Friday 4 July 2014

Didn't we have a lovely time, the day we went to Betws y Coed: a ride on the Snowdonia Statesman

For many years I have noticed an annual advertisement by Statesman Rail for excursions to various parts of the north-west and North Wales, calling at Stamford. They operate many other trips  which call at Peterborough and/or Grantham, but only one a year stops at Stamford. The problem with starting and finishing elsewhere is the need to park the car and come down to earth at the end of the day by driving home and putting the car away, and also to watch the drinking on the way back. There are four classes: Standard, First, Premier Dining and Pullman Dining. This year the way it worked out was that we could use the outing as Alison's birthday treat (a trifle early) and travel Pullman Dining, the journey being more important than the destination.

We began at Stamford station at 06:50 on a Saturday morning and there was our train indicated on the departures list! 06:51 to Blaenau Ffestiniog makes a change from the usual 5 past the hour departures for Birmingham New Street! It arrived on time, hauled by a class 57 locomotive and consisting of a long string of brown and cream Mark2 air-conditioned coaches: all painted this colour it was hard to pick out the Pullman cars, which were at the rear with their names painted on the sides.

Because Stamford station only takes 4 or 5 coaches we had to walk through the catering vehicle to reach our coach, which was interesting in itself. This train has been created by refitting disused 1970s vintage coaches which once worked most of the inter-city services in the UK.

Waiting for breakfast, fizz in hand!
The Pullman Dining fare included a full English breakfast which was served after a little while, but Bucks Fizz greeted us on boarding and the fruit juice, coffee and croissant were available straight away, and then before arrival in Snowdonia we were served morning coffee with pastries. There would be no need for lunch! We stopped at all the usual stations as far as Nuneaton and then sped up the West Coast Main Line to Crewe, then via Chester to the North Wales line with sea views until the train reversed at Llandudno Junction and took the Conwy Valley branch inland, with river and hill views as we approached our destination.

Although the train terminated at Blaenau Ffestiniog with an optional trip on the Ffestiniog Railway, we had been there before, and so instead we opted to get off at Betws y Coed which we had never visited. Supposedly the most popular inland tourist destination in North Wales, it is certainly a pretty place and it caters well for all its visitors. We were amazed to come across a suspension footbridge over the river, and we visited the ancient parish church (which I had read about before we went), closed because it became too small for the growing congregation and had to be replaced by a larger one, and a small railway museum.

It was hot and sunny and although a meal was not required we did stop for beer and for ice-cream during our meanderings about the village. There was a craft fair on the green which had some fascinating stalls (and provided a souvenir-cum-birthday gift!) and we bought the traditional Welsh fruit loaf bara-brith to bring home to keep the trip current in our lives for a few more days.

Back to the station we were greeted with a glass of Champagne and canapés, and the four-course dinner began fairly swiftly. This was amazing quality for mass catering, table d'hôte unless vegetarian, with probably the best lamb I've ever eaten. All passengers were served before Nuneaton when the first would be leaving the train, and there was a charity raffle in which we won nothing but we'd made our contribution to Help for Heroes, and each passenger was given a small box of chocolates as a "Thank you for travelling with us" and the ladies were offered the flower arrangements from the tables - ours was still going strong a couple of weeks after the trip!

Snowdonia and back in a day, with four-course dinner with wine on the way back. Great day out. We were fortunate with the weather, of course, giving us a great time at our destination as well as a great ride on the train, and scenery was at its very best.

Travelling Standard Class would make this an inexpensive trip and in the past we might have done that, taking a picnic and buying coffee from the on-board buffet, but there is no doubt that the Pullman style catering was the most important part of the day for us and will be long remembered.


  1. I took Statesman Pullman Dining from Hull to Fort William & it was one of my best train journeys ever!

  2. Ours was definitely one of the best, and, of course, the ride with the catering was a large part of the day! We've done some other interesting and exciting trips as part of longer tours, and one of them included the best meal I've ever had, on a First Great Western service train:

  3. I'm sure I must have asked you this before, Mark, but have you ever travelled on the British Pullman? It's not a cheap day out but it is very good. I'm going again on the 3rd December.

    1. No, I haven't. We tend normally to take trips which either start here or are part of a wider "adventure". It is on the "possible" list for a future trip and I'd certainly like to do it some time. But then the Orient Express is on the "probable" list anyway!

  4. I'd definitely recommend any of these trains. They used to be "VSOE" (Venice Simplon Orient Express) but are now branded "Belmond" which is a boring name if ever there was one. The continental Blue train is the iconic one and now runs to Berlin and other places. The British Pullman is my favourite because I used to watch the Brighton Belle pass my garden when I was 4.
    They are so expensive that one has to ask if they are affordable at all, and if so, good value for money. But my wife and I really do love them. They are the pinnacle of rail travel. 5-star, nostalgic, wonderful.

  5. Yes, it's a bit of a laugh that Nectar points allow you a few pounds off the fare, but it doesn't stop it still being very expensive indeed! Save points for a lifetime and it makes no discernible difference to the cost. I rather like to idea of travelling to Venice in stages by normal trains and then returning on the VSOE. Not sure when I might do it, though.

  6. I like that idea too, although I've read that VSOE to Venice has one advantage - you sleep through the flat countryside and when you wake up you apparently find yourself in a different world of beautiful scenery.