Silver Travel Book Club

June 2022 – Great Continental Railway Journeys

We’ll explore a different destination for each Book Club, and a lucky Silver Travel Book Club reader can win a free copy of that month’s book.


This month the Silver Travel Book Club – proudly sponsored by Railbookers – is reading Great Continental Railway Journeys by Michael Portillo. A lavishly illustrated tie in to the TV series, capturing all the colour, beauty, excitement and fervour of journeying across the continent by train.

Great Continental Railway Journeys is a BBC2 series, fronted by ex-politician Michael Portillo.

In this European odyssey he travels around continental Europe using George Bradshaw’s 1913 Continental Railway Guide. Portillo guides the train-travelling fan across Europe, arriving at a myriad of magical and historically fascinating cities we all dream of travelling to by train.

From London to Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Copenhagen, Oslo, Lisbon, Madrid, Berlin, Monte Carlo, Prague, Munich, Zurich, Rome, Budapest, and St Petersburg all the way down to Constantinople, Haifa and Jerusalem, Portillo describes the great feats of engineering that built the various railway lines connecting Europe and further afield and the men and women who made these journeys famous through their deeds and words.

A must-have read for any armchair fan and for anyone who wants to experience the magic of travelling through Europe by rail, when it comes to independent rail holidays, Railbookers are the experts.

Grand Venice, Florence and Rome

A popular choice for many Railbookers customers is to explore Italy by train for a sense of adventure, romance, and the ability to get anywhere in the country quickly and easily – from the canals of Venice and the monuments of Rome to the gorgeous coastlines of the Cinque Terre and the Amalfi Coast. It’s entirely possible to visit all of your favourite Italian destinations, from top to toe, in one amazing trip.

A firm favourite is Railbookers’ Grand Venice, Florence and Rome holiday where you’ll enjoy the charms and landmarks of three Italian gems on one scenic holiday along the rails. Explore the cities to their fullest with sightseeing tours and skip-the-line passes all included with travel in First Class comfort throughout the trip. Travel from London, spending a night in Geneva en route, and roll through the spectacular Alpine scenery of the Simplon Pass towards Italy. Sail down the canals of Venice with a gondola ride, unearth artistic masterpieces in Florence and gaze in awe at the Sistine Chapel’s ceiling in Rome. This is one Italian adventure you won’t want to miss!

How to win a copy of Great Continental Railway Journeys by Michael Portillo

Travelling by train can be incredibly scenic and is an all round better and more relaxing experience. Comment below to describe your favourite train journey and what made it special

A winner will be chosen in early July 2022.
The competition closes on 30 June 2022.

Read more about all of our Silver Travel Book Club reads.

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61 Responses

  1. It was 1958 and I was 8 years old travelling with my 15 year old sister from London to see our grand father in Hull…this was my first train journey AND I felt so grown up not being with our parents.It was mesmerising to watch the countryside and towns whizz by-we ate our jam sandwiches and an apple each-which was a feast to me.We made up songs to the sound of the train tracks noise.To this day I just love trains-especially steam.

  2. The Sunday steam train from Bogota to Zipiquaria’s Salt Cathedral was a brilliant day out. We got to the station early, but a throng of noisy Colombians were already excitedly milling around. A guard shouted a long list of instructions in fast Spanish about what to expect. He caught us looking bemused, so when he’d finished, he sidled up to us and said in perfect English, “just follow me”. The carriages, as old as the puffing engine, had grand leather seats. Announcements flowed thick and fast but a young girl sitting behind, interpreted.The two hour, 20 km journey passed in a flash. We were entertained by lively, loud jazz and soul bands who strolled through the carriages and vendors offered plantain-wrapped tamales, Colombian tinto (coffee), the ubiquitous empanada and huge, creamy-white merengon. And the highlight was meant to be the Cathedral.

  3. My most frequent journey is Darlington to King’s Cross. Once we were warned of delays due to track work which led to a diversion. I was delighted to find us sent east to Cambridge before continuing south to the terminus. The view of Ely Cathedral was spectacular.

  4. South Devon Dawlish to Kingswear is my favourite train trip, I have travelled the coast line a couple of times, from the red cliffs of Dawlish along the coast then inland a bit to Newton Abbot, before back out by the sea all the rest of the way – very close to the sea, so close in fact that the sea often threatens that line, and has taken it out in the past. You can always combine it with a ferry over to Dartmouth and a boat trip to Totnes, lot of scenic combinations to make a circular trip.

