10 green boltholes
Dan Kieran expounds on the joys of rail travel and below, Richard Hammond recommends 10 eco-friendly hideaways
You've heard of the magician's code, right? Well, the rail code is even more secretive. We don't want just anyone discovering the joys of a weekend rail break, and clogging up the dining cars. Not when everyone is seemingly so content to be herded around by the no-frills airlines. But it's time to break the code. Partly because of climate change, but, to be honest, I just can't keep it to myself any more. Not when I keep seeing footage of people screaming at some poor woman behind a counter because their flight has been cancelled, especially when she's clearly still traumatised by the orange smock she's being forced to wear.
There's the two-hour check-in and being forced to wait in a hangar where you're bombarded with casino lighting.
Then you have to re-enact a pitch invasion with your fellow detainees and wrestle your way to a seat. After that the doors are sealed, everyone gulps, and finally you end up being dumped in an airport miles from where you actually want to be.
A weekend break is not supposed to be book-ended by the kind of false experience and strain that makes you down six vodkas to calm your nerves before and after you've landed. The journey is not supposed to be an ordeal for you to whinge about with a mutter under your breath.
The argument in favour of it, so it seems to me, is that anything that takes a bit more time isn't as good as something that's quick. Hmm, well not when you're talking about sex, obviously, or food, or friendships, or when you stop and think about it, most of the other experiences that make being human such a delight. If you decided to go out for a walk, would you take the quickest route alongside a motorway or spend a few more hours to get there by ambling through beautiful countryside?
So it is with long-distance trains, especially in Europe. Compared to flying, it's an effortless and rewarding experience. You've got the luxury of the dining car, and the comfort of a cabin to sleep in, not to mention being able to wander about and meet people. But the real joy of the experience is not dependent on the class of ticket you buy.
When in your life are you literally forced to do nothing but sit and think? You could mull over the problems troubling you. Or even spend some time watching the memories of your life that make you smile behind your eyes (try doing that at 35,000ft with the drone of the engines and the buzz of Hollywood around you).
Immerse yourself, languidly, in your own hopes and dreams for a change. Fight back against the rituals of the modern world and try taking your time. Before you know it, you'll be away from it all in body and mind.
(Just don't tell anyone I told you, OK?)
· Dan Kieran is deputy editor of The Idler
1. Bryn Elltyd Guesthouse, North Wales
Leave Euston train station just before 4pm and you'll be sitting down to dinner at 8.30pm in the heart of Snowdonia in this cosy solar-powered B&B. From £24 per person (01766 831356, accommodation-snowdonia.com). Train from Euston to Blaenau Ffestiniog via Llandudno Junction costs from £31 rtn (trainline.co.uk).
2. Romany caravan, West Wales
A restored Gypsy caravan and cabin tucked away in a riverside meadow inland from Cardigan Bay. From £89 (for two) for two nights (romanycaravan.com).
3. Ecocabin, Shropshire
A single-storey self-catering cabin in the south Shropshire Hills, nine miles from Craven Arms mainline train station. From £420 a week, or from £90 a night (minimum two nights) for four (01547 530183, ecocabin.co.uk).
4. Huntingtower Lodge, Scotland
Overlooks Loch Linnhe, just a few minutes from Fort William and the gateway to Ben Nevis. The lodge is gold-rated in the Green Tourism Business Scheme. From £70 plus £5pp for breakfast (01397 700079, huntingtower.co.uk). Take the sleeper (from £112 return, firstscotrail.com) from Euston to Fort William.
5. La Sablonnerie Hotel, Sark
Large guesthouse on the car-free island. From £30pp B&B (01481 832061, lasablonnerie.com). Take the fast ferry from Weymouth to Guernsey (2 hours, 20 mins) from £83 return (0870 243 5140, condorferries.co.uk), then the 45-min ferry to Sark (01481 724059, sarkshipping.info).
6. L'Hôtel Les Orangeries, France
An environmentally sensitively restored 18th-century farmhouse in the village of Lussac-Les-Chateaux in the west of France. A room costs from €65 or an apartment (for 4-5) costs from €115, including electric bike hire (00 33 5 49 84 07 07, lesorangeries.fr). Eurostar to Paris from £59 rtn (eurostar.co.uk), then a 90-min train ride from Paris Montparnasse to Poitiers from €19 single (sncf.co.uk) then a 30-min local train to Lussac.
7. Mustard Seed, Eco Lodge Ireland
A large kitchen garden supplies all the veg and herbs for the organic restaurant at this large country hotel in south-west Ireland. A room costs €90, dinner €57 (00 353 69 68508, mustardseed.ie). Take the train from Euston to Holyhead and ferry across to Dublin with Sailrail from £50 rtn (08450 755755, sailrail.co.uk), then train to Charleville from where it's a taxi ride to the lodge.
8. Ecolodge, Lincolnshire
A wind-powered B&B in Old Leake, just six miles from the sea marshes where there's bird watching, cycling and walking. Take the train to Boston, where pick up can be arranged. Fri-Mon costs £170 plus £5pp per stay (01205 871396, internationalbusinessschool.net).
9. Strattons, Norfolk
A family run country house near the market town of Swaffham. Restaurant food is organic, and there's a 10% reduction if you arrive by public transport. A room costs from £150 (01760 723845, strattons-hotel.co.uk).
10. Bloomfield House, Bath
Full English breakfasts are organic, fair-traded and provided by local suppliers. Bloomfield is just outside the city centre and is a 25-minute walk to Bath's geothermal heated spa (thermaebathspa.com). From £70 B&B (01225 420105, ecobloomfield.com).