Just a big map of the cost of a return ticket from London to almost everywhere else in the country

Some ticket machines. Image: Getty.

As a Londoner, and cheapskate, who occasionally has the spur of the moment impulse to get on a train, it recently occurred to me that there might be a more methodical way of finding affordable day trips than throwing random place names into National Rail Enquiries until a return ticket that won’t empty my entire bank account appears.

Having previously tinkered about with the timetabling data provided by the Rail Delivery Group, it occurred to me that I might be able to get the associated fares dataset to spit out a price list of all the day return tickets from London and use that as prompt to find exciting new cheap day trips. So I did, and then I put it on a map.

This map doesn’t include advance tickets. It uses the cheapest route I could find* between London Terminals and the destination on either an off-peak, super off-peak or anytime return, depending on which kinds of ticket are actually available on that route. And it comes with absolutely no guarantee by either myself or CityMetric that you can buy a ticket at this price – not least since if you’re reading this in 2025 it’ll long since be out of date.

With those provisos, here it is:

 

So, what can we learn from this?

1. The best value per mile destination from London is… Wrexham!

A bargain at only 25p per mile. That’s Wrexham General, not Wrexham Central, which despite being an 8 minute walk away is a shocking 52 pence per mile journey from the capital. Rip off Britain!

2. The furthest you can get from London for under a tenner is… Balcombe!

Why not go and visit the farmhouse that stood in for Arthur Dent’s house from the BBC TV version of the Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy? I bet they’re definitely not tired of people taking photos of each other lying down outside of it!

More directly CityMetric relevant: it’s near the Ouse Valley Viaduct, which is a pretty good viaduct.

3. Furthest you can get for under 20 quid is… Peterborough!

The ‘worst place in Britain not to have a car’ according to a 2014 survey. Why not spend a day not having a car in Peterborough to try this out?

And for only 30p more you can go to Sheerness! “I once rode my unicycle from South London to Sheerness on Sea, on the Isle of Sheppey. I’ve never been anywhere so bleak,” says someone on the forums of singletrackworld.com, instantly selling me on the idea of going to Sheerness.

4. Birmingham and the general vicinity are quite good value, it turns out

Look at all those places you can get to for only just over £30 return. Wait until my girlfriend finds out where our next holiday is going to be!


5. There seem to be tickets available that aren’t actually usable

I couldn’t actually find any trains running on the route listed for Water Orton and Coleshill Parkway, “LNR and XC only”. So if you do manage to buy one of those tickets, working that out is a puzzle for you and you alone.

6. You can save quite a lot of money by walking a mile

See the aforementioned Wrexham General/Wrexham Central ‘discrepancy’: cheapest ticket to Central: £40.50; General: £86.90.

Getting to London Road station, a mile from Brighton, costs £28.50, while you can get to Brighton for just £12.20!

This of course doesn’t factor in different journey lengths, required changes, etc. Maybe it turns out you actually value your time!

7. Brighton really is a bargain – it’s the cheapest bit of seaside you can get to from London!

It and Southend are the only bits of beach accessible for under £15. But if you’re feeling a bit more flush, £35 will get you to and from more or less anywhere on the coast between Southampton and Harwich.

8. You’ll need to drop at least £120 to get to Scotland.

For that you can get as far as Kirkconnel, halfway between Dumfries and Glasgow. Admittedly it wouldn’t be much of a day trip anyway, since after a 5 hour train journey there you’d have about an hour before the last train of the day back. Well, unless spending 2 hours at Carlisle station waiting for a 2am sleeper train is your idea of fun. Which if you’ve read this far is a possibility!

Apologies to anyone who isn’t from London and complains on Facebook about everything I write being about London until I block you. Maybe if you share this post loads on social media, I’ll make a map of the cost of train tickets from YOUR boring hometown.

*The system is extremely complex, so no doubt there are some quirks I’ve missed. Thanks to the kind people of railforums.co.uk who pointed me in something approaching the right direction when I got totally lost.

 
 
 
 

“Every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap”: on the rise of the chain conffeeshop as public space

Mmmm caffeine. Image: Getty.

If you visit Granary Square in Kings Cross or the more recent neighbouring development, Coal Drops Yard, you will find all the makings of a public space: office-workers munching on their lunch-break sandwiches, exuberant toddlers dancing in fountains and the expected spread of tourists.

But the reality is positively Truman Show-esque. These are just a couple examples of privately owned public spaces, or “POPS”,  which – in spite of their deceptively endearing name – are insidiously changing our city’s landscape right beneath us.

The fear is that it is often difficult to know when you are in one, and what that means for your rights. But as well as those places the private sector pretends to be public space, the inverse is equally common, and somewhat less discussed. Often citizens, use clearly private amenities like they are public. And this is never more prevalent than in the case of big-chain coffeeshops.

It goes without saying that London is expensive: often it feels like every twitch, breath or thought necessitates a contactless tap. This is where Starbucks, Pret and Costa come in. Many of us find an alternative in freeloading off their services: a place to sit, free wifi when your data is low, or an easily accessible toilet when you are about in the city. It feels like a passive-aggressive middle-finger to the hole in my pocket, only made possible by the sheer size of these companies, which allows us to go about unnoticed. Like a feature on a trail map, it’s not just that they function as public spaces, but are almost universally recognised as such, peppering our cityscapes like churches or parks.

Shouldn’t these services really be provided by the council, you may cry? Well ideally, yes – but also no, as they are not under legal obligation to do so and in an era of austerity politics, what do you really expect? UK-wide, there has been a 13 per cent drop in the number of public toilets between 2010 and 2018; the London boroughs of Wandsworth and Bromley no longer offer any public conveniences.  


For the vast majority of us, though, this will be at most a nuisance, as it is not so much a matter of if but rather when we will have access to the amenities we need. Architectural historian Ian Borden has made the point that we are free citizens in so far as we shop or work. Call it urban hell or retail heaven, but the fact is that most of us do regularly both of these things, and will cope without public spaces on a day to day. But what about those people who don’t?

It is worth asking exactly what public spaces are meant to be. Supposedly they are inclusive areas that are free and accessible to all. They should be a place you want to be, when you have nowhere else to be. A space for relaxation, to build a community or even to be alone.

So, there's an issue: it's that big-chain cafes rarely meet this criterion. Their recent implementation of codes on bathroom doors is a gentle reminder that not all are welcome, only those that can pay or at least, look as if they could. Employees are then given the power to decide who can freeload and who to turn away. 

This is all too familiar, akin to the hostile architecture implemented in many of our London boroughs. From armrests on benches to spikes on windowsills, a message is sent that you are welcome, just so long as you don’t need to be there. This amounts to nothing less than social exclusion and segregation, and it is homeless people that end up caught in this crossfire.

Between the ‘POPS’ and the coffee shops, we are squeezed further by an ever-growing private sector and a public sector in decline. Gentrification is not just about flat-whites, elaborate facial hair and fixed-gear bikes: it’s also about privatisation and monopolies. Just because something swims like a duck and quacks like a duck that doesn’t mean it is a duck. The same can be said of our public spaces.