As an international student, I feel the need to see as much as I can while I’m here in the UK. And although I love living in London, I will readily admit that sometimes it’s nice to get out of the city. Fortunately, this island is well-connected by rail, which I’ve found allows for a variety of inexpensive day or weekend trips. And, perhaps less fortunately, I get to indulge my amateur travel-blogger side here on this site.
My first daytrip upon arriving to the UK was to Dover, an hour or so to the southeast. I didn’t know much about Dover beyond some vague notion of white cliffs, but that was enough for me. My housemate and eternal travel companion Joyce and I got to Dover Priory station early afternoon on a Friday and spent the rest of the day walking along the aforementioned White Cliffs. Along the way we saw blackberry bushes, wild horses, and even a glimpse of France across the sea.
Trip rating: 5/5 for a beautiful stroll, the ocean, and horses
Tips for a perfect walk: just add horses
Our next trip took us west to visit the Avebury henge and stone circles. Avebury is sort of like Stonehenge’s lesser-known cousin but with just as much historical significance. Getting to the site was a little more involved than Dover, requiring catching a bus from Swindon. The stones were indeed impressive, but the outing was somewhat tarnished by the rain which picked up as we walked through the fields. Even worse was the wind, which was at umbrella-destroying levels. We still stubbornly completed a full walk around the area, before retreating to a local pub. Most of the evening was spent thrift-shopping back in Swindon before being able to catch the train home.
Trip rating: 3/5 for prehistory, sheep, and a lifetime’s worth of mud
Ancient stone appreciation
Finally, we headed up north to Scotland this past weekend for a full weekend getaway. The plan was simple: take a sleeper train Friday night to arrive Saturday morning, spend Saturday and Sunday in Edinburgh, and then catch another sleeper train Sunday night to arrive back in time for class on Monday. Travel was a nightmare in both directions: our train up got rerouted to Glasgow while the returning one was crippled by engine failure. However, Edinburgh itself more than made up for the trouble. The city was the ideal combination of scenic nature, interesting museums, and student-friendly restaurants. Out of all the places I’ve been to so far in the UK, it’s the one I would most like to return to.
Cost: £77 (though most of this was refunded and I only ended up paying for the hostel stay)
Trip rating: 4/5 for views and art, -1 for spending 12 hours on a train and missing my Monday class
View from Arthur’s Seat
- Get a Railcard: If you’re eligible, a 16-25 Railcard gives discounts for National Rail travel as well as on pay-as-you-go trips within London if you link it to an Oyster. It pays for itself within one or two trips!
- Research evening activities: If you’re bound to a return train time, make sure you know what’s around for entertainment before you find yourself stuck killing time at the station for hours because the shops have closed. Or else, bring a good book and a cushion.
- Prepare for delays: Most of my rail experiences have come with some form of delay, from the minor to the multi-hour. Fortunately, the various rail networks have Delay Repay systems to compensate travelers for delays (Amtrak, take note). Our whole train journey to Edinburgh ended up being refunded.