1: The prettiest. Middlesbrough to Whitby. Meandering for 36 miles through mellow stone-built villages along the lovely Esk Valley to the salty sea air of the ancient fishing town of Whitby, this is the best of rural England in all her finery.
2: The most romantic. The “Deerstalker Express” from Euston to Fort William and Mallaig. A nightcap of single malt in the lounge car is the perfect prelude to snuggling up in your sleeping car and awakening amid lochs and glens with a stag’s hot breath against the window as the train passes through the Highlands.
3: The coolest. Tower Gateway to Greenwich on the Docklands Light Railway. Can there be anything cooler than to skate above the rooftops in the front seat of the world’s most futuristic driverless trains, offering a sensational historical panorama from the Tower of London to Canary Wharf and Greenwich, the birthplace of time.
4: The most scenic. Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth and Pwlleli. There are many contenders for this crown, but the Cambrian line along the lovely Dovey Estuary, past Barmouth, Harlech and the chain of seaside towns along Cardigan Bay, is unbeatable among the most scenic coastal railway journeys of the world
5: The wildest. Inverness to Wick and Thurso. This four–hour trip past splendid castles, mountains and lochs, beaches and firths, eerie bogs and lonely moors to the most northerly town in Britain is truly a journey to the end of the world.
6: The most eccentric. Liskeard to Looe. This tiny Cornish branch is a treasure trove of oddities and curiosities, including a haunted station, a train that changes direction twice and the last surviving “halts” on the network. But the ride along the lovely Looe valley is as beautiful as any in the world
7: The most dramatic. Leeds to Carlisle, Lancaster and Morecambe. The rugged Settle and Carlisle line over the “roof of England” is world-famous. But its lesser-known branch to Morecambe, across the Pennines in the shadow of Ingleborough, England’s second highest mountain, is a wonderful secret waiting to be discovered.
8: The quaintest. Ryde to Shanklin. What can be more surreal than to travel on a red-painted 70-year-old ex-London Transport tube train through rolling fields and the past pretty seaside villages of the Isle of Wight? No preserved line this – it’s as much part of the national network as Victoria or Waterloo.
9: The most charismatic. Blackpool to Preston and Colne. This is a railway on few people’s tourist map, yet the slow train across the industrial heart of Lancashire offers more concentrated riches, mile for mile in terms of landscape and heritage than anywhere else in Britain.
10: The most idyllic. Exeter to Barnstaple. The Tarka Line is the country railway of old as we like to remember it. A slow train gently rolls through little unspoilt stations amid the rich Devon pastureland of the Taw Valley. If you’re quick, you might spot an otter or two on the riverbank.