Clare White steps into the glamorous age of steam on this elegant train journey from London to Chester which is the very essence of a British experience.
If you enjoy adventure and feel the joy of the journey is more important than the destination, then Steam Dreams Cathedrals Express is the trip for you.
It’s early on Saturday morning at London’s Euston Station and we are heading for Chester via Crewe, where we will pick up our steam engine. But for the moment we are going to be pulled by a very stylish 1960s diesel engine: our lovely period restaurant car with crisp white tablecloths is waiting for us, and the sweet and unfussy staff are ready to serve yummy croissants with strawberry jam and marmalade, orange juice and a glass of champagne with plenty of tea and coffee.
As London’s Round House and Wembley Arch flash passed we realise that we’re on a very special trip. Everyone in the carriage is set for a good time, whether they are train enthusiasts or people simply enjoying a thoughtful present from a loved one. The mood is merry.
Looking out of the window as the countryside opens up, we see fields of lambs and England’s extensive canal network with its colourful barges slowly gliding along. Much of the route is accompanied by canals. After an hour or so, a full English breakfast is served and the carriage is full of very positive comments and the enthusiasts note down the exact times we pass through each station — the company supplies a helpful timing sheet.
We head into Crewe where the main event is waiting for us: our 1936 Jubilee Class 45699 Galatea steam engine. We gather on the platform to watch it steam into sight. There is no hiding a steam train: it arrives in a glorious cloud that fills the platform. It is beautiful, and train-spotters assemble in the car park to catch a glimpse.
The stage is set; these engines are like film stars. We head into the beautiful Shropshire countryside, with banks of primroses and lovely farmland, and every quiet lane or remote bridge has photographers set up with tripods to enjoy the train. We feel the glamour of the 1940s: we’re the lucky ones who are on the train. You find yourself waving to groups of people as you pass like you’re the Queen. Horses canter away in their fields, and sheep and rabbits’ waggly white bottoms race off up banks and meadows as the mighty engine accelerates along. This is The Railway Children and Thomas the Tank Engine – the very essence of a British experience.
The train arrives at Shrewsbury to platforms full of people – and everyone smiles when they see a steam train.
This is where events are slightly dampened by Network Rail. Just as some delicious chocolate cake and macaroons are served, we all have to get off the train. We cannot stay on the train as it turns over certain junction points.
But this is greeted with cheerful comments; my fellow travellers have seen this before, and many are old hands plenty of trips under their belts. There are lots of Cathedral Express staff to help: the changes in plans are dealt with efficiently and with good humour. It gives us a chance to see the engine again as it shunts backwards and forwards but does now mean that there is virtually no time in Chester.
Not everything goes to plan, but this is the Steam Age. And as we tuck into our excellent four-course evening meal, including a lovely cheese board, on our return journey, now hulled by diesel again, senior staff from The Cathedral Express walk the carriage asking who would like to book another trip, and virtually everyone is happy to put their name down for another adventure.
Steam Dreams is hoping to have the Princess Elizabeth engine available for journeys this summer as part of HM The Queen’s 90th birthday celebrations. Now that will be special!
Visit Steam Dreams here.
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