A trip from Preston to Alnmouth on the Orient Express Northern Belle
Rediscover a bygone age and gaze on some of the county's most beautiful areas with a trip on the Orient Express Northern Belle. Emma Mayoh reports
Orient-Express’s luxurious Northern Belle train departs throughout the year from regional stations across the UK, offering a host of journeys to some of Britain’s most famous historic cities, castles, country houses and sporting events. For more information and reservations call Orient-Express on 0845 077 2222 or visit www.orient-express.com/uktrains.
Mention train travel and many people’s thoughts turn to images of cramped, fast-moving carriages endured during the rush hour. These days, this regular pursuit has become a necessary part of modern day life.
But there was a time when this kind of travel was something to be enjoyed and savoured. You can expect exactly this kind of experience on the Orient Express Northern Belle, a train that takes you back to the elegant golden age of rail travel with the British Pullman carriages of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
On our journey from Preston to Alnmouth, a pretty town on Northumberland’s spectacular coastline, we travelled in style. Hot buttered crumpets layered with scrambled egg, smoked salmon and caviar were served for breakfast along with delicious pastries and a refreshing peach bellini – no soggy sandwiches or cardboard cups here.
As you might expect from an Orient Express train, the journey is just as good as the destination. In our Glamis cabin – each carriage is named after a castle – we were surrounded by luxury, expert craftsmanship that could be seen in the decorative marquetry and comfortable, sink-into chairs at private tables. But, even in this outstanding setting, it was the service that really shone. Don’t expect the fusty, stuffy approach sometimes associated with the more affluent end of the travel market.
On the Northern Belle, the stewards are attentive and friendly and the atmosphere is relaxed.
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The lead steward in our cabin, Simon Lenihan, from Warrington, has worked for Orient Express for eight years. The 25-year-old has learned the expert skills needed by working on different trains including the British Pullman and The Royal Scotsman.
‘I love the Northern Belle and take great pride in the service we offer,’ he said. ‘We offer five star service but we’re not stuffy. It’s a very laid back, relaxed experience.
‘Every day is different and we get to see some of the most beautiful places in the country. It means a lot of time away from home but I absolutely love my job. I’m very lucky.’
A journey on the Northern Belle is a regular favourite for some of the Lancastrians we met. Linda and Sandy Knowles have travelled on it five times to destinations including Portmeirion, Scotland and this day trip to the North East of England.
Sandy said: ‘It really is an incredible experience which is why we’ve been doing it for the past five years. The staff can’t do enough for you. So much effort is put into making you feel so very special.
‘We also love that idea of feeling like you experience that 1940s era for a day where things slow down and you get to really appreciate what’s happening. The atmosphere in the cabins is so relaxed and convivial and it’s the best way to see the Lancashire countryside. We love every minute of it.’
For Ann and Martin Phillips it was an opportunity to take a trip down memory lane as well as a way to celebrate a special occasion. Ann arranged the trip for Martin, originally from Mossley, near Ashton-under-Lyne, for his 60th birthday treat. He was able to look on the countryside near Sedbergh where his great grandfather George Harry Phillips once lived.
‘He worked on the railways when he was up there,’ said Martin. ‘He was moved up there in 1875 to work on the Settle to Carlisle line. It’s been wonderful for me to see where he would have been based.
‘We love the Northern Belle. The atmosphere and experience is second to none. It is absolutely wonderful.’
Our journey took us through some of Lancashire and the Lake District’s stunning panoramas. The Ashton Memorial at Lancaster, the lovely landscapes near Shap and the rugged beauty of the Cumbrian fells could all be viewed from the luxurious surrounding of our cabin.
Views of tiny streams, vast rivers, picture postcard villages, lush countryside were all part of this special journey before arriving at Alnmouth Station. From there we left the Northern Belle behind for a visit to Alnwick Castle and Gardens, a glorious medieval pile that has been home to the Duke of Northumberland and his ancestors for more than 700 years. It was also a filming location in the earlier Harry Potter films, the castle becoming Hogwarts School. There is also the nearby Alnwick town which boasts a host of lovely shops, cafes and one of the best second hand books shops you’re ever likely to find.
But it was soon time to return to our glorious transport. Shuttling through our county’s best countryside took on a different guise as dusk descended. There was also more of that superb silver-service fine dining with an evening meal consisting of several courses of exquisite food served with champagne. It is, of course, the journey that is the real star of the show and there is something to be said for having the time to savour your surroundings and lingering over a good meal, prepared by the small but expert team in the on-board kitchen. After a day on the Northern Belle, we discovered that this really is the only way to travel.