When people describe their mode of transport in today’s modern world, the words ‘luxurious’ and ‘relaxing’ are rarely used. The bygone years of spending many enjoyable hours taking in beautiful sights as you leisurely travel to your destination seem to have long gone and are instead replaced with tales of woe, delays, and cramped conditions.
However, there are still some traditional ways to get from A to B, and one of them, a Steam Dreams rail trip, is most definitely a one-way ticket to the dream journeys of yesteryear. As I wound my way through idyllic countryside from London to Chichester in the very lap of luxury on a beautifully resorted steam train, it didn’t take much to imagine one could perhaps see Hercule Poirot popping up around the corner or grand dames dressed to the nines in formal attire waiting on the platform.
As our locomotive sped its way to the annual Goodwood Revival festival in West Sussex, it was easy to feel like I was part of something special as crowds of genuine trainspotters gathered at every station to capture a glimpse of the iconic 61306 Mayflower on which we were travelling. And it’s no surprise; this particular train was built in 1948, working out of Hull before taking a last trip in 1967.
She was fully restored in 1970, working on a number of railtours, and then again in 2014. Myself and my fellow travellers almost felt like mini celebrities as we ate delicious food, drank wine poured by our silver service waitstaff, and comfortably reclined in individual armchairs straight out of an Agatha Christie novel.
My day out with The Steam Dreams Rail Company had begun bright and early at Paddington Station, where the ‘green’ carpet was rolled out as we embarked into the old-fashioned carriage. Divided into partitions, each table was laid with pristine tablecloths and beautiful crockery while the seats themselves provided the maximum comfort. As the train set off and we sipped our welcome Bellinis, passengers were immediately transported to a different era as the vehicle’s chimneys bellowed steam while we perused the menu for breakfast.
The journey began first in the Thames Valley and then parts of Hampshire, travelling though the beautiful city of Winchester and then following the River Itchen to Eastleigh before meandering along the south coast – which meant the privilege of seeing beautiful views of the Solent River – until we reached our final destination of Chichester.
As I left London behind, the air became clearer and the view more picturesque as the locomotive chugged along the rails. But there was more than just the view outside the window to amuse us – breakfast was fresh, delicious, and totally luxurious, served by a uniformed waitress who managed to delicately navigate the twists and turns of the train as she poured out some much-needed coffee and tea.
The menu offered something for everyone; the starter was a tricolour melon and blueberry salad with natural yoghurt and seeded granola, followed by a choice of a traditional English breakfast featuring grilled back bacon, Cumberland sausage, eggs and black pudding or smoked salmon on toasted artisan sourdough with a poached egg in a hollandaise sauce.
As more coffee and tea were served, we were treated to a selection of baked pastries with jam and butter. Fully stuffed, we relaxed by watching the beautiful scenes roll by before it was time to gather our (vintage) things and alight at Chichester in anticipation of a day spent enjoying all the many attractions of Goodwood Revival. Of course, this being The Steam Dreams Rail Company trip, we completed the rest of our journey in style by boarding a vintage bus, complete with 1960s adverts and a hop-on hop-off style set of steps and poles at the back of the vehicle.
Fully immersed in the spirit of post-war Britain, we pulled into the site to be greeted by hundreds upon hundreds of car and vintage fans who had fully embraced the suggested revival dress sense for the day, pulling on their finest floral tea dresses, vintage headscarves, and chic hats to better absorb the atmosphere.
Regarded as the spiritual home of British racing, we observed a race on the tracks from the comfort of the grandstand before wandering around and admiring all the vintage cars on display, ranging from race cars to police vehicles to 1920s open-top cars. At one point we were even treated to the sight of veteran Formula 1 legend Jackie Stewart driving through the crowds in a vintage car.
After a dreamy day spent browsing through the vintage pop-up shops and admiring cars from another era, time flew as it was suddenly time to board our vintage bus back to Chichester Station for a relaxing journey home aboard the Mayflower. We were offered sparkling wine immediately, which we sipped while nibbling on canapes before a four-course dinner was served, which included an assiette of south coast fish for a starter followed by herb-fed chicken supreme with wild mushrooms and griddled baby leeks.
A hugely sumptuous cheese board was then wheeled into our carriage on its own trolley for passengers to make their selections before the final course came in the form of plum and almond tart with vanilla cream, all washed down with wine, water and freshly brewed coffee.
We arrived back to London’s Paddington fully sated, refreshed, and feeling like we had been treated to a blissful country break in the lap of luxury.
If Goodwood Revival isn’t your thing, The Steam Dreams Rail Company also offers trips to Arundel Castle in West Sussex while there is also the opportunity to visit Christmas markets in York Bath and Windsor and further trips next year.
For more information, look up www.steamdreams.co.uk