long Distance Walkers Association, also lists hundreds of long-distance paths.
Top tip: Collecting a National Trail or long-distance walk section by section is great fun. Some routes such as the Heart of Wales Line Trail, and the South Downs Way are well served by public transport.
National Trails are usually properly way-marked and have plenty of available online information to help you with planning. We’ve given you two examples below.
The Southern Upland Way is a 344 kilometre Scottish coast-to-coast route. It crosses some tough terrain, and much of it requires good navigation skills but you could walk a short 4 kilometre section down to the River Tweed from Galashiels train station. Find this route in OS Maps
The Offa's Dyke Path is a 285 kilometre National Trail. It runs along the English Welsh border and follows rocky ridges as well as beautiful valleys. You could walk a steep but satisfying 5 km section from Knighton train station. Find this route in OS Maps
Once you’ve chosen your train station and planned your walking route, it’s time to set out on your walk. Finding your way is relatively simple if you’re following a route on a digital device but it could feel more complicated if you’re relying on your own navigation skills. We have some tips to help make sure everything goes smoothly.
Getting off the train into the hustle and bustle of a station can sometimes be disorienting. Especially if this is your first visit. If you’re at a busy station, there may even be more than one exit point.
Top tip: One key to successful navigation is thinking time. Don’t rush. Let the crowds pass you, and take time to consider your first step.
Everyone else will look like they know where they’re going, and be moving fairly quickly. Having a clear idea of your first destination point when you get off the train can really help you set off with purpose. This doesn’t necessarily have to be the start of your walk. You might like to relax in a local café, watch the world go by from a park bench or chat with staff at a visitor centre to help you settle in before you set off.
When you arrive in a new place, things can seem a bit confusing. As you leave the station, there’ll be plenty of roads and landmarks but it’s unlikely that your walking route will be signposted right from your platform. As you leave, the first thing you need to do is work out exactly where you are.
One easy way to do this is to look for landmarks on your map then find them around you. Useful location landmarks might include, churches, woodland and different types of roads. Take a moment on your train journey to look at your map and pick a few landmarks that you can look for once you disembark.
Top tip: Orienting your map with the landscape will help you get started with your map reading. Once you’ve located a few landmarks, turn your map until it matches what you see around you.
If you’re carrying a compass (we recommend one for walks that cross open countryside) you can use it to match up direction north with north on your map. If you don’t have a traditional compass, you might find one on your watch, or you can download a compass app such as the free OS Locate, which will act as a compass for you.
Top tip: North is always at the top of an Ordnance Survey map.
If your map is confusing, or you need a bit of reassurance, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Most people are only too happy to offer guidance. Don’t worry if this first leg of your walk takes a bit of time. It’s really common, and once you get a feel for your location, you’ll find the navigation much easier.
Top tip: Split your walk up into short lengths. At the start of each length ask yourself what you’re expecting to see. Tick each thing off in your head as you walk past it.
Lots of people worry about getting lost when they first start walking but they usually have some idea of where they are. The best way to prevent temporary misplacement is to take plenty of notice of your surroundings and how they relate to your map. Here are a few ideas to help you.
Walking up or down a steep hill? Look for brown contour lines that are close together.
Walking through woodland? Look for green areas with tree symbols.
Walking by water? Look for blue areas or lines.
Crossing a footbridge? Look for the letters FB.
Following a National Trail? Look for red or green diamonds.
Popping into the pub? Look for a blue beer glass.
Top tip: Don’t be disheartened if you do get lost. Making mistakes is all part of the learning process, and you'll have a great story to tell when you get home.
When you explore by train your journey becomes part of the adventure. Not only do you get to properly view the landscapes you’re travelling through; you gain time to check your map on the way out, and plan your next train-walking adventure on the way back.
But train travel in the UK can sometimes seem expensive.
Which is why ticket splitting is such a good idea. It works because booking individual tickets for each leg of your train journey can often be cheaper than booking the whole trip together. Ticket splitting is easier and quicker than you think, just download the TrainSplit app and enter your journey details. Then sit back and let us present you with your best possible ticket options.
Living in Devon, Fi is an outdoor writer, blogger and children’s author. She is also an Ordnance Survey Get Outside Champion and a keen walker and outdoor swimmer. For 2022, Fi has been trying to enjoy as many of usual outdoor activities as possible by train instead of by car.