Saturday, 6 July 2019

The Royal Windsor Steam Express

LNER 4-6-0 "Mayflower" with The Royal Windsor Steam
Express at Windsor & Eton Riverside

Pullman-style service and steam haulage from London Waterloo

Our daughter and her husband both had significant birthdays this summer and their combined birthday treat was to be a day in Windsor, travelling there by Steam Dreams' new-for-2019 express from Waterloo, Pullman dining class. We combined it with a couple of days visiting them (and our baby grandson), all by train (with a hint of bus!). The weather was extremely kind to us and all five of us had a great time.

So we set off after church on a Sunday, the 14:00 train from Stamford (which is only the second departure towards Peterborough on a Sunday, the first being just an hour earlier - obviously a Puritan timetable that assumes we all go to church!). Soon we were in London after a quick and simple change of train at Peterborough, another experience of LNER's new class 700 "Azuma" train: having got to grips with adjusting the seat we found this rather more comfortable than our first ride a couple of weeks earlier. We had a couple of little shopping jobs to do at St Pancras (handy, there being such good shops there) before going to the basement platforms for our Thameslink service across London to London Bridge - again all quick and simple - where we took the next departure for Orpington. All trains on time, all with space for us and our luggage and all clean and tidy. We travelled First Class on the trunk haul from Peterborough to London and were served coffee on this part of the trip. Through London to Orpington we used our Oyster cards and then to our daughter's home for dinner I had free bus travel from my Lincolnshire County Council senior citizens' bus pass!

A word about luggage. We normally use wheeled suitcases, as described on my page about luggage, but as this was only two nights and hot, dry weather was expected we each took a small backpack instead, which worked remarkably well. I travelled in the lightweight summer suit I had decided to use for the Pullman trip to Windsor, so all I had were shorts, two clean shirts and underwear, and sandals, together with shaver, toothbrush etc..

After dinner we walked back into town and checked in at the Premier Inn in Orpington, the town's only hotel, which opened just a short while ago and saved us a lot of difficulty when visiting family in this area. There was the usual Premier Inn standard of room: spacious and pleasant without being luxurious, and we had a great couple of nights there. The middle day was spent doing odd jobs at the family home and having lunch in town (The Orpington restaurant and record shop - yes, really - is to be recommended for quality and service, and no, I am not paid to say that!). Then came The Big Day.

The Royal Windsor Steam Express runs three times a week, all on Tuesdays: morning, late morning and afternoon. We were booked on the late morning departure from Waterloo at 11:15. We could not afford to miss it, of course, so we travelled into London in good time and although there was some problem somewhere that made some of the trains from Orpington to London rather late it did not really affect us because we simply got on a late one running at about the time of the one we were intending to catch. The trains go on from London Bridge and we alighted at Waterloo East, which has a short bridge connection to the main Waterloo station. We were in good time and enjoyed drinks at a café on the concourse before queuing for the platform; all these Steam Dreams specials go from platform 19.

Platform-end photographers await
the steam express at Waterloo
We were in plenty of time and I went to the end of the platform intending to photograph the train arriving. That's when the only problem of the day arose: after our train was supposed to be there, a service train came and occupied the platform, and then left again and then we were informed that because it was late we would all have to board as quickly as possible so that it could depart with no further delay - although frankly the best photos would be had at Windsor anyway, but the delay was a bit annoying with a young baby in the party.

We took our seats at tables dressed with linen cloths and fine cutlery, and as soon as we boarded the train was off, chuffing lightly out through the London suburbs among the local electrics, and the light meal was served: orange juice, Champagne, a very nice little granola yogurt and a cooked main course of mushrooms with sauce on toasted muffins, followed by coffee. Once clear of junctions and frequent stations the train sped up and the exhaust beat was more audible with less background noise. The staff were great and looked after us well. All to soon we were at Windsor & Eton Riverside station and that part of the trip can to an end. But the visit to Windsor was just beginning!

We had a great day but it loses a lot in the telling, so I shall not bore you with the detail, but we had a stroll over the river and around Eton, and then back into Windsor through the shopping streets with a brief peek at the Castle, and our grandson had his first go on a swing in a public park. The strange timing of meals was capped by ice-cream sundaes ...

And so to South Western Railway's service train back to Waterloo. We were quite impressed by the standard of accommodation on this train which is very much a local service: comfortable seats, charging points for our smartphones, free wifi on board. And the train was clean and on time. To round off a great day we arrived into the former international platforms at Waterloo, recently converted for local use, a bright, airy end to the day out.

But our travels were not yet over and after bidding the family farewell we made our way back to Kings Cross for the journey home, having had our luggage with us all day - that was why we wanted backpacks rather than cases this time! Waterloo to Kings Cross is awkward, and my younger days I used to walk much of the time, but it is a long way after a heavy day. We took the Northern Line tube to Euston and then walked from there to Kings Cross. The First Class lounge at Kings Cross was closed for refurbishment so we were given access to a room at The Parcel Yard pub, but it was not ever so relaxing there and refreshments were minimal. Still, the train was soon ready and we took our seats on another "Azuma", connected to Stamford and walked home at the end of another exciting adventure by rail.

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