All aboard the Cathedrals Express for first Steam Dreams trip from Ipswich to Salisbury
- Credit: Ellis Barker
Ellis Barker got on board the Cathedrals Express for Steam Dream’s first trip from Ipswich to Salisbury earlier this month - and she loved every second
When did life get so chaotic that we forgot to stop and just enjoy being? In this world of commuter craziness we have lost the joy that can come from travelling. It was once a luxury, a sign of wealth and status. Now you’re in the car, out of the car, on the train, off the train, on the underground, clock watching and thumb tapping all the way from A to B. It seems that we can’t just sit and enjoy the journey as people once did.
It is this contrast from reality that makes a Steam Dreams trip so idyllic. Never in the normal world of 9-5 would we enjoy sitting back, relaxing and enjoying watching the world go by.
Our day began shortly before 7.45am at Ipswich station, where we shared the platform with the many commuters ready for a day at work. Once on board we found our table and were greeted by our waitress, the very friendly and helpful Tanya, who delivered us still-warm croissants which we washed down with crisp, cool champagne. This was later followed by a full English breakfast, and as much tea and coffee as we liked - with all of breakfast, as well as dinner, included in our ticket price (minus drinks on the return).
The carriages are split into tables of four and two. As there were five in our party, we were joined by a lovely gentleman called Ted. He became an honorary member of our family for the day and shared with us tales of his late wife and from the war, and we in turn shared our own stories. Ted said that he had travelled alone on a Steam Dreams trip before, and had previously been sat at a table of other men all doing the same, between them enjoying each other’s company.
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Our trip was the first time the Catherdrals Express service had run from Suffolk to Salisbury, and so was a landmark trip for Steam Dreams. Although, for us, the trip wasn’t so much about the destination but more enjoying how we got there. There is a fondness for rail travel in our family as my grandfather, Ray Moore, drove steam engines on the Framlingham line. I remember looking at old pictures of him in awe of the beautiful engines he stood in front of. My grandad died several years ago, so it was lovely to take my Nan on the trip.
We arrived at Salisbury at around 2pm, and after six hours of the comfort of the train, and the steady stream of food and drink provided, we were ready to stretch our legs. We had around two and a half hours to explore the city, and headed to the cathedral for a look around. We didn’t pay to go in, but explored the grounds, and meandered along some of Salisbury’s Tudor streets.
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The return journey was just as enjoyable. Before our break, we were asked what drinks we would like for the evening, so these were ready for us to dive straight into. We enjoyed a starter of buffalo mozzarella with sun blushed tomatoes and broad beans, followed by duck for main. Dessert was a delicious caramelised apple tart, and a cheese board swiftly followed. While the menu is set, and you won’t know what you are due to be eating until you board, the staff are so accommodating. One of our guests wasn’t able to eat what was being served so they whipped up an alternative meal with only a few hours notice. You are, of course, able to tell Steam Dreams of any dietary requirements in advance.
The waiting staff cannot be faulted at all. Nothing is too much trouble, and they are courteous and polite. They pay attention to detail, too. We had a toast with our champagne in the morning as it was my dad’s birthday and, several hours later after our dessert, a group of the waiting staff came singing over to our table to present him with a plate of chocolates, cake and treats - complete with candle.
While there is undoubtedly a lot of happiness on board, what really adds to the trip is seeing the enjoyment the steam engine brings to those not on board. Be it from trainspotters who are eager to catch a photograph, the young boys with their dads waving as we travel or the look of awe from those waiting at stations or crossings - there was barely a face without a smile as we passed.
My only minor criticism of the trip is that, as we were diesel-hauled to London before our steam engine - the majestic Stanier Black Five - took over, we didn’t get to see the train in action.
It is certainly something to be enjoyed for a special occasion as steam travel is not cheap. While there are a range of ticket options available, the premier dining carriages - where we were sat - cost £209pp for an adult. For our trip, ticket prices ranged from £109 to £269 for adults. Passengers paying for the top price tickets will find themselves sitting in either an original or replica Metcam Pullman carriage, with silver service.
In my opinion it is worth every penny.
Also, Ted, if you’re reading this, thank you for putting up with us. It was a pleasure.