Print this page

Holiday ideas

1/3/10

In the days of February it seems like winter will never end and lots of people will be thinking about holidays.  But if you don’t buy the stuff about carbon offsetting then flying is probably not a good idea. (And if you do- have a look here) (own up time- Travelman still does one short haul flight a year, but is trying to give it up).

Here are some (fairly random) ideas- Do let me know about your ideas for environmental holidays and I’ll pass them on.

Lewes staycation

Why not holiday in the delights of your own home?  After all, lots of people would love to come here for their hols.  Collect exciting excursions from Travel log and take a week or a fortnight to do them.

Bus pass through Britain

If you are 60 or over it’s free. If you are under age then expect to pay between £5 and £7.50 for an explorer ticket valid for any local bus for the day.  Some people have managed to do Lands End to John O’Groats in a day.  You can get to the Isle of Wight (a great place for bus touring) in 6.5 hours from Lewes. To plan your trip in the south east click here.  For wider coverage see here

All line rail rover

It’s probably not the cheapest way to get around Britain, but it does mean that you can jump on any train and go wherever you please without pre-booking.  Here are the prices:

7-day standard class All-Line Rail Rover £430 (child £284, 16-25/senior/disabled railcard holder £284)

14-day standard class All-Line Rail Rover £650 (child £429, 16-25/senior/disabled railcard holder £429

Get them from Lewes station up to 3 days before you want to go.

Walking

There are long distance footpaths right outside your door.  Apart from the famous South Downs Way from Eastbourne to Winchester, there is the Wealdway from Eastbourne to Gravesend, the Vanguard way from Newhaven to Croydon. Further afield you can find the High Weald Landscape trail (a wonderful walk from Horsham to Rye), The North Downs Way from Farnham to Dover, the 1066 Landscape Trail from Eastbourne to Rye and the Monarch’s way, which manages to stagger for nearly 1,000 kilometres from Brighton to Worcester. More about all of these here.  If you want something a little shorter the Ouse Valley way runs from the source of the Ouse in the high weald through Lewes to Seaford bay.  Details here.

Cycling

I’ve already recommended an “under the downs route” to Winchester.  Here are some others:

Head off past the Snowdrop on what will be Cycle route 90 one day, down past the Ouse, through the industrial estate, along the cycle path alongside the A27, then to Glynde, Firle (along the cycle track), via country lanes to Berwick.  Here you can pick up Sustrans cycle route 2, which will take you to Dover.

From Dover there are a number of possibilities.  You could get the Seafrance Ferry (most bike friendly of the ferries) to Calais and do a circuit of northern France.  Calais and Boulogne youth hostels both have double rooms.

From Calais you could also cycle down to Dieppe and get the ferry back to Newhaven.

Alternatively the Sustrans route continues round the coast to Deal and then up to Thanet and then along the Thames estuary to London, or you could cut inland  from Sandwich to Canterbury (a particularly nice route) and then back along really quiet routes to Dover or Folkestone or along the Crab and Winkle way to trendy Whitstable.

For a long, largely traffic free route try Lewes/ Clayton/ Hurstpierpoint/ Steyning/ Downslink to Guildford/ River Way navigation (sometimes rough towpath, you might want to substitute minor roads) Basingstoke Canal/ Basingstoke/ Reading/ Sustrans route to Bath and Bristol (largely along the Kennett and Avon Canal).

All these routes are fine on ordinary road bikes. Do as much or as little as you want each day, depending on your fitness level.

Details of Sustrans routes here.

The Trans Pennine Trail.  This is the longest, largely off road cycle route in the country, and links Liverpool, Manchester, the Pennines, Doncaster, Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and York, going through widely diverse countryside, largely using old railways, canal towpaths and some specially dedicated routes. There are over 300 miles of trails suitable for road bikes, but Liverpool to Hull is a more manageable 180 miles or so.  You can travel by train to Liverpool in about 4 hours.  Coming back from Hull takes about 5 hours.

Youth hostels

They’ve changed.  Think private rooms, ensuite facilities, double beds- and in some amazing buildings in amazing locations at affordable prices. You can still find basic places if this is what you want though.  Check them out here.  Particularly good if you have children as the kids will almost always meet someone their own age and can play safely in the grounds and particularly good if you are a single parent as they tend to charge per individual.  You can usually save money by self catering if you want of have cooked meals. (The price of these is very good and the quality varies from the excellent to the appalling)

Some favourites of mine include  Medieval Wilderhope Manor in Shropshire, Baronial Ilam Hall in the Peak District, Eskdale in the Lake District and Arnside in the unspoilt Arnside Peninsula.

There are also now a large number of independent hostels..  A good source is http://independenthostels.co.uk

Further afield

Unless you believe in carbon offsetting you will want to give the plane a miss. (And if you do believe in Carbon Offsetting read the article here).   You will probably also want to avoid those hellish car journeys through Europe.  Re-discover the train!  For carbon footprint comparisons click here (Own up time- Travelman still takes one short haul flight a year, but is trying to wean himself off.)

