CHRIST­MAS BELLE

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

I sup­pose this part of the jour­ney could be bor­ing for small chil­dren or any­one not made pleas­antly snoozy by food, wine and mo­tion, but I soon find my­self dis­tracted by our stew­ard’s tales: he is co­me­dian Russ Ab­bot’s older brother and a for­mer mer­chant sea­man who once sat Jayne Mans­field on his knee.

Sadly, the story — or at least the parts of it he is will­ing to tell com­plete strangers — ends there.

By mid-af­ter­noon we reach York, where we leave the train for a side­trip to Cas­tle Howard, the stately home where the 1980s tele­vi­sion se­ries Brideshead Re­vis­ited was filmed. But some­thing about be­ing bun­dled on to a coach and whisked through a high-speed guided tour, com­plete with a short and slightly un­com­fort­able greet­ing from the man of the house, doesn’t sit well with the el­e­gance of the jour­ney.

On the up­side, we are served a proper af­ter­noon tea with crust­less cu­cum­ber sand­wiches and the teen­si­est scones I have seen. (Back on the train for the last stage of the jour­ney to Scot­land, I over­hear a stew­ard say that one cou­ple has opted to ex­plore York’s an­cient city cen­tre on foot rather than join the tour bus; frankly this is a great idea and one I rec­om­mend to any­one who feels a bit half-hearted about grand houses and their china col­lec­tions.)

As evening falls we are trav­el­ling north along the east coast of Bri­tain, eat­ing a spec­tac­u­lar din­ner that in­cludes foie gras, Goos­nargh duck and gin­ger tof­fee pud­ding with clot­ted cream while won­der­ing just where Eng­land ends and Scot­land be­gins. Doubt­less some­one else on the train could tell us but one of the nicest things about the jour­ney is the

the

rest of small num­ber of pas­sen­gers in each car­riage and the pri­vacy this af­fords; there is no ac­ci­den­tal eaves­drop­ping or in­tru­sion from mo­bile phones so it seems a pity to breach some­one’s pri­vacy sim­ply to sat­isfy our idle cu­rios­ity. Either way, by the time we pull in to Ed­in­burgh it is per­fectly clear where we are.

Our des­ti­na­tion is the Cale­do­nian Ho­tel, an el­e­gant 19th-cen­tury build­ing with a com­mand­ing view across Princes Street to Ed­in­burgh Cas­tle. Al­though now a Hil­ton ho­tel, it was orig­i­nally owned by a rail­way com­pany and so has al­ways made a point of serv­ing train trav­ellers.

It also has a con­nec­tion with a de­tec­tive who is ar­guably as fa­mous as Agatha Christie’s Her­cule Poirot or Miss Marple: In­spec­tor Re­bus. In Ex­itMu­sic , Ian Rankin’s lat­est novel fea­tur­ing the grumpy Ed­in­burgh de­tec­tive, one of Re­bus’s an­tag­o­nists drinks in the ho­tel’s bar. Rankin’s books are much more about gritty mod­ern re­al­ism than Christie-style glamour but the next day, as I sit in a warm, poky pub wear­ing jeans, drink­ing a pint of ale and watch­ing Scot­tish foot­ball, I de­cide that’s not such a bad thing af­ter all. Carly Chynoweth was a guest of Ori­ent-Ex­press.

Check­list

For more in­for­ma­tion on the North­ern Belle and its sta­ble­mate trains: 1800 000 395; www.ori­ent-ex­press.com.

Fine fare: The op­u­lent in­te­rior of the North­ern Belle’s din­ing car­riage

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