Imagine ‘a kind of Portillo in Primark pants’, searching Britain, Europe and beyond for your next holiday. Have you ever wondered how holidays happen and what goes on behind the scenes beforehand? ‘The Rail Holiday Maker’ is a peek inside the travel industry, warts and all, experiencing the highs and lows of travel to ensure your holiday runs smoothly.
Would you like to come with me on a sleeper train from Stockholm beyond the Arctic Circle to the north of Norway? In February! Perhaps join me on a rickety ride from northern Thailand to Singapore, a culture shock of colour and drama? We could take a musical pilgrimage to Deep South USA or explore the Alps by rail, by far the best way to see Switzerland. Britain and Ireland are covered too with no stone unturned, every scenic track tested from Cornwall to the majestic western Highlands and beyond.
This century has seen a rail holiday boom, buoyed by Michael Portillo’s regular BBC series, “Great Railway Journeys”, not to mention copycat shows on other channels fronted by celebrity hosts. It’s a different kind of holiday, where the journey is just as important as the destination and rail travel has an enduring, nostalgic and even romantic resonance with millions. During those boom years I was the person helping to fuel the firebox at the world’s biggest rail holiday company, discovering destinations, covering the tracks to make sure those journeys worked before unleashing them on the public. This is my story.
There are many books describing scenic rail lines across mountain ranges, skirting coastlines and lakes or perhaps marvelling at the technical genius of railway engineering. Although the highs of the journey are described to the hilt, ‘The Rail Holiday Maker’ delves much deeper than the view from your picture window. Amidst life-changing moments, the thrill of discovering new places and unchartered territories, there are unexpected diversions, twists in the tale. From sharing sleeper compartments with strangers to being mugged in the politest way possible, it’s a thought-provoking adventure.
Crossing the Arctic Circle on western Europe’s northernmost track, trundling down to New Orleans in beautiful private Pullman carriages, hovering above the Highland heather with only the sound of nature in the raw, railways have taken me to places I never dreamed I would discover. Travelling mostly alone can sometimes tread the tightrope between splendid isolation and loneliness. Intertwined with the tale are the realities of adult life: marriage, fatherhood and responsibility. Yet despite twists and turns in the track the journey reaffirms the most important thing in life, the love of those most dear to us, which has become all the more poignant after these last few months of lockdown, fear and loss.
‘The Rail Holiday Maker’ trailblazes the tracks in all the home countries, expands across seventeen European states, ventures through southeast Asia and railroads long-distance across America, before jumping off in Yorkshire. Home is where the heart is, but where shall we go next?