  5. Two railway journeys come to mind:
    Trans Siberian which started at St Pancras, finishing in Moscow – what an eclectic mix of scenery, cultures and weather.
    Part of the Indian Pacific route – we travelled from Perth to Adelaide and enjoyed a mix of scenery, living on the train with a few stops to disembark and visit various places of interest. First class catering on board.

    1. A trip from Hereford to Paignton in January was a fantastic day out after lockdown constraints.
      3 changes on journey down and 3 on the way back. The views from the train as we approached Paignton were stunning and It felt amazing to be experiencing the freedom to travel again.

  6. Have read about exciting foreign train journeys however we still return to the Garsdale to Leeds route on the Settle Carlisle line. Starting at England’s highest station you see fantastic scenery all the way. A rest good day out, as they say in Yorkshire .

  7. I’ve only traveled long distance by train from London to Glasgow but enjoyed the relaxing experience. I would love to travel from London to Spain and Michael’s book would inspire and encourage me to take this journey.

  8. It was Boxing Day 1966 when I took my first trip abroad on a skiing holiday with my school. We sailed from Dover to Calais and then embarked on out train for the overnight trip to Austria. We were all accommodated in 6 berth couchettes which was an experience in itself.

    I remember clearly the excitement of a group of 14 year old girls travelling abroad for the first time. Very little sleep was had and if you did manage to nod off you were awakened by the border guards checking passports as we passed fro country to country.

    That was 56 years ago but I still remember it as if it were yesterday.

  9. Many years ago,too many to mention.I went to Bavaria via rail ,to my new job as an Au pair.I was very anxious being on my own,my first journey abroad alone.The final part of the journey was from Munich to Oberstdorf, the mountain scenery became so spectacular, I was mesmerised and have never forgotten how lovely it was.

  10. My favourite train journey was sitting on the step of the train as we went from New Delhi to Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas. The thrill of the wind in my hair and knowing that this would not be possible in most other countries made it so special and the views even more magical. The enjoyment of the release from the heat and smog of Delhi was something I will never forget.

  11. My favourite train journey was sitting on the step of the train as we went from New Delhi to Shimla in the foothills of the Himalayas. The thrill of the wind in my hair and knowing that this would not be possible in most other countries made it so special and the views even more magical. The enjoyment of the release from the heat and smog of Delhi was something I will never forget.

  12. To be totally honest not really done that much train travel,apart from a few East Lancashire Railway specials a couple of Lake district Raul tours,but I would love to experience the White Pass and Yukon railroad, Canada and USA the scenery looks absolutely idyllic,and the journey has some interesting destinations that would fill ones mind with memories that would last a life time.

  13. I took my Dad on the steam train that runs between Fort William and Mallaig over the Glenfinnan Viaduct. Sadly my Dad is no longer with us but he was a fan of steam trains for all of his life and I will forever remember his happy face when I took him on that journey.

  14. I remember my first long train journey as an eleven year old from Scotland to Lincoln. It was VJ Day and there were many soldiers on the train, including Americans who gave us spearmint chewing gum. It was the first time I had left Scotland. My little sister and I were dressed in tartan kilts and FairIsle knitted jumpers with matching berets. I felt I was too old to wear white ankle socks and a beret. Discarded them whenever out of Mother’s watchful eyes. Got blisters on feet from going sock-less in new shoes!

  15. In 2004 my boyfriend, Ian, and I flew to Canada to travel on the Rocky Mountaineer from Banff to Vancouver with a group of friends. We were lucky enough to be in Gold Leaf class which meant we were in a double decked carriage with fantastic views of the stunning Rockies, and the
    breathtaking fast flowing rivers. The spacious top deck had a crystal clear glass roof and large picture windows.
    The outstanding meals were served in the restaurant on the bottom deck which was very sophisticated and classy. One morning we were served lobster – for breakfast! The staff were amazing and very welcoming.
    The day before we boarded the train, at our hotel Chateau Lake Louise, Ian proposed to me and I accepted.

