Train Holidays – Relaxing, Flexible and Eco-Friendly

From a luxurious day trip on the Orient Express Northern Belle or British Pullman to a 21 day great rail journey across Australia, a train holiday is sure to be an experience you will never forget.

Within the United Kingdom you can take an Orient Express day trip or short break from over 50 departure points around the country. Visit locations as diverse as Glamis Castle, Portmeirion, The Lake District, Hampton Court, Edinburgh and Loch Lomond and The Trossachs, as well as trips to special events like the Chelsea Flower Show, Ladies Day at Royal Ascot and Wimbledon. Or take a 2 night break to romantic Paris, a gift sure to treasured forever by loved one. Of course you could be tempted by a 5 night or longer break across Europe on the Venice-Simplon Orient Express. Magnificent carriages, first class food and service, together with amazing scenery that will take your breath away, ensure a trip that you’ll never forget.

Departing on the Eurostar from St. Pancras station opens up a whole world of possibilities on a train holiday to Europe. Maybe a cultural Grand Tour of Italy, taking in Rome, Venice and Florence appeals. If you’re after amazing scenery consider Switzerland’s Glacier Express or a trip aboard the Arctic Circle Coastal Explorer. Starting in Europe and then taking you from Spain and then into Morrocco there is the evocative Marrakech Express.

Leaving Europe behind, take perhaps the ultimate train holiday on the Trans-Siberian Express or maybe the slightly different trip of Beijing to Moscow. India offers a trip around the Golden Triangle of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur with the chance to see tigers in their natural environment – something you’re sure never to forget.

South Africa offers a journey through stunning landscapes on board the iconic Blue Train, on one of the world’s most luxurious great rail journeys.

Across the pond in North America, you real are spoilt for beautiful scenery. Take a trip along the west coast, through the Rockies all the way up to Alaska. Maybe the wild west and Las Vegas are more your style, or travel right across America on a 21 day coast to coast adventure.

The real beauty of a longer break by train is the flexibility it can offer, particularly around Europe. With a choice of departure dates and the ability to select different hotels along your route and at your destination, perhaps staying an extra night or two in your favourite city, you can really create a holiday by train that is tailor made just for you.

On some holidays you will also have the benefit of having a personal tour manager and guide. These escorted train holidays are available to many destinations around Europe and further afield.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is how much kinder you will be to the environment by taking your holiday by train, rather than the plane, particularly when compared with short-haul flights where your carbon footprint can be reduced by up to 90% by taking the train.

So next time you consider a holiday why not consider a holiday by train. No more hours getting to the airport and then waiting in endless queues, your holiday can start the moment you reach your local departure point.

The Ghost of Mary, Queen of Scots and Other Hauntings at Borthwick Castle

Borthwick Castle in Midlothian is allegedly haunted by a number of ghosts, including Mary, Queen of Scots, who must rank as one of the most omnipresent spectres in Britain. The castle is also supposedly still frequented by the tragic spirit of a murdered servant girl, as well as an embezzling chancellor who met a horrible death.

The ancestral home of the Borthwick family, the castle is sited on the edge of the Scottish Borders, around 12 miles south of Edinburgh. It was built in 1430 for William de Borthwick, 1st Lord Borthwick, after he was issued a charter to erect a castle from King James I of Scotland. The Scottish peer had assisted in securing the release of King James while the monarch had been held captive in England. The castle remained in the Borthwick family until 1650, when the owners were ultimately driven out by Oliver Cromwell’s forces.

The well-preserved 15th century stronghold features two huge towers of imposing height. The walls around the base are 20 feet thick and the lofty Great Hall has a barrel-vaulted ceiling. In former times the castle also sported a moat, drawbridge and portcullis. Borthwick Castle was converted into a hotel in 1973, however since February of 2013 it has since returned to being a private residence.

With a history spanning far back into Scotland’s turbulent past, it seems only natural that Borthwick Castle would boast a grisly legend or two. One tradition at the castle was known as the “Prisoner’s Leap”. Inmates at Borthwick were allegedly granted their freedom if they were able to jump from the roof of one tower to the other. They would have their hands tied behind their backs and if they cleared the 12 foot gap, they were free to go. Apparently no one accomplished this seemingly impossible goal, instead falling to their death some 90 feet below.

