Where to go with the BritRail Pass

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EXETER, England -Where to ride, stay and explore on a BritRail Pass?

For travel outside of London, I suggest choosing several base cities and making day trips from them to avoid carrying luggage on every trip. Major stations now have elevators to reach the footbridge over the tracks but be warned that older country stations do not, and shifting luggage to another platform can be a hassle. Here are a few destination highlights:

Exeter

Exeter, a cathedral city in Devon, has rail lines than fan out in a half-dozen directions, including into Cornwall along some spectacular track that hugs the Channel. Take the local line from Exeter following the River Exe down to the sea at Exmouth or go more upscale and visit sophisticated Torquay, known as the English Riviera.

From Paignton, the last station on this line, you can ride a steam train to Kingswear and take a short cable ferry to Dartmouth, a pretty river town dominated by the Royal Naval College. The rail map shows several Cornish branches diverging off the main line to Penzance, short scenic rides down to the Channel ports of Looe and Falmouth and to the seaside resorts of Newquay and St. Ives, where a branch of London's Tate Gallery overlooks the sea.

A daylong loop from Exeter heads over Devon and Somerset hills and dales to Salisbury, famous for its fine cathedral and not far from Stonehenge, and then continues up to Bath, with its Georgian architecture, Roman spa and museums, followed by a return via Bristol and Taunton.

York

My favorite base city is York, where the homey Dean Court Hotel sits across from the Minster Cathedral. Here I can walk the walls and explore the pedestrian lanes before venturing to the National Railway Museum, which captures the mystic quality of train travel better than any place I know.

From York's great curved train shed, it's a short ride to the classic seaside resort of Scarborough, the upscale spa at Harrogate or a fantastic day-long circuit that crosses the Pennines parallel to Hadrian's Wall and travels down the remote Settle and Carlisle Line through the wilds of Yorkshire.

Edinburgh

The East Coast main line up to Scotland provides some great North Sea coastal scenery as well as an aerial view of the port of Berwick while crossing the River Tweed. Edinburgh's sights are well known, and the city serves as a great base for day trips across the famous Firth of Forth cantilever bridge -- a Victorian-era railway that looks like an erector set over water -- and then over the even longer Tay Bridge to Dundee and coastal route to Aberdeen.

On the way to Perth, trains pass beneath Stirling Castle which is flooded at night. Glasgow, once Edinburgh's ugly stepsister but now on the upswing, is less than an hour away and offers great architecture. The West Highland Line north of Glasgow parallels lochs, traverses brooding Rannoch Moor, crosses streams on massive stone viaducts and ends at either the resort port of Oban or the fishing harbor at Mallaig, from where you can go by sea to the Isle of Skye.

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