  16. Hanoi to Ho Chi Min – takes you through beautiful Vietnamese landscape and from the more communist north to the much more westernised south. It’s quite slow so takes a while so opt for higher class of travel at not much cost. People very friendly too.

  17. The Flam railway in Norway has to be one my favourite rail journeys, the scenery is just so magnificent & the norwegian people just so friendly. We combined the train journey & did Norway in a nutshell which meant train, coach & boat it was just an awesome experience & it was also my birthday so I will always remember it.

  18. New York to San Francisco was amazing. Travelling by day and night on different trains. It took 3 weeks interspersed with hotel stays for a night or two.
    Even though I was working throughout the time away I found the journey fascinating and can only imagine a return trip now in retirement

  19. 2011. The Ghan from Darwin to Adelaide. The vast expanse of bush the problems encountered building it. Stopping over in Katherine and visiting the site of the flying doctor service then onto Adelaide to meet up with and old school friend who I hadn’t seen for about close on 50 years. Meeting flagies (Marshalls) and meeting up with them again in Melbourne to see the Australian F1 Grand Prix. A great country and people.

  20. 1988 – a week’s first class travel ticket that took me the length and breadth of Britain. The overnight sleeper from Edinburgh to Plymouth was a particular highlight.

  21. My most memorable journey was when I was 17 in the mid 1980s and travelled with my rangers group for a 10 day stay at Our Chalet, the guiding chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland. It was so exciting, we travelled by ferry to France, then on a train to Paris. Here we had to change trains and we got a train to Interlaken. It was a sleeper train so the fun and cosiness has never been forgotten, nor the snow out of the window and the lack of sleep with 10 excited rangers aboard. We all made it back safely too although the luggage didn’t, that arrived a week later! Great memories though and several of us are still friends and often reminisce about the trip.

  22. I love travelling by train and have been fortunate enough to do so. Including: Cuzco to Macchu Pichu: Moscow to St Petersburg: Skagway to Canadian boarder: travel by train to London: but by far the best (for a special birthday) was a tour of the Canadian Rockies including 2 days on the Rocky Mountaineer. The Canadian Rockies are spectacular. We upgraded to Gold Leaf and were not disappointed, the staff are excellent and very knowledgeable. I cannot recommend this highly enough. This year (hopefully) we are going to Switzerland and included are a ride on the Bernina Express and the Glacier Express, and look forward to doing this tour.

  23. The rail journey we made to the Italian Riveria some years ago was terrific. Now r eighties it is about time we made another such terrific jouney.

  24. For scenery it would have to be the White Pass and Yukon Railroad journey followed by the Denali Railroad journey on a Yukon and Alaska cruise and tour I took in 2009 with an aunt. The White Pass and Yukon trains were rustic with our boxed lunches purchased in town compared to the opulence of the Denali trains with the amazing food downstairs and the glass domed seating upstairs so we could take in all the views and wildlife sightings – moose, especially. However it was very stirring to follow the route the prospectors took during the Gold Rush and know that so many of their and their poor horses’ bones are still on the route along with whatever items were scavenged by others who came after them. Catching sight of the rest of the train on trestle bridge switchbacks surrounded by mountains is something I’ll never forget.
    For fun memories with family it would have to be the Looe to Liskeard run on the Looe Valley Line in Cornwall that I took with a couple of aunts and an uncle in 2018. We had spent the morning exploring Looe where we had rented a cottage for a week and opted for a train ride to rest our feet. There weren’t many on the train and we had fun taking pictures of the scenery and each other. Happy times!

  25. Some years ago, I flew into anchorage in Alaska and then caught the train to Seward. I was unaware that I was travelling by train but due to insufficient space on a coach, so here I was. The welcome I got from the train officials to inform me where my seat was and then checked if I was ok. On commencement of the journey train announcement were made on route, informing us what we were about to see. We had a glass roof on the carriage and we could get outside at the end of each carriage to take photos or just to admire the scenery and wild life which was spectacular, snow on mountains, passing a glacier besides seeing eagles, otters and plenty of seabirds. Waterfalls were frequently seen and we were some of the time aligned to the road. Whilst we were travelling bar and snack service was available at a reasonable price. The guard/ passenger advisor would walk though the carriage so we could ask questions. I forgot to mention the train was going very slowly so we could take everything in. After 4 hours we go to our destination which was in a harbour so that we could just walk up the steps to our awaiting cruise ship. Our luggage was picked up at the airport and the next thing I knew it was in my cabin. You can see why this was the best train journey I have ever been on.i

  26. Travelling by train gives a whole new dimension to travel. My father was a great steam train enthusiast and belonged to narrow guage railways like the Ffesiniogg in Wales. I remember the excitement of the trains puffing out their smoke and twisting round miles of beautiful countryside in the 50’s!

