MY Twitter bio reads: “I mainly tweet complaints to train companies.”
I live in London and don’t own a car so spend my weekdays commuting on public transport, and weekends on yet more trains visiting friends and family.
All that means a lot of delays and cancellations and more than a little frustration. But there is another way.
The Northern Belle is train travel the way we wish it still was – a delicious dose of railway nostalgia with all the romance of a bygone age.
Once owned by Orient Express, it was purchased by Huddersfield businessman David Pitts three years ago and, since its refurbishment, has been described as “Britain’s most luxurious train”.
It has been pulled by the magnificent Flying Scotsman and other famous steam engines, but the majority of trips are with a vintage diesel loco.
It was the perfect way for my train- enthusiast dad Nigel to enjoy a day out and perhaps change my view of choo-choos.
I arrive at London’s Victoria Station at 9am to find dad chatting away to a very friendly lady with a clipboard dressed like something from the Hogwarts Express.
I assume she’s trying to sell him something – when else is someone so smiley in London? But no, Janet checks our tickets and walks us along Platform 1 to show us which carriage to board.
I rarely receive this level of service at a restaurant, let alone on a train, and as we wave Janet goodbye we’re greeted by yet another impeccably dressed young man, with a huge smile, who welcomes us aboard.
As we walk through to our carriage, my jaw falls open at what lies inside.
It’s what I imagine walking into the Ritz in the 1930s would be like. The richly patterned carpets match the huge armchair seats.
Each of the seven carriages is named after a great British castle or stately home. Every one has been individually restored by some of the country’s top craftspeople.
We take our seats at a private table by the window and I only bring my jaw off the floor when our waiter – yes, waiter – asks if we’d like a glass of champagne to toast our journey.
As I sip my bubbles, I realise this could be the moment I change my opinion of train travel for ever. We are served breakfast – and there’s no anaemic train café croissant in sight.
GO: Vintage Train
THE Northern Belle operates from various stations to destinations all over Britain.
There are also round trips through the countryside where passengers can tuck into a Great British Sunday Lunch, a Classic Afternoon Tea or even enjoy a Murder Mystery Lunch.
Other trips go to the theatre and big race meetings such as Cheltenham and Ascot.
Fares start at £210 and include food and drink.
For more details see northernbelle.co.uk or phone 01270 899681.
Served in fine china bowls with silver cutlery, are fresh yoghurt, strawberries, granola and honey. But that’s just the starter. Next is smoked salmon and scrambled eggs on toast, with tea and coffee on tap.
Our welcome packs include beautifully illustrated maps of our route and sites along the way. Every time we pull into a station, my train-buff dad excitedly waves at passengers on the platform who gaze in awe at our luxury train.
It’s a beautiful journey and, two hours later, I almost don’t want to get off to explore Winchester. We have six hours to enjoy the city, which is more than enough to visit the cathedral, see King Arthur’s Round Table and stop for a few coffees along the way.
Before we know, it it’s time to head back and I have to stop myself from feeling giddy with excitement at what our journey home might offer.
Our friendly carriage staff are waiting for us and it’s not long before they are serving afternoon tea.
Four flavours of finger sandwiches, cakes, muffins and brownies all adorn the four-tiered silver stand, and I feel like I’m in heaven.
As we pass through stations I find myself waving along with my dad at the people on the platform and realise that, for years, he’s been right – journeying by train really can be the best way to travel.
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