All aboard a train journey to an evocative past

10.30am at London Victoria Station. All aboard the Belmond British Pullman train for a day of elegance, fine wines, a gourmet lunch and fun. Expectant passengers heading to platform 1 brush past bleary eyed ‘customers,’ emptying off crowded sardine tins on wheels, late morning commuters off to work.  We are those ‘passengers’ and we are joining the Belmond British Pullman train service to… well a train journey to an evocative past; an era of refinement and indulgence – the world of Agatha Christie and her greatest creation ‘Hercule Poirot’.

We are on one of the regular half day trips into the lush countryside of Kent, the Garden of England – such a contrast to the glass concrete, noise and hubbub of London and yet really so close by. As the villages, woodland, fields and distinctive Oast Houses (where they flavour hops for a good pint of proper beer!) steadily roll by, we relax in plush arm chairs and the lovingly restored art deco splendour of ‘Perseus’ one of the Belmond British Pullman carriages.

Each carriage with exquisite interiors and other distinctive names like Cygnus, Ione, Lucille, Minerva, Phoenix and Zena, transport you back in time to the 20s and 30s. For a few hours as stewards serve you champagne, and a five course gourmet lunch which today, includes delicate smoked salmon and crab terrine, mouth watering roast beef, a fine selection of English cheeses, desserts and a bottle of wine per person, we make believe we are on the set of a classic murder mystery film.

There are only 16 passengers in the main carriage (there are separate four people compartments for private more intimate parties at one end), so it is easy and natural to become sociable and friendly with the fellow guests (because that is how we are treated – very luxury, very 5 star).  And after champagne, a bottle of wine or two, and liqueurs, we become very convivial.  Add to the mix, a table top magician and a trio of Andrews Sisters type close harmony singers ‘doo – wopping’ to an appreciative audience we become a real onboard party. The table top magician easily befuddles me in my current relaxed state and afterwards the whole carriage join the singers in a chorus of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B.’ (Bette Midler eat your heart out).

Later, after lunch, we form small exploration parties to head up and down the train, so we get to see the other carriages – and meet the other revellers – anniversary gatherings and birthday party groups, mainly.  A word about the loos – our carriage Perseus has an amazing classical floor Mosaic depicting the hero riding his winged horse Pegasus – in any other circumstance, taking pics of the floors of train loos would cause some eyebrows to be raised – but I think you will understand why I did on this occasion.

We visit Chef in his galley to thank him for such a delicious meal. Even in this era of convenience and efficiency we are amazed at the cramp conditions he and his team work in to provide such consistent high quality food all at once for each guest. Much of the food, being fresh, is prepared and plated just moments before being served. The knowledgeable hosts and conductors are as much a part of the train experience as the décor. Many have worked for the current company and it predecessors for over twenty years and the stewards, in finely tailored uniforms, shiny buttons glistening, provide impeccable silver service – keeping a worthy tradition alive.

Bringing together carriages from the such famous trains as Bournemouth Belle, Brighton Belle, Golden Arrow and the Queen of Scots,  Belmond British Pullman ensures this wonderful train heritage continues to tive and survive. As well as operating the famous Venice Simplon-Orient-Express BelmondBritish Pullman operates special excursions, regularly, all over the UK, throughout the year, sometimes trains pulled by steam engines.

Today, we are on a half day excursion looping around Kent, like a luxury cruise to nowhere, great for a couple or a group, perfect to celebrate something really special – and provided you don’t over indulge – not easy on this train – you will have an amazing memory.

Late afternoon back at London Victoria, Southern Trains customers, grim faced, scrabble to find stark nylon covered seats in harsh LED lit carriages to take them home, brushing past a group of glowing passengers stepping in the opposite direction away from platform 1 humming  ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B’.

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