  27. Taking the car on Motorail in the late 1980s from Calais to Bologna. The children were little, what an adventure it was…a n amazing journey & holiday self catering in Umbria!

  28. The scenery in Switzerland from Zurich to Lucerne blows me away every time I go to visit my son.

  29. The best train journey we ever went on was from Poole to York, changing at Southampton . We had a lovely time in York and then enjoyed the return train journey.

  30. I love travelling between London and York. The scenery changes from City to Countryside and the excitement of drawing into York Railway Station is palpable and always visit the National Railway Museum right next door. Travelling further up the line, I adore the view of Durham Cathedral.

  31. I have a favourite train journey. It involves going by car.!!
    I am a dieselhead,unlike Jeremy Clarkson,the original petrolhead.!
    My alltime best journey is travelling to see my daughter,son-in-law,and grandkids
    at their home in Bromsgrove from my home in Lincolnshire.
    Of course I travel in my posh car,even though it does not run on rails! But it does run on diesel and will do up to 70 mpg.How about that for a non-electric vehicle.?
    Alas,I cannot advertise a particular train journey as it is so long since I went by rail. I do,however,avidly watch Michael Portillo’s great rail journeys,whether in Britain or on the Continent. One of the most interesting TV programmes.!

  32. When I was sixteen many, many years ago I went on a school trip to Rome. We travelled by local train, inter-city train, ferry and then overnight international train. What an experience. Most of it is as vivid today as it was then. All of the trains were steam trains apart from the section through Switzerland where we were hauled by a huge electric locomotive that looked like a giant crocodile.Though our teachers had a couchette compartment us lads did not. I do remember catching forty winks up in the netting of the capacious luggage racks in our compartment. Rome was nice too.

  33. A few years ago I travelled up the Durham coast from my old home town of Hartlepool to Newcastle. It was amazing to see the coastline recover from the many years of mining waste being dumped out at sea. I am the son of a miner and it was very sad indeed to see the industry go but the coast is completely transformed. I went back later and walked a section of it

  34. My most memorable and long waited for train journey was the White Horse and Yukon Railroad from Carcross to Skagway. We made the journey from Skagway to Carcross by coach, but as amazing as that was, the return journey by train will forever stay with us.

  35. My most memorable train journey was in India between Amritsar and New Delhi. My friend Ann and I had travelled extensively in the Triangle to see all the magnificent sites, palaces and even tigers. The train journey touched every emotion and sense imaginable from early breakfast on the train, masala char, cornflakes with hot milk and cereal bars to supper consorting of vegetarian curry (you could choose from hot to hotter), rice and fruit. I can remember my friend did not want to try out the toilets on a moving train but I risked it and came away feeling a sense of achievement!
    India is such a vibrant country and I would love to go back sometime!

  36. This is a wonderful prize and I would love to win it ! Great Continental Railway Journeys is a BBC2 series, fronted by ex-politician Michael Portillo.
    I love this programme and try my best to watch every series and at the moment I am watch it on the W tv station. They say you can never get enough of a good thing ! Bye for now !

  37. The Cairns to Kuranda scenic railway in Australia certainly is scenic and you can have a fun ride in an army duck vehicle at the end.

  38. Has to be the West Highland line… the journey is stunning from Helensburgh Upper Station to the journey end at Mallaig or Oban.

  39. A train ride through the Rockies in the glass topped observation cars is a memory that will last forever. Excellent service on the seemingly never ending journey and fun and laughter in the evenings – beautiful

  40. My favourite train journey was on the Orient Express many years ago. We set off from Victoria and it was the most wonderful experience – the beauty of the train, the food, the dressing up for dinner, etc. We had no sleep that night – it was spent looking out of the window! We ended up in Salzburg where we spent the weekend visiting the Sound of Music set, etc, went to a superb concert, followed by a multi course feast. Then, joy of joys, we flew back on Concorde! It was a very expensive, but extremely worthwhile and enjoyable trip – which I will never forget. I’ve got dozens of photos to remind me of it.