Since the mid 1960s holiday makers have been conditioned to think that holidays were about being corralled into an airless tube and shipped like parcels to some destination where you transferred to an area and stayed there.  You can duplicate that sort of holiday on the train if you want.  France, Belgium, Holland, most of Germany and Switzerland, Northern Italy and the bits of Spain nearest the French border are all accessible by train in a reasonably relaxed day.

Using local buses and trains when you arrive will help you meet the locals and keep local transport links alive.

But it helps if you change your attitude, particularly for longer trips.  When Cliff Richard made the film “Summer Holiday” about a group of friends who drove a London bus from England to Athens the film didn’t start when they got there.  It focussed on the adventures they had getting there.  The film actually ended when they got to Athens.  We forget that travelling can actually be fun rather than an air misery experience.

On the train you get a real idea of the change in the countryside as you travel and a real sense of connection between where you leave from and where you are going.  You can look at the scenery, walk around, go to the buffet or eat your own picnic while on the move.

Here are some ideas to whet your appetite:

A long weekend in Amsterdam.  The fastest journey from London is now 4.5 hours, which may be quicker than the plane- although you will have to get to London, as there are no suitable connections from Ashford

  • A holiday in Bruges, Liege, or the Belgian Ardennes.  Get Eurostar to Brussels and get the rest of your journey on any Belgian train free.
  • A holiday in Switzerland, with its amazing local transport- Eurostar from London or Ashford, Lunch in Paris and a high speed train through the French and Swiss Alps to your destination.
  • Sun yourself in Cannes- Eurostar from London or Ashford to Lille or Paris and then a French high speed train to your destination.
  • An afternoon Eurostar from London or Ashford to Paris, Dinner in Paris and then a “train hotel” sleeper train to Madrid. Deposit your luggage and tour Madrid for the day, Then get an evening super fast train on the new express line to Algeceras.  Stay overnight in Algeceras and take a morning ferry to Morocco.  Then its on the Marakesh express to Marakesh, as immortalised in the Crosby Stills and Nash song.  Three countries in one trip!
  • Eurostar from London to Brussels, a quick hop to Cologne and then a Russian Sleeper train for two nights to Moscow.  Take Russian tea served by the attendant and dine in the restaurant.  Then the famous trans Siberian Railway to China or Vladivostock (Change for a boat to Japan)

 

Will we get their quicker by train than by plane?

This is probably the wrong question- but one answer is that you will certainly be looking out of the window at abroad quicker.  Otherwise it depends where you are going.  Remember that the train may go to, or very close to, your final destination, so there are no long transfers and that the longest check in time you face is half an hour.  You can also spend the night travelling whilst comfortably asleep, which saves on time. But for long haul journeys the train will be slower.

Will it be more expensive than the plane?

The headline price may well be higher, but you will not be paying for sitting together, having luggage and all those other charges and children are far more likely to be cheap or free.  Also you do not end up paying for expensive transfers to the airport or your destination.  If you travel by night in a sleeper you will save on accommodation costs.

How do I book?

If you are not sure about the whole business you can get an agent to book the whole thing for you. One agent is Ffestiniog Travel This will not get you the very cheapest prices, but cuts out the work.

If you are just going to Lille, Paris, or any station in Belgium, book with Eurostarwww.eurostar.com

Like airlines, Eurostar prices tend to be cheaper the earlier you book in advance.  Booking opens four months before the date of travel. Not surprisingly weekend tickets sell out first.  Tickets to Paris sell out before those to Lille or Belgium and tickets from London are easier to get because there are more trains. If you can’t get the fare you want and you are booking accommodation you may find it cheaper to book the accommodation and the train together through one of the many agencies that offers short break holidays.

Further Afield

Don’t book any tickets further afield with Eurostar.  Their prices are expensive. You are better booking with www.raileurope.co.uk who will charge you in pounds and add a charge for posting your tickets and for credit card use or www.voyages-sncf.com which will charge you in Euros and deliver your tickets free without a credit card charge.  Both of these sites are owned by the French railway company.  For journeys involving travel through Germany you may find better prices at http://www.bahn.de/i/view/GBR/en/index.shtml All of these sites will give you phone numbers if you want to speak to a person.

No one should plan a train journey abroad without consulting www.seat61.com which tells you all you need to know about train travel and was the inspiration for Travel Log Lewes. However they recommend Raileasy as an agent because they get a commission. But Raileasy does not give the best prices.

It may be cheapest to book Eurostar to Paris or the Belgian border and book another ticket with one of the agencies above to get the best price.

Package tours

The package holiday industry is largely not geared up to anything other than air travel, but if you perform an internet search for “Holidays by Rail” you can find a number of organisations that will book you a package using rail travel.