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jun 25

Britain debuts its first high-speed commuter train, easing daytrips from London

On Monday (June 29), London debuts its first high-speed train. Called the The Javelin—because it will help to shuttle crowds during the 2012 Olympics—the train connects London's St. Pancras station with the villages of Ashford and Ebbsfleet in Great Britain's southeastern corner of Kent.

The new service reduces the travel time from about 80 minutes to about 37, opening up opportunities to take a few daytrips out of London to Kent in southeast England. Fares on The Javelin are only about $10 higher than on the slower, traditional service (about £26 or $43 each way).

What is there to see once you get there?

The train drops you off at the Ashford International station. While cute, Ashford isn't that interesting, except perhaps for its Rare Species Conservation Centre, a one-mile walk from the station.

But from the railway station, it's easy to hop a coach to Canterbury, Dover, Sandwich, and many of Kent's other coastal cities. National Express runs affordable service to all of the key villages. It's a five-to-ten-minute walk to the center of Ashford, where National Express lines leave. Or hop a local bus taxi to that point from the train station.

To see medieval forts and castles, head over to Canterbury, a town with a dozen free attractions and gardens. Or consider purchasing an attraction pass, which gives you access to the famous cathedral, a kid-friendly attraction based on the Canterbury Tales, St Augustine's Abbey, plus one of the city's museums at £18.50 (about $30) for adult admission.

If you prefer to rent a car, find the Avis car rental/hire shop located within walking distance from the Ashford station. (For rental rates, call Avis at 011-44/870-608-6415.) A short drive south and you can stop to walk along the White Cliffs of Dover. (There's no entry charge to this national parkland.) Hike the clifftops to Dover Castle or Samphire Hoe for sea fishing, wildlife, and quiet picnics. Or take a number of other trips throughout the mountainous Kent Downs.

Looking for less touristed spots? Outside the Ashford station, you'll also find a Stagecoach bus to old-fashioned Tenterden for winetasting at the Chapel Down vineyards. Guided tours are £7 (about $11) for adults.

Or maybe check out Sandwich's historic sites. Stop outside the city at the White Mill heritage center for local tourism suggestions.

—David Cumming

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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