  41. Dave Ainsworth says :

    Shortly after the scenic Carlisle-to-Settle line was reprieved, I took a round trip on it, crossed its famous Ribblehead Viaduct and also enjoyed many other rural scenes of beauty. My delight was enhanced by knowing I was travelling on a line which had been saved, and by adding even my custom, I was helping to keep it going and so prevent other closure threats from emerging.

  42. Travelling from Plymouth to Helensburgh and admiring the ever changing scenery.

  43. Late 1989 – just after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Train journey from Berlin in the collapsing East Germany and into Poland. Fascinating times!

  44. My favourite train memories are of summer day trips with my friend when we were just old enough to hop on the train to Southport for the day. We’d swim at the open air pool then walk miles out to the sea and end the day with fish and chips of course!

  45. The Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway in Kent has always been my all-time favourite since school holidays days when my cousins and I would be treated to a trip while we stayed on a caravan site nearby. Coming from London where we lived then, the area, beaches and railway with gorgeous views made it all memorable.

    In fact we’re about to travel to that area shortly for a few days holiday, so RHDR, here we come!

  46. A few years ago, my wife and I took the Snowdonian Mountain railway up Mount Snowdon. The views were spectacular. The railway seemed to defying the laws of physics to get us up that mountain. It was an awe-inspiring journey.

  47. Like Karon Sewell (above) my first experience of a long train journey was going to Switzerland as a Ranger aged 17 but the similarities end there: our group of 14 included some older Girl Guides and one brave Rover. It was in 1963, I had just finished college and used most of the money from my Post Office account to pay for the trip. We couldn’t afford to stay at Our Chalet at Adelboden so two Guiders organised a bespoke fortnight’s holiday for us to stay in small hotels in Interlaken and then Lucerne; they also accompanied us as some of our group were 16 or under. We caught a ferry to Calais then got on a train for Switzerland. We occupied two old style compartments that opened into a corridor so sat up for the whole journey, eating and drinking what we’d taken with us, occasionally falling asleep sitting up – very uncomfortable. I woke up at one point and through the darkness could see steam, smoke and orange glows coming from what looked like steel works and looking at my map (Michael Portillo always has a copy of Bradshaw’s, I always have a map!). I worked out that we were passing through what was then called Alsace-Lorraine: we saw some beautiful scenery later in the journey and during the holiday but I remember that industrial image most vividly as I’d learned about the area in Geography lessons. Once in Switzerland we had a full itinerary of day trips, including Adelboden, and travelled everywhere by train. I’ve done many scenic rail journeys since, so far only in Europe.

  48. I took a train from the centre of Paris to the centre of Marseilles. I booked 3 months in advance and obtained a first class ticket at an incredibly low price. It was exhilarating rather like being in a James Bond film and those French trains transform you into a different world. It was also like a French geography term-long course compressed into a few hours. I felt as fresh as a daisy when I alighted at a wonderful station the other end in a fabulously historic yet also modern city. It is associated with the French national anthem that has one of the best tunes to sing with gusto to and the historic architecture of Le Corbusier whose housing schemes are world famous and can bye visited using a local bus. This rail journey definitely is not to be missed.

  49. As a child we didn’t go on many holidays, we couldn’t afford. We did however go on the occasional train trip from stoke on trent to Llandudno. What an adventure I remember it being. We would take a picnic breakfast and sit excitedly in our very own compartment. Waiting in anticipation for the conductor to visit us during our journey or being joined by other people who had their own stories of excitement when other compartments were full.
    what an amazing era is all I can say.

