Afternoon Tea on the Move

Afternoon Tea on the Move
Photography by Ian Coles

Afternoon Tea Aboard The Bluebell Railway
+01825 720800 • bluebell-railway.com

Since steam locomotives reached the end of the line on our national railways in the middle of the 20th century, groups of passionate devotees up and down the country have acquired old sections of track, scoured sidings and old stations for vintage steam engines, fenders and carriages, and worked long hours to get them running again. Today, these private railways carry passengers on journeys of pure nostalgia through quiet British countryside. In the early days of celebration of the lost days of steam, the ride itself was enough, but now most of the lines serve lunches, dinners, suppers, and afternoon teas. These smaller railways have a simple charm and remind us of the everyday journeys we loved as children—the thick smoke billowing from the engine’s funnel and wafting over neighboring fields, the piercing whistle heralding the train’s arrival into the next station, and the thrilling sense of adventure. Afternoon tea in one of those old Pullman carriages or restaurant cars makes us smile and slip happily back into those childhood memories.

Afternoon Tea on the Move
Photography by Ian Coles

Expeditions on The Bluebell Railway start at Sheffield Park, close to the National Trust property of the same name where visitors can wander through acres of landscape garden and historic parkland. When you arrive for your trip on the Wealden Rambler Afternoon Tea Train, it’s great fun to stand on the platform and watch the engine being shunted into place at the front of the four carriages. When the Bluebell started serving tea, only one restaurant car was needed. Now four wagons, holding a total of 120 people, are required each day. Once the staff have loaded all the food, impatient passengers climb aboard and settle at their tables. Then, as the engine huffs and puffs and the train gently slips away from the platform, the staff get to work. A two-tier cake stand arrives at each table bearing a selection of sandwiches (smoked salmon, roast beef, egg mayonnaise) and lots of cakes (meringues, shortbread, little tartlets, éclairs). Scones are served warm, when required, with jam and clotted cream. The tea—English Breakfast, Earl Grey, Lapsang Souchong, and fruit infusions—is served in pots and replenished to order. For birthday celebrations, the carriage is bright with balloons, the table is decorated with sparkly stars and smiley faces, and a birthday card sits ready for the lucky girl or boy. For a dash of extra fizz, passengers can order a bottle or a glass of English Hindleap sparkling wine from the nearby Bluebell Vineyard Estates.

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