Neil Hennessy-Vass relives the golden age of steam by dining in luxury on an evening excursion to Windsor
Imagine sitting in a comfortable armchair, a table set for dinner in front of you, an attentive waiter at your beck and call, chilled champagne for a summer evening and a moving backdrop, why not? Wait, what was that? A moving backdrop, surely Neil you were describing one of the many restaurants you review? Well yes and no. Yes, this establishment does serve food (very good food at that) but it is not a restaurant but a train. And no ordinary train, a steam train no less. The first scheduled steam service to run out of London Waterloo for 50 years.
The Steam Dreams Company has started a luxury summer service from London to Windsor every Tuesday. Three trains run a day and there are different classes of carriage; Pullman style dining and first class are on offer. These wonderful wood panelled 1950s carriages take you back to a bygone era. Placed firmly in Poirot mode M and I boarded the inaugural voyage at Waterloo with high expectations, a sense of old school manners and decorum and a belief that people just might be more polite than is to be expected in today’s rush around society. I was right on all accounts.
There is a sense of occasion (which was only to be expected) but unlike most events, this really lived up to the dream. We found our seats, the whistle blew (there were many ‘trainspotters’ taking photos and swapping numbers) and with a puff of steam, we were off. The first thing we noticed was that there was a pleasant chug chug to the evening. The older style trains while not as fast as new ones certainly have character (in coal scuttle loads).
It was a real crowd pleaser, from boys in shorts on bridges waving flags (yes really) to grown-ups with cameras everywhere the train went it was greeted with smiles and cheers from the platforms, roadsides and bridges. We felt like royalty as the evening passed with a round or was it two of canapés with champagne followed by starters and an excellent chicken and then pud. All prepared on the moving train (which on this evening’s special run only stopped once for water, how sweet). It was like being in a real life Thomas the Tank Engine world and we didn’t want it to stop.
Our B1 Class locomotive was called Mayflower, one of only two surviving examples built in 1948. The 61306 Mayflower was designed to carry freight as well as passengers and saw service from East Anglia to Scotland. She was the last B1 class engine in service when she retired in 1967. Put out to graze in a caring museum she was fully restored and came out of retirement for runs in the 1970s then after another furlough she was brought back into service earlier this year. She’s no slouch in the speed department though; at 75 miles per hour, she cuts a graceful silhouette across the Home Counties.
If the Champagne Breakfast to see the Queen at her country residence in Windsor gives you a taste for steam (I defy you not to be charmed by this train and the carriages) other dining options are available. With the Sunset Dining journey lasting 3.5 hours you’ll be able to savour your smoked salmon and horseradish and mackerel canapés, a roast rosemary and garlic chicken main, a trio of desserts and some rather exquisite chocolate truffles as the train ploughs through the late evening sunshine. Table lamps, silver service, wood panelled carriages and a smile on your face guaranteed. So dust down your straw hats, put your glad rags on and head on down to Waterloo for the ride of your life on the Sunset Steam Express (but at a very pleasant speed)!
The Steam Dreams Rail Company
Tel: 01483 209888