CHRIST­MAS BELLE

De­spite a sad lack of Agatha Christie-style mur­der and may­hem, Carly Chynoweth en­joys a jour­ney from Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh on the most glam­orous of trains

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

AGATHA Christie made trav­el­ling on the Ori­ent Ex­press sound like a ball. Ad­mit­tedly that whole awk­ward mur­der sit­u­a­tion might have put a bit of a damper on the oc­ca­sion but, fren­zied stab­bing aside, things sounded lovely. Ex­pen­sive lug­gage, debonair men, silk-clad ladies and enough cham­pagne to fuel even the row­di­est wed­ding. Not that there would have been ac­tual row­di­ness on board, mind you; not with all those aris­to­cratic types to im­press.

So when I am of­fered the chance to take a trip on the North­ern Belle — a his­toric Bri­tish train that’s run by the same com­pany and is fit­ted with all the wood-pan­elled lux­ury en­joyed by rich trav­ellers in the 1930s — I ac­cept. Or, more ac­cu­rately, I say yes then boast to all my friends about how I am go­ing to catch a posh train from Lon­don to Ed­in­burgh and they aren’t.

Then I read the fine print that asks pas­sen­gers to dress for the oc­ca­sion and re­frain from wear­ing jeans, train­ers or T-shirts. Ob­vi­ously this is a per­fectly rea­son­able re­quest; af­ter all, scruffy guests would rather lower the tone and pos­si­bly even de­feat the pur­pose of sip­ping wine from fine crys­tal glasses rather than guz­zle lager from 500ml cans, as is more usual on long train jour­neys in the UK.

The prob­lem is that my hus­band, a self­em­ployed com­puter programmer, rarely wears any­thing but jeans, train­ers and T-shirt. In the end we settle for the trousers and shoes that he wore to our wed­ding with a smart woollen jumper over a T-shirt.

The next chal­lenge comes on the day of de­par­ture, which is sched­uled for far too early on a Fri­day morn­ing. We plan to catch an Un­der­ground train to Vic­to­ria Sta­tion, where we can step off the Tube and into the North­ern Belle’s de­par­ture lounge.

Un­for­tu­nately we are trav­el­ling in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math of in­dus­trial ac­tion, which means the Tube we catch takes us some­where al­most en­tirely un­help­ful, from where we switch to a black cab and grow in­creas­ingly tense about whether we’ll ac­tu­ally make it on board.

By the time we get to the sta­tion I am slightly fraz­zled but my sense of happy smug­ness soon re­turns as we push our way past grim-faced com­muters buy­ing train sta­tion cof­fee and on to our plat­form, where a fully-kit­ted piper squeezes his bag and an im­pec­ca­bly turned-out stew­ard — bet­ter­dressed than me, by quite some mar­gin — takes our lug­gage and di­rects us to­wards a man with a tray of fancy break­fast canapes and easy ac­cess to a teapot. I ac­cept a cup of tea, wor­ried that fel­low guests will con­sider me a com­plete al­co­holic if I ask for fizz be­fore 8am, only to en­ter the de­par­ture lounge and see a room full of white-haired ladies glee­fully sip­ping cham­pagne.

I’ve barely clinked my (Wedg­wood) teacup back on to its saucer be­fore it is time to start board­ing. Even this sim­ple task is given a sense of oc­ca­sion, what with the piper and the natty lit­tle flip-down red car­pets at ev­ery car­riage door.

Once inside and seated in my deep redand-gold arm­chair at our private linen­cov­ered ta­ble, I re­alise that even the train is far bet­ter dressed than me or in­deed most of the pas­sen­gers. Rich car­pets, heavy drapes, wooden pan­els dec­o­rated with mar­quetry crafted from 800-year-old tim­ber and an ex­ten­sive use of shiny brass things cre­ate a dis­tinct sense of op­u­lence. Small de­tails aren’t forgotten, ei­ther: our ta­ble is set with fat sil­ver cut­lery, fresh flow­ers and a nifty lit­tle dish that I ini­tially see no pur­pose for but which turns out to be a but­ter cooler, com­plete with a com­part­ment for iced wa­ter so we won’t have to suf­fer the in­con­ve­nience of over-soft spread.

Along­side all this comes equally good ser­vice. There is no strug­gling to and from a cafe car with sty­ro­foam cups of caf­feine; we barely have to look thirsty be­fore pots of cof­fee and tea are hov­er­ing over our cups.

As our train trun­dles through some of the uglier parts of Lon­don we are dis­tracted with a fancy brunch and sev­eral rounds of belli­nis. By the time we’ve fin­ished eat­ing, the land­scape has set­tled into the pretty rolling fields of an English post­card, only oc­ca­sion­ally punc­tu­ated by in­dus­trial parks or the back sides of out-of-town su­per­mar­kets.

Train takes the strain: Pas­sen­gers aboard the North­ern Belle en­joy old-fash­ioned lux­ury as they speed from Lon­don to the Scot­tish cap­i­tal

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