Travel special 2014: Hit the pause button on the rail'n'sail route from London to Dublin

I start by making some calculations to soothe myself. Using the Rail & Sail combo route from London via Holyhead to Dublin takes nine or so hours; to fly between the two cities takes 50 minutes – but a few hours have to be added on for the to-ing, fro-ing and faffing at airports. A one-way rail/sail ticket costs about 30 quid all in – a flight is double that, unless you're very organised or lucky. Even if you're very disorganised, the rail/sail option can be bought just before you travel at no extra cost.

Travel special 2014: Soak in the scenery on a train journey from Newcastle to Carlisle

The train between Newcastle and Carlisle runs parallel to Hadrian's Wall and offers a window on some of the most spectacular scenery in England. But the 60-mile Tyne Valley Line is itself a part of history, built in the 1830s during the first era of nationwide railway expansion. Following the path of the Tyne inland from Newcastle, the line passes over two listed viaducts and through five listed stations, including Hexham, which dates to 1835, making it one of the world's oldest purpose-built railway stations.

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The continuous ridge of russet, stone-strewn lakeland mountain encircles a valley floor as flat as a paddy field. Lights of farms are beginning to spark and the cries of tawny owls reverberate around the bowl of darkening fells. In the distance, sunset pinks the snow-dusted peak of Glaramara. It is a suitable stage to approach the most notable trees of northern England.

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Simon Calder gets into the festive swing with a weekend in the city at the heart of England

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