This article is a review, with video and photos, of Orient Express owned British Pullman Luxury Train. They run day trips around England, bringing back golden age of travel train trips.
Most Friday mornings, the Orient Express owned British Pullman leaves from from London Victoria station in Central London on a full day trip called “The Golden Age of Travel”, and you should find a way to be on it one day. While you don’t need to be a train and history fan to enjoy this trip, if you are then on alternate weeks, it is pulled by an old steam engine train and so for the real travel buffs this is a must.
It was on on one of the regular Friday excursions that I had my first – and long awaited – journey on this most remarkable train. And having been, I just wish that I had been earlier.
Unlike the Orient Express itself, the British Pullman is a collection of 11 carriages lovingly located and expensively restored. The carriages date back to the 1930s through the to the 1950s, and belonged to pre-nationalized railway companies with exotic names like the Brighton Belle, Bournemouth Belle and Queen of Scots.
Each of the carriages is, therefore, different and has its own character and story both from it’s time in service and what happened to it when it was sold when taken out of service. The carriages all have exotic names like Ione, Lucille, Minerva, Perseus, Phoenix, Vera, Zena and Cygnus.
The carriages had been sold off in the 1960s and 1970s to railway enthusiasts who had used them for all sorts of things from chicken coops to static restaurants. James B Sherwood, a rich American visionary and railway lover, had a vision to recreate the defunct Orient Express on the Continent and started to buy up Pullman carriages, buying up 35 from various sources and auctions. He used the sleepers to recreate the Orient Express and the Pullman carriages to create the British Pullman train in the UK. The restored carriages and train went into service in November 1981 at the same time as the Orient Express launched.
On this trip we were in the Cygnus carriage. This carriage had started being built in 1938 but this was stopped due to the war, and was finally finished and went into service in 1951. During its years of service it had been used to ferry dignitaries to big official events, and was also part of Sir Winston Churchill’s funeral train.
As mentioned, the British Pullman train always departs from London Victoria, even when ferrying passengers down to the Channel to join the Orient Express on the other side on their journey on to Paris and Venice.
At the station is a lounge run by the company where passengers check in and watch the arrival of the train as it pulls up into Platform 2 which runs down the side of the lounge.
The train pulled into the station about 45 minutes before we departed and we boarded about 30 minutes before departure. The train was full, and staff told us that this is the norm. It seemed to mostly be people celebrating some kind of special event like a 50th Birthday or a 25th Wedding Anniversary. There was also a corporate event joining the train, which must have been a wealthy company as a trip on the train is not cheap at all and costs between £250 and £320 per person. This cost includes the trip, a 5 course meal, glasses of champagne and a bottle of wine per 2 people – and oysters on the platform at a stop in Whitstable.
The required dress code is smart, and they encourage people to consider dressing in period character, though the only people who were dressed up where the 5 actors who passed through the train in character during the day telling stories, ancedotes and the history of the train and the carriage. This was a fun touch and helped add some added interest to the journey, and also meant that you came away understanding the background and history. Something I especially liked, but everyone else did as they were funny and entertaining with it.
We were seated in a small cabin for 4, of which there is one per carriage. If you are travelling in party of 2 or 3 you sit in the more open carriage. The photos and video I have taken show how this all works and looks.
On being seated at the beautifully laid table we were given a glass of champagne with some canapes. The menu is a 5 course lunch of salmon and crab parcels; asparagus soup; slow cooked beef and vegetables; cheese and biscuits and then a chocolate pudding. You also have another glass of champagne and oysters on the platform at Whitstable on a short stop to stretch your legs. As there is that bottle of wine per two people, by the end of the trip people are very merry..
The service is outstanding and very slick throughout, with also some good banter.
You are given a hand drawn style map which enables you to track progress.
During the trip they come around with a trolley of various goods and souvenirs. They are very pricey, but I still came away with a book, large poster and a Orient Express bear.
The whole trip and experience is quite amazing. The train is remarkable and beautifully restored and well maintained. It is a real treat, admittedly an expensive one. And for someone or something special it would be just that.
SEE ALL THE PHOTOS I TOOK ON THE BRITISH PULLMAN TRIP: CLICK HERE