Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steaming to York - 13 November 2010

After watching the 'Railway Children' this summer, with a real steam train on stage, we were inspired to take a steam train ride ourselves. For less than a first class return ticket to York on a modern train, we were able to take a steam train, seated at a table for two, enjoy a full English breakfast after departure, lunch before arrival in York, and a four course dinner during the return trip.

It sounded good value, but would it live up to our expectations? The original date was postponed, due to a fault with the steam engine, and we wondered if the postponement date in November would prove to be less pleasant weather-wise. But after 80mph winds on Thursday, Saturday was an almost perfect day, with sunshine along the entire trip. The start was early – 8am from Kings Cross, but the instant we pulled out of the station, we were served breakfast of a mixed melon starter, croissants and toast, followed by an excellent cooked breakfast. After sampling many different varieties for “Full English” during our time here from hotels and B&B's, this was as good as the best we've had.

The countryside rolled past in the wonderful winter sunshine, and after a light sandwich lunch, we pulled into York nearly five hours later. York is a wonderful city, and with four hours there, we had just enough time to fill in the gaps from a previous visit about six years ago.

A must in York is walking around the city walls. These encircle the city centre, with gate-houses at regular intervals. On a sunny day, this is really pleasant. The other must is the medieval York Minster. Completed in 1472 (after taking 250 years to build), this enormous cathedral, has Europe's largest stained glass window on it's eastern wall. We were most disappointed to find it covered up for restoration, but one positive side to this was there were two windows on display, so we could see close up the amazing mixtures of glass that goes into a window of this type. All manner of old pieces have been used (or replaced) in some panes, but the overall whole effect from ground level, is still harmonious.

The Shambles is a famous shopping street of old buildings. No sign of the recession in central York, and it was easy to see why these appealing streets of shops are so popular. Christmas decorations were out, and everything felt quite festive.

We still had time to visit Fairfax House. This is a Georgian townhouse, and it is the ability to step back in time, which made it appealing to visit. The dining table was set with a fantasy sweet concoction, which was fashionable in that era.

We retraced our way to the train station. This in itself is an interesting building; when completed in 1877 it was said to be the largest train station in Europe. Our train steamed in, and we left exactly on time.

After departing York, dinner was served. It was dark by this time, so easy to overlook the fact that we were beginning our dinner at 5.15pm. The courses came slowly, filling in several hours of the journey. The starter we choose was salmon and prawns, quite delicious, followed by fillet steak. As they hadn't asked how we liked our steak, we expected thin overdone steaks, after all they were catering for a large number of diners in a mobile kitchen. We were delighted to be proved wrong when thick tender pink steaks appeared, absolutely perfectly cooked, with great vegetable selection. Lemon desert and a cheese board followed. All in all a really memorable meal.

But during dinner, we noticed the train appeared to be getting slower. Eventually a manager appeared to inform us there was a problem. In York, they had the coal replenished, but had been given the wrong sort of coal. This made us laugh, as now we feel we've heard it all! In London we've been told the trains are late due to the wrong sort of leaves on the line, the wrong sort of rain, the wrong sort of snow, even the wrong sort of clouds and now the wrong sort of coal.

Eventually the train stopped altogether, and after a delay (I assume getting a head of steam), we limped into the next station. We were encouraged to take the regular service to London, from that station, our tickets would be honoured on the train. So we finally got back into Kings Cross about two hours late. It was an unfortunate ending to the day, but still a brilliant day out.

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