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Review: Cathedrals Explorer

Specialist Holiday - Rail travel

Guildford, United Kingdom

A Steam Train journey to remember

  • By SilverTraveller Gloworm

    6 reviews

  • May 2011
  • Partner

133 people found this review helpful

I’ve always loved steam trains and fortunately so has my partner. My interest is of a historic/nostalgic nature and his is similar but he also has a vast knowledge and interest in Public Transport generally.

We have both travelled on steam railways all over the UK in our previous lives. In recent years, we have done a couple of days trips with like minded friends on The Cathedral Express to Warwick and Bath. When we received a brochure from Steam Dreams last year, informing us of an inaugural 8 days journey around England, Scotland and Wales we did not hesitate and booked straight away. Similar to cruising, there were different price levels i.e. Standard, First Class, Premier Dining and Pullman Class. Standard and First class did not include meals on the train and the hotels were generally 3*. Premier Dining and Pullman were 4/5* hotels and all meals were included on the train, apart from breakfast, which of course was taken at the hotels.

We set off on 6th by joining the train at Bromley late morning, which was about the 8th stop as the trip started at Minster and had meandered all round Kent. It was lovely standing on the platform and seeing the loco steaming in followed by 13 coaches. The station was crawling with steam enthusiasts with their cameras, who wanted to then jump on a scheduled train to get to Victoria before we did, in order to take more photos and see the loco changed for the Princess Elisabeth.

We then set off for York, where after being served a champagne 4 course lunch, we arrived in time for dinner at our hotel. By then I had learned that most of the 360 passengers on board had opted for the Premier Dining/Pullman class, although we were not all housed in the same hotels each night.

Day 2 was a journey to Sterling which included a 2 and a half hour stop in Carlisle- apart from the usual stops for watering the loco that is. As we were scheduled to arrive fairly late at Stirling, a champagne dinner was served on the train. The cuisine and the service was first class, as it was throughout the whole trip. We were all disappointed however, that because of the tinder dry countryside, we were not allowed to have a steam engine pull us due to the fire risk and so had to put up with a smelly old diesel. It was understandable however and after some rain that evening, we were allowed Steam engines for the rest of the week.

On day 3, after a walk round Sterling after breakfast, we boarded the train and set off for Fort William where we stayed at a super hotel nearby at Ballchulish for 2 nights. Our room had a magnificent view over Loch Linnhe. The scenery en route was stunning. There is nothing quite like travelling through the Highlands of Scotland in the sunshine on a steam train. The experience fair brought a lump to my throat.

Day 4 was a train free day and of the optional tours on offer, we chose to go to the Isle of Mull and Tobermory. The ferry from Oban was the nearest we got to cruisng all week. It proved to be another sunny day and a most enjoyable one too.

Day 5 we opted for a later start and were taken by coach to join the train at Crainlarrich, as we knew that it would be a long day. In the event, we didn’t arrive at Oxenholme until 21.45. We were then coached to our respective hotels, which in our case was at Bowness overlooking Windermere. Again, the view from our room was stunning- overlooking the lake. Another 2 night stay.

Day 6 we chose to do our own thing as I know the Lake District so well and had done all the excusions on offer. After breakfast, we got a bus to Grasmere via Brockhole and then another bus to Keswick. The sun shone on us yet again and it was lovely to do some walking, having spent so much time on our butts the day before. Dinner at the hotel was excellent, although the price of a glass of red reminded me of being on a Royal Caribbean cruise, at £8 per glass. I chose to have an alcohol free day that day!

Day 7 we took the later option again and met the train at Preston. After a champagne brunch on the train we stopped at Chester for almost 3 hours before the onward journey to the Carmarthen area, having enjoyed a champagne dinner on the train.

Day 8 an early start to Carmarthen station to board the train for the last time for homeward bound journey. We chose to get off at Victoria where we caught a commuter train to Barnehurst (near home). Others stayed on to the end which was at Minster in Kent.

Well, for any steam enthusiasts on this forum, I hope this review has whetted your appetite for an alternative holiday to a cruise. If you have to watch the finances however- be warned, a cruise is a fair bit cheaper. You could of course choose the Standard/first class option but given some of the late arrivals on some evenings, planning times to eat and where would be a pain IMO.

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This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.

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