This is not your average train. Each Saturday throughout the summer, it sets off from beside the Tay to trundle through a succession of landscapes familiar to millions of rail passengers: skirting the hills of Fife, crossing the Forth Bridge and stroking the broad shoulder of North-east England. People sitting on the left enjoy outstanding views of the east coasts of both Scotland and England, but the express then sets off inland – carving through Yorkshire, reaching Derby at lunchtime, by which time the passengers are not even halfway.
Those fortunate people sitting on the left might happily snooze through the Midlands, but need to wake up after Exeter, for the start of Brunel's wonderfully mad South Devon Railway. The High Speed Train whizzes down the west side of the Exe Estuary but then slows as it dares and double-dares the Channel. The line clings to Britain's underbelly, with the stretch through Dawlish freshly restored after last year's storm. Again, the lucky ones are on the left, close enough almost to taste the seaspray.
Come late afternoon, you start to tick off the familiar stops en route to the far end of England: Plymouth, Liskeard, Bodmin. But just below Par the train leaves the main line and spends the next hour creeping across Cornwall – arriving at Newquay over 12 hours after leaving Dundee.
Scots who stayed in bed and wandered along to Edinburgh airport by 10am will have enjoyed the afternoon on the beach – Flybe can get you from the Scottish capital to the Cornish coast in 105 minutes flat. Crows and planes flying between Edinburgh and Newquay cover a mere 386 miles. CrossCountry Trains meanders much further, covering around 650 miles, but will handily transport your surfboard from Scotland to the Atlantic Coast without charge.
Also free: the sense of anticipation that comes with a ticket to one of the seaside specials that still serve the lines that end at the beach. And this summer more people will arrive at stations scattered around the shores of Britain than at any time since the 1920s.
The 125mph train looks absurdly large for Newquay's little station – which, like many a coastal terminus, has seen better days. The gold standard for stations serving silver shores is set in Sussex. Those lucky enough to draw to a stately halt in the magnificent surroundings of Brighton feel their spirits lift at once, thanks to the regal splendour of the railway terminus. Steel girders curve across the sky so the sun can flood in, and the station includes a teasing curl to ensure new arrivals find themselves at the top of Queen's Road pointing straight down to the sea.
Stations serving resorts on the shore of Lancashire show how low the tide of coastal dereliction can go. The strictly second-class experience at Morecambe hardly puts a spring in your step this summer. Trains once drew up at the grand seafront structure of Morecambe Esplanade, but now they stutter to a halt at a windswept platform beside a supermarket car park. Abandon hope all ye who exit here.
Blackpool Central, once the busiest station in the world, was demolished in 1964 – and is now a car park. That left the resort with not one terminus but two, North and South. Each is a disgrace to Britain's premier seaside resort. When your train arrives at the post-apocalyptic wasteland of Blackpool South, you may want to stay on board and head back to Preston. And at Blackpool North, new arrivals are funneled through a concrete labyrinth uncannily similar to the Checkpoint Charlie exit from East Berlin.
Ticket to Ryde further
What is Britain's quickest terminus-to-beach opportunity? I reckon the winner is St Ives in Cornwall: you can splash into the Atlantic within a minute of your train arriving. But one terminus that goes, literally, above and beyond the beach. On the Isle of Wight line, Ryde Esplanade is not the last stop: trains rumble on to the far end of the pier and the waiting ferry.Reuse content