  50. My favourite railway journey is via the Severn Valley Railway heritage line from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth. The scenery is beautiful and the best way to view it is to book Afternoon Tea in the Observation Carriage. The line follows the River Severn as the name suggests crossing over it at the Victoria Bridge. From the carriage window you can also see wild animals such as giraffe and hippopotamus when the train passes the West Midlands Safari Park. I love getting off the train at Arley. A short stroll will take you over a bridge into the village, where there is a cafe with seating that overlooks the river. Or you can walk further and visit the Arbouretum – it is such a peaceful and charmng place. If you alight the train at Bewdley you can take a walk into the historic market town visiting the park and museum. Himself always likes to pay a visit to the Bewdley Brewery, where you can get an excellent pint. There are plenty of little shops, cafes and hostelries. If you have the grandchildren with you the best stop is Highley for the Engine House. Inside there are interactive railway exhibits and a small playground outside. Or you can walk down the hill to the Ship Inn, where they do first class lunches that can be eaten in the beautiful riverside setting. Further up the line is Hampton Loade, where there is a garden railway. Then of course there is Bridgnorth itself a unique market town with mediaevil buildings. There is Low Town and High Town with a cliff railway to take you from one to the other. Or you can walk down the historic Cartway, where there are a few quirky Airbnb houses. It is bustling on market days, with lots of gift shops and cafes. You must not miss Bridgnorth Castle & Gardens. with castle that leans at an angle of 15degrees – 4 times the lean of the tower of Pisa. Of course Bridgnorth is the real ale capitol of the Midlands with over 21 pubs serving a great pint. What more could you want!

  51. So many wonderful comments here. Train travel is understandably very popular. Train travel in India is always my favourite, although I’ve upgraded myself from my back packing days in the 80s when I spent many a night on a hard wooden seat to now air conditioned first class carriages ! The trains are efficient, atmospheric and you get to meet some wonderful people. Railbookers have some excellent Indian train journeys, including the famed golden triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur and a highlights of Northern India by rail trip, both of which look very appealing.

  52. I love trains, so much promise! It is difficult to choose between my overnight Ghan ride from Adelaide to Alice Springs in Australia, and the run on The Devil’s Nose train from Alausi in Peru. The differences couldn’t be greater – on the Ghan luxury all the way; on the train from Alausi it was frighteningly obvious that the train and track were much more mature than myself (at 59). Nevertheless up on to the roof I clambered, legs slid under the low level rooftop rail. Fortunately I chose the side of the train that, when it departed from the station and began its descent along the side of the canyon, saw me facing outwards to make the most of the views. And such views, travelling on a gradient that would faze a Sherpa, with the sleepers rotted and looking like grey balsa wood, barely holding the rails in place we trundled on. The sides of the canyon were rocky, steep and in places had cascading water crossing the track to plunge into the river many hundreds of metres below. Switchbacks helped the train negotiate the gradient and showed me the state of the track. At the bottom was a welcome from a local who offered shoe shines! They didn’t have that in Alice Springs when I disembarked from the Ghan 🙂 So I think Peru wins -by a whistle.

  53. A recent train journey was only a short trip which I took last month from Mersch to Luxembourg City. What was so special about it? All public transport in the Duchy of Luxembourg is free!!

  54. In the 1980s holidaying with a Rail Pass proved to be a great way to travel around Austria and explore many new places; discovering different cultures and their excellent cuisines.
    The trains ran with precision timing. One day we ventured into Italy, speeding past lush green pastures and stunning open countryside. Then we found ourselves deep in dark tunnels burrowed underneath snow topped mountains. Soon we reached the northern reaches of Italy where we alighted and explored a local market before returning to our pension.
    The highlight of our rail trip was undoubtedly our excursion to Munich. We were quite weary on our return to the train station, having admired the architecture, purchased our souvenirs and joined the crowds anticipating the hourly spectacle of the Glockenspiel in Marienplatz depicting stories from medieval times. We checked our timetable and were amazed to see the Orient Express come to a halt on our platform. We asked if we could take this train and were excited to be able to board and experience the journey back in a traditional compartment, giving a sense of graceful times gone by. Truly the highlight of our holiday.

  55. When I was a little girl my sister and I used to travel from Malvern in Worcestershire to Lancing in Sussex to stay with my granny and aunty My parents would put us on a steam train in the care of the guard and we would have a packet of sandwiches wrapped in grease proof paper, a few apples and a couple of comics each. We had to change trains in London so our Aunty Grace would meet is off the train at Paddington Station and take us by tube to Victoria Station. For 2 country bumpkins this was very exciting! My Aunty Lorna would meet us at Lancing and we then had quite a long walk to her house! After a fortnight’s holiday by the sea we did the whole journey in reverse. Can you imagine small children ( both under 10) being allowed to do that today?

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