Simon Calder: At last! A new way to get to Waverley

The man who pays his way

Two-twenty-two in the afternoon of Monday 9 December: where will you be? If you don't yet have plans for that instant, perhaps you would care to join me for some momentary trainspotting at the main station in the city where Danny Boyle's film, Trainspotting, was set. The new weekday railway timetable comes into force that day, and I want to see if the promised balletic perfection is realised at Edinburgh Waverley.

At 2.22pm precisely, two trains that started hours earlier from different stations in London are due to converge on the Scottish capital – one from the east, the other from the west, mirroring the two main lines they have taken from stations only a few hundred yards apart in London.

For the first time in decades, direct daytime trains from Euston, running on the West Coast Main Line, will serve Waverley – offering, at last, proper competition with the east coast link from King's Cross. The 400 rail miles between the two capitals will be fought over by the two big Anglo-Scottish train operators: Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Trains will take on East Coast Trains.

A pretty penny that's worth paying?

While both services have a top running speed of 125mph, the new schedule looks unequal. When Virgin's passengers set off at 8.43am, their East Coast counterparts can remain happily abed, because their train does not depart until 10am. By that stage, Virgin's slow coaches will be approaching Birmingham – having called at three stations already, with a dozen more to go. After giving the other lot a healthy head start, the East Coast express pauses only at York, Darlington, Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed, averaging a healthy 93mph for the entire run.

Virgin's average of 71mph barely beats the motorway speed limit. That surely implies lower fares, to lure passengers on board?

Not so. The lowest one-way fare on the Virgin train is currently £119, compared with £50 on East Coast Trains. Presumably that is a function of the train being regarded as a peak business service to the West Midlands. Let's hope Virgin sorts out its fares, because there's another reason to take its train: aesthetics. Slow and expensive it may be, but the west coast is emphatically the prettiest route, as I found on a test run.

Going north, the East Coast Main Line doesn't get interesting until County Durham, whereupon it remains lively for the rest of the journey, with fine views from the corrugated north-east shore of England and the curve into the Firth of Forth. In contrast, the west coast has great scenery from the off, carving elegantly through Herts, Bucks and Northants. The railside backyards of Coventry, Birmingham and Wolverhampton may be uninspiring, but once into Staffordshire the countryside becomes more lyrical.

After Crewe (where, until December, you must change) there are some impressive works of man, as witnessed when you scythe obliquely across the Manchester Ship Canal outside Warrington. Considering it is called the “West Coast” Main Line, the railway's encounter with the shore is as brief as it gets – a 200-metre strip just north of Lancaster. A few minutes later the train hurries through Carnforth, the location for the film Brief Encounter. Next, you take a lofty waft past Kendal, sitting comfortably in the hollow carved by the River Kent with England's highest mountains as the backdrop.

The finest scenery is coming up: the folds and fells of eastern Cumbria, where the train outstrips all the traffic on the parallel M6 (apart from an errant white Porsche Cayenne; speeding drivers should note that it is possible to read registration numbers from the train).

The missing link

Once across the border, the Southern Uplands provide the perfect terrain to test the tiltiness of the Pendolino train, and the power of the engines to ascend Beattock Summit at 1,016ft: “Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb: The gradient's against her, but she's on time,” according to W H Auden's epic poem, Night Mail. As a day male, I can confirm my train was punctual too.

The trajectory is firmly set north-west for the heart of Glasgow, the main Scottish destination for Virgin Trains. But at Carstairs Junction it swerves around the closest Britain's rail network has to a hairpin bend. The line carves east-north-east to Edinburgh. Here, you could change for the East Coast Main Line and complete the circuit. Or try the third way …

The most beautiful journey between the two capitals is neither the west nor the east, but the straightest possible path. Going north, take the train from the world's loveliest railway terminus, London St Pancras, via Sheffield to Leeds, where you change for the line across the Pennines to Carlisle. Here, you must currently change for the West Coast Main Line north via Carstairs. But work is under way to reopen some of the line through the heart of the Borders that was erased during the systematic destruction of the railways during the 1960s and 1970s.

Like Edinburgh's main station, the direct line from Carlisle was named in honour of Sir Walter Scott's novel, Waverley.

From 2015, trains should run on the northern third of the line, from Tweedbank to Waverley. The resurrection of the complete line is probably decades away, but meanwhile the two-hour bus ride across the missing link takes you through spectacular scenery that is no less impressive when viewed from the road.

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
A 1930 image of the Karl Albrecht Spiritousen and Lebensmittel shop, Essen. The shop was opened by Karl and Theo Albrecht’s mother; the brothers later founded Aldi
people
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
British author Howard Jacobson has been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize
books
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmA cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Sport
Louis van Gaal watches over Nani
transfers
Arts and Entertainment
Flora Spencer-Longhurst as Lavinia, William Houston as Titus Andronicus and Dyfan Dwyfor as Lucius
theatreThe Shakespeare play that proved too much for more than 100 people
News
exclusivePunk icon Viv Albertine on Sid Vicious, complacent white men, and why free love led to rape
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    C++ Software Engineer - Hounslow, West London - C++ - to £60K +

    £40000 - £60000 per annum + Pension, Healthcare : Deerfoot IT Resources Limite...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Visitor Experience volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary role: Old Royal Naval College: To assist the Visitor Experien...

    Telesales Manager. Paddington, London

    £45-£55k OTE £75k : Charter Selection: Major London International Fashion and ...

    Day In a Page

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

    Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

    A land of the outright bizarre
    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

    ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
    Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

    The worst kept secret in cinema

    A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
    Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    The new hatched, matched and dispatched

    Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
    Why do we have blood types?

    Are you my type?

    All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
    Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

    Honesty box hotels

    Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

    Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

    The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn