Thursday, 8 April 2021

Afternoon Teas I Have Enjoyed ...

Tea by train!

(On board the Statesman train)
Afternoon tea has become trendy in recent years and is marketed as an English (or British, I am not sure which) tradition. While a cup of tea and perhaps a piece of cake or a couple of biscuits has indeed been a tradition for as long as I can remember, with the "cream tea" an occasional special treat, I am fairly sure that the concept of the afternoon tea has developed and spread relatively recently.

At the very least an afternoon tea should include tea (well ... there are some who take coffee or even a cold drink) and scones or cake, but the better teas include small sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, and cake. Some include sausage rolls or some other such savoury treat along with the sandwiches. These are often served on a three-decker plate, although this is not essential and the courses may be brought separately, or on several plates. Sometimes sparkling wine is an optional extra, or even gin (but the only time I ever tried to arrange a G & tea the firm offering it went bust and we did not get it).

I list below the afternoon teas that have made it into this weblog, that is those we have taken during a rail adventure: indeed the first on the list, the North Yorkshire Pullman, was the very reason for taking the adventure. There have also been teas enjoyed in Stamford, accessed by walking to Burghley House on one occasion and The George Hotel on another. There are now other places in town offering afternoon tea, so maybe we shall have to try those once everything is up and running and we are not away ... but they cannot appear here, of course!

Click on the headings to read the full story of the adventures:

The North Yorkshire Pullman

This was the biggest afternoon tea I have ever had, as well as being delicious. The scones were enormous and I made the mistake of helping out my wife by eating half of her scone, with the result that I was unable to finish my piece of cake - the only tea in this list that I could not finish.

Bucks Fizz was served at the start of the tea which was taken on board a restored Pullman carriage on the steam-operated preserved North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

Marco Pierre White's New York Italian in London

Possibly the weirdest tea in this list, sort of English tradition with an Italian twist via the USA. Not as filling as some, but very nice indeed. Like the North Yorkshire tea above, this one was a gift and we would probably never have discovered it if we had not been given the voucher. Well worth discovering, but not quite what you expect - not that we knew what to expect!

Fortnum and Mason, London

We took advantage of a two-for-one offer on afternoon tea at this famous London store during the pandemic of 2020 when shops and restaurants were open but struggling for trade and having to restrict numbers of customers. This brought the price of the tea down to very expensive from the extremely expensive that it normally is. There was, however, an unlimited amount to eat and drink from the tea menu so although I did not leave anything on my plate there was more I could have had if I had wished. As in North Yorkshire, no dinner or supper was required after this tea! Even the long walk back to our hotel did not work up another appetite. Delicious, and an experience everyone should have at least once.

In passing, I ought to mention that we did once enjoy tea at The Wolseley in Piccadilly, having been given a gift voucher for it, and that was similarly very good and nicely served but the atmosphere, despite the staff's best efforts, was of rush and haste simply because the demand is so high and people are coming in and going out all the time. Fortnum and Mason, at least when we went, was more calm and unhurried.

The Balmoral Hotel, Edinburgh

The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh is one of the best hotels we have ever used, and probably the best we have used in Britain, and the afternoon tea offer is fitting to that status. The booking is for two hours, which sounds like plenty for a tea, and it is, but there is so much and it is so enjoyable that the time passes very quickly. We opted for a glass of Champagne and there is an included glass of water as well as a wide choice of teas. There is a selection of savouries and some interesting sandwiches as well as the scones and cakes. The atmosphere in the traditional palm court was calm and unhurried (although I cannot say whether it would have been so outside the pandemic when the hotel would have been busier). Again, no dinner needed that day.

The Royal Hotel, Bath

A cream tea with Champagne was included in a hotel/spa package at The Royal Hotel in Bath. As dinner was also included, it is as well that this was a simple cream tea and not one of the multi-course afternoon teas described above. Two (relatively small) scones each with jam and clotted cream, a pot of tea and a glass of fizz - a lovely addition to a relaxing day. All high quality stuff and served in the bar, so to make it relaxing it is important not to choose a busy time - this bar is used by people waiting for trains at the station across the road, especially after work, so at 5.30pm it can get too busy to find a table, and certainly to relax. But then, maybe that is a bit too late for cream scones if you have a dinner booked for the evening! Treat this tea as a (slightly late) substitute for lunch and all fits in nicely!

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Revising The Plan!

 The One Way Road Out of Lockdown?

As the year has progressed so far, two things have become clearer than they were on 1st January. One is that within the UK there is a reasonable chance of something like a normal summer with holidays as usual, so our planned trip to the south coast and to Scotland are looking more sure than I had hitherto hoped.

The other is that travel will not be a great deal freer until the end of June, and international travel remains an enigma because we cannot predict how the pandemic will progress in other countries whose vaccine programmes have not been as swift as our own. So our hoped-for trip to Switzerland in June is looking so unlikely that I have stopped planning for it and will revise my schedule to put it back to next June instead (it was already postponed from 2020). There is still some hope that Italy in the autumn and Germany next winter will be possible if the vaccination programmes in all the relevant countries proceed well, and I shall work on the assumption that these trips are on.

It is looking like the proposed group tour to Cambridge in July can go ahead, provided that the train service has resumed something like normal operation by then, and we can start day and short-stay trips within England in July, too. There will probably be some excursions by car before we can resume rail adventures, but we'll try to make those to places not on "The List". Places like the Thermae Bath Spa are unlikely to open before rail travel becomes available anyway.

Now, then, to plan some more rail adventures to try to make up for lost time: it was always going to be a race to get everything done while still fit and well, and now we have to stay fit and well for two more years to get it all in!

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Back in Time for a Break in Edinburgh

A Rail-Hotel Package Holiday in 1984

Our train Edinburgh Waverley

I started these "adventures" in 2011, as I tell in my first blog post the following year, but if I think back I have really been doing them for very much longer, having hankered after them longer still but not having the resources to fund them until the early eighties.

In 1984 I took a short holiday in Edinburgh with my wife and young son, then my only child, a baby. The previous year when we were a couple expecting our first baby we had been to York and thought we'd venture farther this time. We went in the autumn half-term holiday because my wife was a teacher, and we booked the package by telephone with British Rail's Superbreak package holiday scheme, rail travel and British Transport Hotel booked together at a reasonable price. For a small extra sum we could travel First Class: we had done it the previous year to give my pregnant wife the space and the reclining seat, but although that was no longer needed we thought it was such a good deal we did it anyway. In those days the long-distance HSTs, branded Inter-City 125, had a buffet car and a restaurant car and we decided to travel over lunch time and treat ourselves to a meal on the train, too.

The original Mk3 First Class seating: very 1970s!
The MaxPax coffee was also very 1970s and has
thankfully been long abandoned now.

We lived in Grantham at the time, so we had through trains to Edinburgh from our local station. After all this time I do not remember a great deal about the journey apart from it being very comfortable and comprising the usual great views from the train, especially north of York. As ever when travelling with a young child we were kept busy. We had a pushchair which folded flat and fitted reasonably well on the luggage stack, a shared suitcase (no wheels in those days: I carried the luggage!) and a shoulder bag which contained all the baby care equipment with the changing mat rolled round it as the outer cover. All very neat and compact.

Waiting for lunch
Lunch in the restaurant car was north of Newcastle as we travelled along the gorgeously scenic Northumberland coast, and the restaurant car staff were very attentive and loved that we had our little boy us. The only other passenger I remember being there at the time (there could have been others, but I only remember this one!) was a man travelling - or at least lunching - alone, and from his accent he was clearly from North America and was enthusing loudly about having been recommended to see the 'Fifth of Fourth" while in Scotland ...  The ticket inspector came along and he refused to show his tickets until after he had finished his meal, and while I understand that one may not want a meal disturbed, it was not difficult for me to reach into my pocket and show our tickets when our turn came, and to show them on demand is part of the conditions of carriage, but the inspector was not going to argue and resolved to ask him again on his way back through the train.

We stayed at the North British Hotel, immediately adjacent to the station at Edinburgh, then with an entrance directly off the station. We had a cot in an alcove in the room but our little one after such an exciting day found it hard to sleep. I transferred him back to his pushchair, reclined flat and tried pushing him round the hotel to lull him to sleep - the North British is built in a square around its palm court so I could walk him round and round while his mother tried to rest. I cannot remember now how the story ended but I do know we all had a reasonable night's sleep in the end! We have since returned to this hotel, now called The Balmoral, and it is a very different place, but one can still walk around the square!

It was in Princes Street Gardens on this holiday that our son had his first ride on a playground swing, and we walked up to the Palace of Holyroodhouse and visited The Georgian House in New Town, a National Trust for Scotland museum. We have lived in a couple of Georgian houses and thought it would be interesting to see what we could learn here - and it was amazing how similar this place was to the house in which we were living at the time, and even more so to the house in which I had lived with my parents before my marriage.

On one morning I went off on my own to explore, and I decided to take a local train to North Queensferry, which would take me across the Forth Bridge, giving me a great view of the famous Firth of Forth which had been extolled by our transatlantic travelling companion on the way there. In those days it was possible to see through the driver's cab at the front and rear of diesel multiple units and so I saw not only the Firth but also a fantastic view of the Forth Bridge now only available to train crew. Two bonuses on this little trip were (1) the presence of a submarine in the Firth, and (2) an airliner landing at the airport as I passed the end of the runway.

I don't remember the ride home at all, so presumably it was all fine. There were more of these trips to come over the next two or three years until we moved to Cirencester and lost our connection to the railway for a while. I'll have to see if I can dig up more photographs and more memories!

Some photographs of my trip over the Forth Bridge and back