Sunday 18 May 2014

Pullman car with a difference

All the "adventures" which have been published in Parish News have begun, continued and ended with train trips, sometimes with bus and/or ferry rides and walking, but this adventure began with the car. I much prefer travelling by public transport, but since the Beeching closures of the 60s there are places impossible to reach without resorting to the car, and in this particular case the destination itself would not have existed without the Beeching closures and other rail service withdrawals! We were looking for a short break to celebrate a wedding anniversary and came across an advertisement for a unique hotel in Sussex, converted from the former railway station at Petworth with eight of its nine bedrooms in converted Pullman cars standing at its platforms and the breakfast room and lounge area in the former waiting room. This we had to see and we booked three nights there and set off by car.

I can give you no details about the drive to Petworth which was totally unmemorable, but it was one of the first trips in our "new" XJ8: the big Jaguar is the nearest we can get to Pullman style in an affordable car, but you don't get the at-seat refreshments!

The hotel reception is the booking office and after checking in we were shown to our room in the nearest Pullman car - it is also the most recent to have arrived at Petworth and although the interior was fully converted into our bedroom and en suite shower room the exterior restoration was incomplete. Breakfast could be taken on the platform, tables and parasols being provided, but during our stay the weather was never quite good enough for early morning al fresco so we breakfasted in the waiting room throughout.

Accommodation in the former coach was stylish, much of the art deco interior being intact, and comfortable, much like a very grand caravan, but it rained for much of the first night and the rain on the metal roof did not lead to a great night's sleep! The rest of the stay was much better.

The hotel only provides bed and breakfast and we expected to take excursions to the town, a couple of miles away, for restaurant dinners. The first night, tired from the journey, we walked to the Badgers pub at the end of the approach road, the former station hotel, of course, and dined there. It was a great meal and the menu looked so interesting that we went there on all three evenings for dinner, another benefit being that we could walk there and back and did not have to worry about being fit to drive. It seemed to us that it would be worth these two businesses getting together to drive custom to each other by encouraging hotel guests to dine at the inn.

Four traditional Pullman cars converted to provide eight
bedrooms at the Old Station Hotel, Petworth. Ours was
the far one on the left.
As well as the breakfast area the old waiting room, all of timber construction, also contained a large lounge area with a number of books and displays about local history, railway history and especially the history of the Pullman Car Company including a "biography" of each coach - a lot of them are with the Orient Express company or on preserved railways, some have been destroyed in one way or another and some, like our own hotel room, converted to other uses.

Tornado preparing at Alresford station - the view from the
picnic area
Each day we were there included an outing by car to various places, and one outing in particular is appropriate for inclusion in this weblog, which was a trip to the Mid Hants Railway, beginning with a drive through interesting wooded countryside to Alresford from where we would take the steam train to Alton and back, visiting both towns in the process.

As it happened the then brand-new A1 Pacific locomotive Tornado was a visitor at this railway (known as The Watercress Line) in the week we were there and we were able to see her working on the day we visited. This locomotive is a marvel: none has been preserved and so this new one was built from scratch using the original designs but without, of course, the original factory facilities, so each component had to be made especially for the job. I first saw it, unexpectedly, at Tallington while having my car washed and could not quite believe what I was seeing!

We arrived at Alresford in plenty of time and had a picnic lunch overlooking the station, then caught our train to Alton, where the preserved line meets end-to-end with the electrified line from London Waterloo, the two separate railways sharing a common station. The preserved line even carries a period advertising sign for electric trains to London! I wondered then about visiting this line by train all the way - we've never done it, but it did start a train of thought (sorry) which led us to some of our other adventures recorded here.

We browsed among the shops in Alton and caught the next train back to Alresford where, shower dodging, we had tea in a local tea shop and went for a walk following a town trail picked up in an information centre, something we often do when on adventures rather than just wandering at random and wondering what we are seeing. And so back to the car and to our static Pullman "caravan" and after other outings, home to Stamford.

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