Top railway writer Michael Williams talks about his passion for train travel.
"Trains take you into another world," says best-selling author Michael Williams. As, he might have added, do engrossing books. Put the two together and you have his travelogue - On the Slow Train Again: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys. This compelling description of intriguing routes around the UK is the ideal companion for a journey aboard the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express - especially as one of the chapters features a day trip aboard the British Pullman carriages.
A widely-published writer who has a long-nurtured passion for trains, Williams' book is a follow-up to his highly successful On the Slow Train. This earlier collection of UK train journeys received rave reviews praising its "dry humour, acute observations and some excellent anecdotes". In addition to the British Pullman trip from London to Bath, On the Slow Train Again includes the "train to the end of the world" running through remote Highland scenery, a stopping train across the Pennines and - surprise! - the Docklands Light Railway gliding from Bank Station in central London beneath the Thames.
Why are you such a fan of travel by train?
Trains take you into another world. Once you're on board you're running at the pace of the train - not yours or anyone else's. I do a regular 440-mile commute between my home in London and my office in Lancashire. It's my 'quiet time', an escape from the frenetic pace of everyday life.
What were your most memorable experiences on a train?
Travelling in the driver's cab of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express through the Austrian Alps and on the footplate of a steam locomotive through a long tunnel along England's south coast. But every trip is special - even on the London Underground. There's joy to be found everywhere if you're prepared to 'let go' and keep your eyes open.
What distinguishes train travel from other forms of transport?
Often it's the people you meet. There's something about a train that makes people open up - particularly on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express where they are likely to be celebrating.
You've now described 24 slow train journeys in Britain. What's unique about train travel in the UK?
There's a huge variety of landscapes and destinations within a comparatively compact area. Most, including extremely remote places, are accessible by rail. Probably nowhere else in the world can you go from fascinating industrial settings through small towns and farmland to the middle of nowhere.
Can you describe the relationship between British people and their trains?
It's like their relationship with the weather: a national obsession. Even tiny children who have never seen steam trains love Thomas the Tank Engine. It's bred into their genes.