It’s very early on a cold misty morning in late May. Standing on the platform at Crewe station, there is an air of anticipation. We have an invitation to board the Northern Belle!
I’ve hardly been able to sleep in a mixture of excitement and anxiety, not to mention deciding what to wear! And now the moment is almost here. The train can’t wait if you are late. And trust me, you would never wish to miss this very special train. We’ve been told that the train will appear on platform 12! It’s sounds like some magical event, reminiscent of reading J K Rowling’s description of the arrival of Hogwarts express on platform 9 3/4!
Suddenly, the train is arriving at the station. Beautiful carriage after beautiful carriage sweeps past, as the train pulls along the platform.
Every 1930s carriages is unique, each rescued and refurbished to their original splendor and named after a stately home in Britain.
And quite literally, the carpet is swept out and laid at the entrance to each carriage door. As if by some amazing coincidence, we find ourselves being directly towards “Harlech”, and this Welsh girl is thrilled! The journey starts at Liverpool, along the west coast main line, ending at London Kensington Olympia, with the promise of travelling into the heart of the British countryside, passing such stations as Long Buckby and Bletchley, home of the World War II spy code breaking machine Enigma.
The table is already set for breakfast, white linen and china, adorned with a vase of pretty flowers.
After waiting on the cold platform, the warmth inside the amazing carriage is a welcome treat. And oh, what a sight! We are surrounded by enchanting bright yellow daffodils adorning the ceiling and walls, just perfect for our trip to Chelsea. Upholstered seats with squishy cushions await, if only every train were this comfortable. And I’ll let you into a little secret – there are even daffodils on the mosaic floor of the beautiful toilets – really you could not ask for anything more!
The gentle rattle of china, glass and cutlery heralds the start of the journey as the train drifts out of the station. It is straight out of an Agatha Christie novel. Anticipation of Brunch with a blissful Bellini is beckoning
A bowl of muesli with fresh natural yogurt is served immediately to “keep you going”, with a lovely cup of tea. Then brunch is served at 8.30am. Bellini’s are created at our perfect table for two, gorgeous white peach puree and chilled, sparkling Italian Prosecco, I could get quite used to this!
Light is flooding in and you find yourself staring out at a perfect vista of the quintessentially lovely British countryside, framed in the huge windows. The vista is in perfect focus rather than the usual blur.
I wonder why I am able to more clearly glimpse the meandering rivers, spot canals, and spy the blossom of tress, the countryside is awash with blooming wild flowers - purple lupins, white dog daisy’s, scarlet red poppies. Then it dawns on me, it’s because we are traveling more slowly than usual. We are on the scenic route rather than the fast line. This train captures the essence of times past, the nostalgia of another age, when you traveled for the pleasure of journey itself. It is leisurely, relaxing, with no loud announcements, the attentive crew there to address you every question, meet your every need.
Then we’re off to the Chelsea Flower show, what a perfect day!
Returning to the train, Dominic is waiting attentively by the door, carpet laid to welcome us aboard again, everything ready for us to be whisked back up North.
It felt like being welcomed back home, the table already set for dinner, efficiency and style enveloping us, absolutely faultless, our unflappable train manager James adept at managing any situation, even when the Chelsea traffic means we just make it back in time for our departure!
Now, you’ll know well enough by now that Tea with Mary Kate has an interest in the aesthetic, and exacting standards. I can honestly say that dinner was more lovely than that I’ve had at some restaurants back “on solid land”. The staff must travel miles, sweeping down the long beautiful carriages with plates of gorgeous, and this is the amazing thing, still hot dinner (I was prepared to forgive a slightly cool dinner given the logistics of where the kitchen was, but honestly didn’t need to).
Agatha’s Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express” brings additional notoriety to this splendid journey.
The temptation is too much and I purchase a lovely special edition copy of the book, the design on the front cover changed annually. The company own neither railway track or engines. A visit to the boutique shop takes you past the “working end” of the train and it is all run like clock work. The train crew work hard, and our carriage had the charming Dominic, Peter and Mark, all of whom had a genuine humour and desire to please. And it’s an even earlier start for them at 5.30 am, then back late, with a repeat of that routine for the next days journey. But the crew talk of seeing different parts of the Britain, of meeting different people, of hearing different accents. Crewe station will be their home for the night before setting off on another adventure again tomorrow.
At Northampton, the British cheese board arrives!
And it is literally a huge tray of cheese that spans the tables of the carriage. With a mouth watering choice of scrumpy Sussex, old smoked cheddar, Montgomery (a Welsh creation), Oxford blue, and brie to name a few I was thrown into an impossible dilemma of what to choose! So I asked for a little of each one – perfect!
The journey seems to last for ever, it was like steeping back in time, but all too soon, we were almost back at Crewe Station. The journey was a delight, absolutely the best of British vintage to its core.
The carpet is laid for the final time for us, our lovely crew are assembled to say good bye. Of the huge expectations after reading the glossy brochure, there is the potential that it does not quite reach where your vivid imagination may go. I can happily say, without a shadow of a doubt, that expectations were more than met, I’d go so far as to say exceeded. It felt like a glamorous adventure, in gorgeous luxurious surroundings, a truly wonderful culinary delight, with the added bonus of a trip to the Chelsea flower show. The ultimate sign of great service is frankly that you no longer notice it. It appears, and your every wish is almost anticipated, and happily met. The journey was a delight, absolutely the best of British vintage to its core. And gosh, after such a splendid way of traveling, goodness knows how I am going to fare on the next ordinary train journey, I am ruined forever!
We are finally back. It is late, and as if to confirm we have been transported back to the normal world, the rain is starting to drizzle. It is a strange sensation, as if emerging from some lovely dream, leaving some magic place, as we emerge from Crewe station.
Of course, this is a luxurious indulgence, for us it was a long worked for and anticipated celebration but I am heartened to hear of the Northern Belle plans for a charity dinner in October. Tea with Mary Kate adores the fact that the journey is an experience in itself rather than just the rush of getting to a destination. There is time to relish every morsel, savour every moment. The journey on the Northern Belle was just a perfect, enchanting, almost magical experience, a glimpse into the world of traveling in times past, and a signal for how to take time to celebrate life. Tea with Mary Kate hopes to be back on board again as soon as possible!