With the advancements in rail technology, and the constant evolution of modern high-speed trains, there’s still something quite nostalgic about steam trains. First developed in the United Kingdom during the early 19th century and once an essential mode of transport until the middle of the 20th century, it gives a glimpse of a bygone era, the scenic countryside the perfect setting for this novelty experience.
I recently had the opportunity to be invited onto one of Steam Dreams Rail Co’s summer day trips, on board the grand 61306 Mayflower that was originally built in 1948; one of two surviving powerful B1 Class locomotives that has worked across most of the UK rail network, now fully restored and returned to full mainline operation since early 2019.
To make the most of the longer summer days, the Sunset Steam Express was an ideal way to spend the evening as it took us on a beautiful tour through the Surrey Hills, designated as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, made even more magical by the golden glow of the sunset.
Departing from London Victoria every Tuesday at 1815, we arrived about 20 minutes before to join the queue of fellow smartly dressed passengers at the gates at Platform 2, e-tickets at the ready on my mobile. For those who appreciate a physical ticket to be kept as a memoir, printed tickets can also be requested to be posted via Royal Mail First Class.
The train is equipped with its own specialist onboard kitchen where meals are freshly prepared and served to guests promptly at timed intervals during the journey by the friendly staff. There are two levels of full dining experiences on offer, Premier Dining or the luxurious Pullman Style Dining, from which we were treated to the latter.
It felt like stepping back in time as we boarded our vintage First Class carriage, beautifully refurbished with wood panelling, comfortable seats, table lamps and curtains at the windows. We were seated in one of their cosy two-seater tables, set with crisp white table cloths, tableware and some bread and butter on the side. The day that we travelled started on a bit of a wet and dreary note, but thankfully the skies started to clear towards the evening and even a rainbow made an appearance that added a bit of colour to our picturesque tour.
Our meal consisted of a sumptuous three course dinner which we indulged in together with a bottle of wine. Drinks are able to be pre-ordered online prior to travel or can also be purchased on board on the day.
The starter was a refreshing salad of beetroot and goats cheese, seasonal green leaves, caramelised walnuts that added some nice texture, drizzled with a balsamic dressing. Shortly after we had finished our starters, the train made a brief stop at Chertsey station to replenish water, where we were also allowed to alight and take some photos of the train. Other passengers and train enthusiasts on the platform were equally as intrigued and joined in the excitement.
The mains followed shortly after when we were on the move again – a tender British chicken breast served with a buttery fondant potato, French beans, carrots and a creamy wild mushroom velouté. A hearty portion which certainly filled us up, as we sank back into our seats and admired the views as the Mayflower chugged through Guildford, Chilworth and on to the Surrey Hills, past Dorking, Box Hill and Reigate.
To finish off the meal was a rich and indulgent chocolate and orange tart with salted caramel sauce, accompanied by a choice of tea or coffee, just before the last leg of the journey as we pulled back into Victoria station at 2150.
The Steam Dreams Rail Co. was the first rail charter to be carbon neutral, and has offset the annual carbon footprint of all aspects of its operation for the last ten years. It offers railway travel at its best, coupled with a range of options to suit a variety of tastes, and currently runs day trips to more than 35 destinations across the UK each year, including a number of multi-day tours around the British Isles.
The Sunset Steam Express journeys will run throughout the summer months until Tuesday 23rd August; Pullman Style Dining is priced at £139pp, Premier Dining from £109pp, or Standard Class from £59, where passengers may purchase food and beverages on board, and are also welcome to bring your own food, drink or hampers.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.steamdreams.co.uk, via the Booking Office on 01483209888 or at the station on the day, subject to availability.
- I was invited to review the Sunset Steam Express – views and photos are my own.