Mary, Queen of Scots, took refuge at Borthwick Castle in 1567 with her third husband James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. James was a principal suspect in the suspicious death of Mary’s previous husband Lord Darnley. The newly-married couple were being pursued by enraged nobles who wanted to see Bothwell brought to trial. When the castle was suddenly surrounded by an army of 1000 men, the couple were forced to make a dramatic escape. To evade her pursuers, the Queen of Scots famously disguised herself as a pageboy and exited the castle through a window in the Great Hall. Rumour has it that her ghost has been seen in the vicinity of the castle, reliving the events of that action-packed night.

A gory story relates how the Red Room at Borthwick was once the scene of a terrible crime. It is reputedly haunted by the ghost of a servant girl called Ann Grant. She was impregnated by a Borthwick lord who subsequently had her murdered. The story relates how she was seized by two women and a guard. The women held her up while the guard sliced her across the abdomen with his sword, killing her and her unborn child. People who’ve slept in the Red Room have reported abrupt drops in temperature and the sinister sound of approaching footsteps on the nearby spiral staircase late at night. An unseen force has tried to pull sleepers from the majestic four-poster bed while visitors and staff alike have supposedly witnessed a ghostly re-enactment of the horrific murder.

Another murder at Borthwick was of a chancellor who had been misappropriating funds from the family coffers. When the Borthwicks found out they reacted with utmost brutality and burned the man to death. The ghost of the unfortunate chancellor is said to haunt the castle and the niches where he kept his safes are still visible in the walls of the Red Room. A priest was once brought in to exorcise Borthwick Castle although the hauntings apparently still persist.

American Treasure: Restoring Urban Rivers

Does a river run through it? That is, through your town or city, a hidden natural treasure, just a few minutes from your front door? Maybe you drive over it everyday, but never really think much about it. Look around, there may be a lost Eden waiting for you at the end of the next subway ride or bus stop.

In San Diego, you can ride the trolley along the San Diego River to your shopping destination, in Chicago you can enjoy a quiet stroll along a river walk created from a restored industrial area, in Savannah, Georgia, you can visit historic River Street. But the most exciting adventure may be the waterway or river vista, yet to be discovered and restored, in your own neighborhood and community.

U.S. Census data from 2012 indicates a historic shift, as city centers grew faster than the suburbs, partly as a result of the recession and housing market decline, but also because city centers represent good value, with crime rates falling and jobs and transportation readily available. Increasingly, cities have turned their attention to the restoration of urban rivers and waterways, to create parks and green space, attract businesses, and rehabilitate riparian and aquatic ecosystems degraded by pollution and over-development.

In 2011, the Federal government created the Federal Urban Rivers Project, a collaboration of federal agencies, including the EPA, with several partner cities.

In Denver, Colorado, work has begun on the restoration of the South Platte River, with the vision of making it into a parkland and recreational fishing area.

Even the Los Angeles River has made a comeback, after being designated in the 1990s, by American Rivers, a national non-profit conservation organization, as one of America’s twenty most endangered rivers.

The fifty mile watercourse runs through the city to its outlet in Long Beach. Paved over in concrete in the 1930s by the Army Corps of Engineers to enhance flood control, for years the Los Angeles River has been considered not much more than a polluted open sewer, suitable as a setting for post-apocalyptic Hollywood films.

However, in 2010, the EPA declared the Los Angeles River a “navigable” waterway under the Federal Clean Water Act. Still home to sycamore and willow trees, red pond turtles, egrets, and a complex variety of other plant and animal life, it’s now legal to kayak down a stretch of it, and a pilot recreation zone opened in 2013.

The sparkling example of the benefits of urban river restoration, considered by many to be the jewel of American urban river projects, has to be San Antonio’s famous River Walk. First created in the 1930s along the historic downtown area, it draws visitors to Texas from all over the world, and recently expanded, remaining one of the most-recognized U.S. tourist attractions, a lovely oasis in a modern urban environment.

Urban river restoration benefits city dwellers, by giving them the access to nature in the neighborhood, helping economic development, reducing pollution, and restoring damaged ecosystems. Cities from great to small have grown up and thrived alongside river banks, and with more than eighty percent of Americans now living in cities, restoring these cultural links creates opportunities for a more prosperous and healthy future.

Take a look at the potential of America’s urban rivers, on the internet, when you travel, or better yet, in your own backyard!