The steam train is a romantic image of a bygone era and these days is often little more than a pleasant excursion out with the family, but over two hundred years ago, it puffed its way into British life, changing the pace of progression and altering the way people lived, did business and travelled.
Although modernism has relegated these few remaining locomotives to weekend pleasure rides, they are still a luxury enjoyed by thousands, generally offering first class accommodation on trips through fabulous countryside, at a pace where the landscape can be viewed and appreciated.
West Coast Railways offers the ultimate selection of steam train trips on three of the best routes in the UK. Beginning with the harsh Scottish landscape of the Highlands, the Jacobite train runs from Fort William to Mallaig, and was made famous by the Harry Potter blockbuster movies with its appearance as the Hogwarts Express. Running twice a day through the season, the train offers first and second class carriages and leaves from Fort William’s only station.
It travels through some spectacular scenery along the 84 mile round trip route, and passes the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, the deepest stretch of fresh water at Loch Morar and the shortest river, River Morar. Craggy and undulating, the landscape along this route has been used during the filming of movies such as Highlander and Local Hero, but despite its international fame, it’s hard not to be impressed just by passing through this wild countryside.
The Jocabite, also known as Harry Potter’s Hogwart’s Express
In the northeast of England, another of the West Coast Railway routes takes travellers on a journey from York to Scarborough, but extends its journey by first heading westward on a loop through Normanton and back again before heading out towards the coast. The Scarborough Spa Express ran for the first time in 1981 to celebrate the grand reopening of the town’s famous Spa building although the original steam train has been running since 1027 under the title the ‘Scarborough Flier’.
The surrounding landscape this railway journey passes through is archetypal Northern countryside, where green rolling hills draw travellers out to the sea. Aboard this luxury locomotive is a buffet car, reminiscent of the ‘olden days’, and uniformed staff that bring a sense of that olde worlde charm to the trip.
Heading out westwards, and deep into the Welsh countryside, is the third of the West Coast Railyway steam train routes. Located at its starting point in the market town of Machynlleth, ‘The Cambrian’ takes its travellers on an unforgettable journey along the coast through Barmouth, Harlech and Porthmadog until it reaches its final destination at Pwllheli on the edge of Cardigan Bay.
Steam Train at the Severn Valley Railway, England.
Interior of an antique Pullman train cabin of the 1930’s
This route offers unparalleled views of the sea and the rugged Welsh coastline on one side, and the mountains of Snowdonia on the other, and passes through some truly historic locations. First completed in 1864, when a number of independent railway lines were joined into one, the newly formed company adopted the name Great Western Railways, and focused on bringing inner city families out of Manchester and Shrewsbury to witness the delights of Wales.
But short day trips on a steam train with the family, although enjoyable and unique, still cannot compare to the ultimate in steam travel. Born in the era of the ‘golden age of steam’, the British Pullman – sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express – remains to this day the perfect choice for a romantic or opulent adventure on one of the world’s most famous steam locomotives. There’s no second class aboard this trip, with travellers enjoying a five course luxury dining experience with champagne on a leisurely voyage through the British countryside. The experience is so exclusive that there is even an imposed dress code that prohibits the wearing of jeans and trainers, and tickets request that you don’t alight during your journey – as if you’d want to!
From family friendly breaks with a difference, to the ultimate in luxury escapes, the age of the British Steam Train has far from declined. These fantastic machines will perhaps continue to delight for another two hundred years or more, their exclusive appeal keeping them firmly on the tracks.