Looking ahead from the dining car seat, the train takes a left turn heading south through Banbury.
The platform ahead is packed with receding travelers as the now-unknown steam locomotive squeals a warning whistle and roars through the station at 82 mph, followed by 700 tons of metal at top speed. Stunned passersby are engulfed in a cloud of steam and that nostalgic smell of coal smoke. They caught a glimpse of a soot-covered driver in blue overalls staring straight ahead, the intense glow from the combustion chamber, the gleaming silverware on the white tablecloths, and the uniformed attendants; So different from the commuter train to Reading they expected.
Grab another bite of Yorkshire pudding from your roast dinner, a sip of excellent merlot, and happily gaze across this heavenly valley in search of Oxford. This is not a rose-tinged fantasy of what the British railways were like. There are excursion trains and preserved lines that you can travel today. Here are some favorites …
Majestic: The Jacobite train that crosses the spectacular curved Glenfinnan Viaduct in Scotland, featured in the Harry Potter films.
The Jacobite Train, Britain’s most successful mainline steam service, operates every summer on the national network from Fort William to Mallaig. This crosses the spectacular curved Glenfinnan Viaduct, seen in a Harry Potter movie with the Hogwarts Express and a flying Ford Anglia.
The latter may not be there on your ride, but you’ll enjoy the proper steam whistles, the roar of safety valves, the chuff-chuff-chuff sound when the wheels slide on rainy days, and the click- clack of traditional coaches without motor.
It is not too long for a family outing, affordable and reliable. The engines do a proper job at a decent distance, with sweaty firefighter and driver. Yes, it’s nostalgia for more innocent times when dirty obscenity meant something in your eyes.
Mind you, it had its comedic moments when a speaker announced ‘this is a non-smoking train’. At that very moment, the locomotive was placing a huge gray and black quilt in the sky about 500 meters long.
All aboard: Tickets from £ 49 (westcoastrailways.co.uk).
The Keighley & Worth Valley Railroad, pictured, was made famous by the movie The Railway Children
Keighley is the crossroads of an extraordinary steam line, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, which takes you to the Bronte region. This picturesque line was made famous by the movie The Railway Children, but you won’t have to tear up your red petticoats and run down the line like Jenny Agutter to stop the trains; They have already fixed the cuts.
All aboard: 1 day rover tickets £ 18 (kwvr.co.uk).
What’s exciting about the Railway Touring Company excursions is that (unlike most preserved lines) they travel at top speed behind steam engines like the newly built Tornado, which recently clocked 100 mph, and the rebuilt Flying Scotsman, the first locomotive officially timed at that speed. – all with excellent dining options.
These trips are not cheap. Can you imagine the cost of rebuilding the locomotives and trains to the standards of the main line? But they are worth it. Plus, not everyone is London-centric, with a great ‘Cheshireman’ day trip from Bristol to the Marches of Wales and then to Chester on November 13, for example.
All aboard: Cheshireman trip from £ 259 with breakfast and four course dinner (railwaytouring.net).
The Dartmouth Steam Railway, pictured, never reaches Dartmouth, but ends at Kingswear on the other side of the river.
Dartmouth’s glorious steam train offers charm and beauty. The sight, sound and smell of GWR castles with copper chimneys are splendid, while Halls or Granges pull chocolate and cream carriages up the steep shore behind Goodrington Beach to reach the top at Churston.
If you smell Hercule Poirot, it’s because author Agatha Christie lived here on beautiful Greenway (National Trust).
Then the train descends into the beautiful Dart Estuary. In fact, the railway never reaches Dartmouth, but ends at Kingswear on the other side of the river; a ferry will take you into town.
All aboard: Tickets from £ 19.60 (dartmouthrailriver.co.uk).
THE WATERCRESS LINE
Passengers traveling on the Watercress Line, pictured, receive local watercress on the dining trains.
Alton connects directly to the Mid-Hants Railroad, better known as the Watercress Line because the chalk streams in the area grew it in such quantities that special watercress deals used to hit the city’s markets.
Even today, you can have local watercress served on the dining trains on this ten-mile route through rolling countryside.
All aboard: Day tickets from £ 16 (watercressline.co.uk).
IN THE LAND OF BLYTON
The Swanage Railway offers views of Corfe Castle, pictured: ‘an incredibly picturesque ruin’
On Dorset’s so-called Isle of Purbeck, the charming Swanage Railway offers prime Enid Blyton-style scenery, from the seaside town to Corfe Castle, the incredibly picturesque ruin perched on a hill above the village and station.
Has – hooray! – has finally been reconnected to the main line at Wareham.
All aboard: Round trip tickets from £ 16 (swanagerailway.co.uk).
Creature Amenities – Enjoy Afternoon Tea on the Strathspey Line, keeping the steam alive in the Highlands
The Strathspey Railway, changing at Aviemore for a ten mile trip to Boat of Garten and Broomhill, is doing a great job of keeping steam in the Highlands alive. There are dinners some nights, and a piper will see you off.
All aboard: Round trip tickets from £ 16.75 (strathspeyrailway.co.uk).
According to Benedict, the Ffestiniog railway, pictured, has ‘cubes of Victorian / Edwardian charm’
A sign marking the way to the Ffestiniog railway in Wales
It is amazing how many preserved railways the Welsh think they need: they have more than a dozen. But for a land whose legends involve fire-breathing dragons, what could be more apt than little steam engines charging over the hills?
They won’t be luxurious except in the landscape, with cubes of Victorian / Edwardian charm, but try narrow gauge lines like the Ffestiniog railway. Change at Blaenau Ffestiniog (from the north) or Minffordd (from the south). Or try the Welsh Highland Railway, change at Porthmadog, or start at Carnarvon. It is a cookie.
All aboard: Returns from £ 35 (festrail.co.uk).
A CORKER YORKSHIRE
Benedict says the scenery is ‘magnificent’ from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway (above), where Tom Cruise’s seventh film Mission: Impossible was filmed.
Not surprisingly, the crime TV series Heartbeat and recently Tom Cruise’s seventh movie Mission: Impossible were filmed on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway from Pickering.
The scenery is magnificent and a Pullman dining train can be booked. Change at Grosmont. It even goes down to Whitby, from where Captain Cook set sail.
All aboard: Day tickets from £ 38 (nymr.co.uk).