Round Britain by Rail Round Britain Rail Rover 2003

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About this site
Welcome to this micro-site, set up to document Simon Maplesden and Tristram Grevatt's mammoth journey around the British Isles. This epic journey of over four thousand miles took place between 9th and 22nd June 2003.

In the ten years since we travelled the length and breadth of the country, Britain's railways have seen a dramatic change of fortune, with 50% growth in passenger numbers and a 20% increase in train services. It's also seen considerable changes in the rail industry, problems with franchises, changes to the way the system is run and uncertainty over future plans. And, thanks to a highly-publicised trip by Lord Adonis, All-line Rovers have become more popular and thus a lot more expensive!

Since Simon & I travelled the length and breadth of the country by train, there have been many changes to the Train Operating Companies. Some have been renamed, some have disappeared altogether. This site refers to the network as it stood in 2003 but, where possible, links to the current equivalent TOCs for your further reference. As a brief summary:

  • South Central lost its franchise, and is now Southern
  • ScotRail is now First ScotRail, but has been branded simply as "ScotRail" again since 2008.
  • First Northwestern is now Northern, but operates different routes
  • Wales and Borders are now Arriva Trains Wales, with different routes
  • Anglia Railways became part of One Railway, was rebranded as National Express East Anglia and then transferred to Dutch state railways under the name Greater Anglia.
  • The mighty GNER gave up its franchise and National Express took it on - but handed it back to the government. Ten years on from our journey, the east coast mainline is still in public ownership.
  • Virgin trains lost the Scotland - Westcountry Cross Country franchise, which is now run by Arriva under the CrossCountry brand.
Since our journey two forms of transport have been consigned to the museum: The slam-door suburban train and Routemaster bus both ended general service in 2006 after over four decades of service. Sadly, too, National Express ended all restaurant cars in the East Anglia region, despite the service winning awards. Restaurant services were cut back on GNER's former routes by National Express and finally withdrawn altogether.

Restaurants still survive in the Great Western region - First Great Western actually seem quite proud to run the only proper restaurant cars and have sent the once neglected 'Pullman' upmarket. The other bastion of traditional travel, the Sleeper, has also staged a remarkable revival, with extra sleeping cars promised for the Night Riviera. And breakfast, of sorts, is back on all the sleepers.

Simon and I travelled the length and breadth of Britain by train over the course of a fortnight. As we set out, headlines in the newspapers were threatening further cut-backs on the British rail network over the next few years as the Strategic Rail Authority set out its vision of 'improving' the network by reducing services. But is the current network actually as bad as the SRA, and those of our friends who forecast a doomed holiday, think?

Copyright GWT 1997
Had catering improved on the trains?

In a fortnight of travel, only one day of engineering work seriously mucked up our journey, and just two other trains were seriously delayed (both Virgin Trains services). We encountered run-down stations and neglected trains, vandalism and poor service, but also shining examples of good practice, well-designed new trains and well-maintained old trains, excellent food and friendly staff.


Peep into the past
Twenty years ago the Transport Bill 1993 began the break up of British Rail and Britain's railways are now in private hands. Privatisation has been widely blamed for problems on the network, but how was it received in 1993? Find out if the predictions came true here.


Morning tea served at 125mph...
Our journey involves three nights on the Caledonian Sleepers and one on the Night Riviera. Find out more by following these links to the First ScotRail and Great Western web sites.