|Taking the Nostalgia Line
by Sarah Shuckburgh
Sarah Shuckburgh relives the
glorious days of steam and enjoys every minute.
OUR steamy affair began at Watford Junction. It was not
yet dawn, early for love but not for a ride with Steamy
Affairs, a small company that organises trips aboard vintage
trains across Britain. We were bound for Bristol via
Birmingham and Bath.
As my friend Caroline and I boarded our carriage, we were
struck by the starched white antimacassars protecting the
velour upholstery, the crisp white damask cloth over the
table and the white china. The carriage was carpeted, filled
with polished wood and had windows that opened.
At each table was what can only be described as a
trainspotter's checklist, showing distances to be covered
and scheduled timings. Entering into the spirit, we decided
to fill in the various columns, but Caroline's watch had
stopped and mine had no second-hand - the timings were to be
that precise. Was that Tring flashing by? If so, is it 05.50
and 30 seconds? Did Ledburn Junction go by at 05.57?
Lots of men and a handful of women joined the train at stops
en route to Birmingham, where we were coupled to the steam
engine that was to take us to Bristol.
I got talking to Michael Taylor, a railway historian and fan
of such trips. The engine, he told, me was a 35005 Canadian
Pacific, built in the Second World War by Oliver Bulleid
(with a revolutionary "Spam can" casing, apparently). It
hauled trains out of Waterloo until 1967, one of about 40
Merchant Navy Class expresses.
While I was becoming a rail buff, a full cooked breakfast
was being served in our carriage. Scurrying back from the
belching engine, we snaffled every scrap of the vast - and
delicious - spread.
It was 07.51 (checked and ticked) as we steamed out of
Birmingham, and a glorious sunny day. Barry Freeman (deputy
president of the Guild of Railway Artists) regaled us over
the Tannoy with snippets of train trivia. A smoky smell
wafted through the open window, bringing back memories: all
that was missing was the comforting clackety-clack of the
At Leamington Junction there was a delay (08.21 to 08.36) as
we waited for a train to pass, and here, as along most of
our route, all vantage points were populated by men in
anoraks anxious to see, and to take pictures of, the 35005.
At Aynho Junction, I entered 09.06 and 30 seconds in the
log, guessing the half-minute. At 11.26 (dutifully logged)
we passed through Swindon. I was fast becoming a Rail
After a fine lunch, I explored the train. The engine was
hauling 13 carriages, with 410 passengers and only 13 empty
Steamy Affairs was set up four years ago to bridge the gap
between luxury train journeys such as the Orient Express and
budget outings for trainspotters.
As in the old days, it offers three classes - though now
they are known as Club, Saloon and Silver - including
seat-only, light meals, or a full breakfast, lunch and
dinner extravaganza. Hostesses look after passengers in all
classes, giving the train a comfortable, old-fashioned feel.
Bath (12.15, bang on schedule) was followed by Bristol,
where we had a chance to see the city and join a free trip
in vintage coaches to visit Harvey's Wine Cellars, home of
Bristol Cream sherry. At 16.25 - by now we were as
regimented as soldiers - it was back into our plush seats
and, despite the hour, a round of early evening drinks.
Outside the window, mad March hares boxed in the fields; the
Uffington White Horse gleamed on a distant hill;
rooks wheeled in a clear sky; and deer glanced up as we
rattled past. It was almost dark when we stopped (18.15)
to take on water for the second time - 6,500 gallons brought
by tanker. There was a 50-minute pause during which supper
Fresh linen napkins were provided, the plates were warmed
and we ate in cheerful mood, relaxed by the companionship
that had developed during the day. A third delicious meal
was rounded off with syrup sponge - steamed, naturally - and
a conversation in which it emerged that not a single man in
the carriage knew of a female rail enthusiast.
By the time we reached Watford, Caroline and I had been on
board for 14 hours, enough time to fly to Bangkok. The train
had gone through eight tons of coal and 13,000 gallons of
water to get us back where we started.
