Enjoy the romance of the Belmond British Pullman
Belmond British Pullman train to Bath
I don’t know about you, but I was distraught when Downton Abbey finally left our TV screens two years ago. So you can imagine my excitement when I arrived at London’s
Victoria Station to board the Belmond British Pullman train.
Our carriage, one of 11 and named Lucille, displayed all the opulence of the Abbey in its compact seating area, boasting sumptuous velvet armchairs, polished brass and veneered panels finely detailed with Art Deco marquetry.
Lucille wasn’t always on such good form.
Originally built in 1928 for the Queen of Scots Pullman train, the carriage was discarded in 1967 and for 16 years used as a home by a railway enthusiast on a siding in Kent.
I wondered what he’d think of it now, as I sipped my bellini on the way to historic Bath.
Within minutes of leaving the station a three-course brunch was expertly served with all the precision of a chorus line. Pastries, seasonal fruit and yoghurt appeared, followed by scrambled egg, smoked salmon and caviar.
Four hours later and feeling completely spoilt, we arrived in Bath. The station is conveniently close to the town centre, and after a short walk you’re in Jane Austen territory: cobbled streets and elegant pale stone complement the stylish Georgian architecture. According to our coach guide, Austen was rather snobby about leaving London for Bath, but she made it her home.
The optional 30-minute tour took us around the city, passing by Austen’s home, plus the museum dedicated to her and the iconic Royal Crescent used as the backdrop for so many films. We took a wander along Gravel Walk, known as a lover’s lane in the author’s day, and the setting for a love scene in Persuasion. Further along at number four The Circus is a recreated Georgian garden.
If you’ve had your fill of classic literature, you can step further back into history with a visit to the Roman Baths (included with the train journey).
VIP access eliminates queuing and takes you straight into the ruins.
You get around three hours of free time in Bath but to be honest I couldn’t wait to get back on the train. It felt like meeting with an old friend as the Pullman and its welcoming staff arrived to take us on our return journey. Once on board, a superb four-course dinner with wine and champagne was served and took us right through until London.
I was sad to leave this stunning train and can’t wait to do another Pullman journey. In the meantime, I have found out my Downton Abbey name: Rose St James (supposedly found by combining your grandmother’s name with the name of your primary school).
I definitely belong “upstairs”, don’t you think?
Belmond British Pullman, sister train to the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, offers a host of journeys throughout the year from London Victoria Station, visiting some of Britain’s most famous cities, country houses, sporting and social events. Prices start at £225 per person. To book, call 0845 077 2222 or visit belmond.com
Enjoy the fine cuisine on the Belmond British Pullman
The Fish, Cotswolds
Within minutes of arriving at The Fish I had my shoes off and the kettle on. Cosy is its middle name. It really is a home from home and we certainly treated it like that during our stay.
The hotel is set in 400 acres of beautiful countryside in the Cotwolds, not far from Chipping Norton, yet beautifully secluded.
After a quick nose around the room, a coo at the toiletries and towels, and that all-important cup of tea, we decamped to try our hand at archery, one of the activities on offer here (the other is a Segway safari).
I was quite apprehensive about it at first, but after a 10-minute lesson in how to aim (the tip is to look straight down the barrel of the arrow like a gun, apparently), my friend Marie and I became rather competitive. And laughed an awful lot.
The weekend break was a chance to catch up with an old friend and we really made the most of it. We had pre-dinner drinks in the bar, which is so, so cosy with big armchairs, a fire, magazines and books and just a general sense that makes you want to plonk yourself down.
Dinner was heaven, with hearty portions of everything. My mac and cheese with wild mushroom and truffle was a carb coma on a plate. We couldn’t finish dessert and decided to have a nightcap of Baileys instead, back again in those comfy armchairs.
The next morning’s breakfast was just as enormous – fresh fruit, a choice of a fry-up, lovely bread and delicious juices.
The rooms are beautifully furnished here, with traditional tweeds, muted tones and real attention to detail. They have also recently opened five very cute shepherds’ Hilly Huts with double beds, a wood-burning stove and a private hot tub. They would be perfect for a romantic weekend break. But then again, any weekend break here would be perfect.
Rates at The Fish Hotel start at £120 per room per night including breakfast and VAT.
Hilly Huts start at £189. For further information or to book, call 01386 858000 or visit thefishhotel.co.uk.
The cosy hotel is set in 400 acres of beautiful countryside
The Bell Inn, New Forest
The traffic jam snaked out in front of us and I wondered what the hold-up could be, expecting roadworks or a broken-down car. But when we finally reached the front of the queue, the cause was rather unexpected.
A chocolate-coloured pony was ambling at leisure, tail swishing, down the middle of the road. Not far away another pony with a milky-white coat stood perfectly still, eyes closed, taking a nap in the sunshine.
Cars and pedestrians picked their way around this charming obstruction in the centre of Brockenhurst village, careful to respect the most famous residents of the New Forest National Park. These ponies – 3,000 of which roam freely here – command right of way on the roads by law.
Brockenhurst had been the first port of call for my husband and me on our long weekend break, a village that was last year voted the most beautiful place to live in the UK.
With its low-rise cottages and twisty lanes, backed by open heathland and woodland, we had to agree that it really was rather idyllic.
We wandered along the quaint high street, stopping off for a drink at The Thatched Cottage, a chocolate-box house turned hotel that’s home to the New Forest’s only gin bar.
We ventured next to Lyndhurst, 10 minutes down the road, which is chock full of tearooms, antiques dealers and interiors shops.
These villages are at the heart of the New Forest and are among its “must see” sights, so it’s worth checking into a hotel within driving distance.
We stayed at The Bell Inn, Brook, an attractive former coaching inn dating from 1782, which is now a four-star boutique hotel with 28 rooms and two golf courses.
A wealth of period features have been retained inside, such as a large inglenook fireplace in the bar and solid oak beams.
We ate in the homely dining room on our first evening, settling in the tweed-covered chairs and digging into hearty British dishes such as spring lamb, which was served up like a work of art. It’s no surprise that the hotel has been awarded a 2 AA Rosette.
The Bell Inn in the pretty village of Brook
That night, we slept like logs in our beamed eaves room, which was quiet and cosy. The Bell Inn has a convenient location, close to the M27, when you are ready to hit the road.
But do stay a few days to see all the area has to offer – whether, like us, it’s the pretty villages, or, if you’re bringing children, the nearby attractions of Paultons Park for Peppa Pig World and Longdown Activity Farm.
Whatever you do, be sure to make the most of the National Park and take a ramble in the ancient forest, enjoying the natural beauty of this idyllic corner of the country.
Bed and breakfast at The Bell Inn (02380 812214, bellinn-newforest.co.uk) starts at £99 per room per night, or pay £129 per room for dinner and b&b accommodation, with £25pp allowance included towards dinner (t&cs apply). For more on the New Forest, visit thenewforest.co.uk.