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TV: Michael Portillo's Great Railway Journeys

TV: Michael Portillo's Great Railway Journeys

This is one of the most surprising TV shows on at the moment. It sounds like a boring programme for railway or history enthusiasts, but there’s something for everyone on this show. It features Michael Portillo, an ex-cabinet minister with a passion for history and trains, travelling around and finding out about interesting places across the land. As well as a series based in Britain and Ireland, Portillo travels around Europe in search of a taste of history. The guide he uses is Bradshaw’s Railway Guide – the British one is from the Victorian era, and his European guide dates back to 1913, the year before the First World War ravaged the continent.

Michael Portillo began his career in Parliament in 1984, and was a Conservative MP for a constituency in London. He has since been Defence and Employment minister, and most recently was the Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, until he retired from Parliament in 2005. He studied History at university, but has always had a soft spot for trains. When he was Transport minister under Margaret Thatcher, he says his greatest achievement was saving a picturesque railway line that ran along the North West England coast up to the Scottish border.

Michael Portillo selects a route, which has lots of interesting places mentioned in the guide book along the way. The version where Michael goes around the UK is only half an hour long, but the European adventures are an hour. The map on the screen helps us to follow him around, and he narrates his plans for his trip.

In the most recent episode of Great Continental Railway Journeys, Michael went from Athens to Thessaloniki and learned all about how the railways changed the country. 1913 was a pivotal time for the country, which was beginning to expand its borders and modernise. If you watch the episode, you’ll see the beautiful sights of the Acropolis, the Corinth Canal, and the streets of Thessaloniki. But if you tune into an episode when he travels around Britain, you might even see your home town! Mine is on there: he visits our famous pottery, which has been going for centuries.

Michael Portillo, despite his controversial political background, comes across as very endearing in this show. He’s always up for joining in with local activities, even if he does look rather silly. He clearly speaks with passion about his love for the railways and the people that used the trains, and it feels like he’s right at home on television.

Along the way, you’ll join Michael as he learns new things about the people and places he visits. You’ll find some potential tourist destinations you might want to visit in future, but you’ll also get a taste of something far outside the mainstream, something you can do that not many others will be able to say they’ve done. But most importantly, you’ll learn about the world as it was over a hundred years ago, and you can draw parallels between your travels and theirs.

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