No steamy affair, of course - just the odd
Celia-Johnson-Brief-Encounter whiff of nostalgic longing -
but plenty of old-fashioned comfort, good company, lovely
countryside and fine food. Better still, no mobile phones,
no piped music, no smoking and nothing but unobtrusive charm
from the hostesses. Would that all away days could be so
Steamy Affairs (01553 828107; www.steamy-affairs.co.uk)
offers steam specials across the country, including the Bath
& Bristol Explorer (departs Birmingham; pick-ups from
Watford and beyond) and the Cumbrian Mountain Express (from
Crewe via Shap, Settle and Carlisle; pick-ups start at
Coventry). Prices start from £69 for Club (reserved seat
only) to £159 for Silver Service (seat plus full breakfast,
lunch and dinner). The next trip runs from Ashford, Kent, to
Bath and Bristol (pick-ups en route) on March 31; the train
will be pulled by the Flying Scotsman.
Steam trains in the UK
This rescued line began services in 1960, making it
Britain's first preserved standard gauge railway to carry
passengers. It runs in an 18-mile loop through the Sussex
countryside from Sheffield Park via Horstead Keynes. Summer
events at Horstead Keynes include the Toy and Railway
Collectors Fair (July 21-22) and the annual Steam and
Country Fair (July 28-29), a gathering of over 500 vintage
steam engines, tractors, cars and motorbikes. Futher
information on the line and events (01825 723777; recorded
timetable and public transport 01825 722370;
www.bluebellrailway.co.uk). A family day pass costs £21.50
(two adults and up to three children), adult £8, child £4.
Keighley and Worth Valley
This five-mile west Yorkshire railway must be Britain's most
familiar steam line, if only because it was used during the
filming of The Railway Children. Summer events include
"Thomas" (the Tank Engine) weekends (June 9- 10 and Sept
22-23) and Enthusiasts' Weekends (May 12-13, 20-21).
Information (01535 645214; www.kwvr.co.uk). Unlimited use
day pass: family £20, adult £8, child £4. Ordinary returns
£16, £6, £3.
Kent and East Sussex Railway
Enjoy the 10-mile ride from Tenterden in Kent to Bodiam in
Sussex and then eat in the village's excellent Castle Inn.
The main event this summer is the Steam and Country Fair
(July 21- 22). Information (01580 765155; www.kesr.org.uk).
Family £20, adult £7.50, child £3.75.
Runs for seven-and-a-half miles from Stibbington to
Peterborough in Cambridgeshire, including a "haunted tunnel"
and halts at Yarwell Junction, Ferry Meadows and Orton Mere,
where you can take boat trips and pony rides. Information
(01780 784444; www.nvr.org.uk). Family (two adults and up to
three children) £20, adult £10 (one child travels free with
each adult); child £4.
North Yorkshire Moors Railway
An 18-mile line from Pickering to Grosmont through the
magnificent scenery of the North Yorkshire Moors National
Park. There is great walking from the halts en route, and in
Grosmont you are at the centre of countryside that forms the
setting for ITV's series, Heartbeat. The most popular
events, as with many other steam lines, are "Thomas
Weekends" (June 16-17 and Sept 8-9). Information (01751
472508; www.northyorkshiremoorsrailway.com). Family (two
adults, two children) £25 (three children £27), adult £10,
Severn Valley Railway
A pretty 16-mile line from Kidderminster to Bridgnorth with
opportunities for country walks (call for current access
restrictions) between the half-dozen halts en route. The
line's most popular events are "Thomas Weekends" (May 12-13,
19-20 and Sept 1-2, 8-9) when the locos carry the famous
faces of Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. Special
"1940s Weekends" with many themed events take place on June
30-July 1 and July 7-8. Information (01299 403816;
www.svr.co.uk). Family £25 (two adults and up to four
children), adult £9.60, child £4.80 (all allow unlimited
number of journeys).
The world's first preserved narrow-gauge railway celebrates
its 50th anniversary with special events throughout the
year. The line runs between Tywyn Wharf and Nant Gwernol,
taking in the lovely scenery south of Cadair Idris in
mid-Wales. The railway is home to Edward Thomas, better
known as Peter Sam (aka Stuart) in the Thomas the Tank
Engine stories. Sadly, Peter is out of commission for
engineering repairs this year, but his place has been taken
by Duncan, who appears in "Duncan's Big Day Out" on Aug 27.
Information (01654 710472; www.talyllyn.co.uk). Adult £9,
First published by the Telegraph