A Train Through Time To Canterbury

The Belmond British Pullman company has restored and refurbished an entire train that now carries lucky people on a variety of rail excursions. The thing is, Belmond transports you back in time as well . . . back to the 1930’s and the Golden Age of Train Travel.

Our excursion began at Victoria Station as we boarded one of a dozen beautifully restored “carriages”. Ours—as, indeed, are all the others—was carpeted and had elegant furnishings. There were tables on each side of a center aisle in one section of the carriage, and, closer to the entrance, a partitioned enclosure with a larger table to accommodate parties of six or eight.

Photo courtesy of Belmond British Pullman

The tables were covered with crisp white cloths and set with elegant china and polished silverware. The effect is dizzying if you happen to be a train travel enthusiast accustomed to Amtrak’s disposable plastic dining car service.

Our rail journey—a modest one, at least in terms of its duration—was to Canterbury. It’s less than a two-hour ride from London’s Victoria Station, during which we were served an early lunch. Upon arriving, we were able to tour that town’s justifiably famous cathedral, which traces its origins back to the year 597.

The return trip featured a traditional afternoon tea which, I was delighted to discover, not only included a variety of delicate cakes and teas, but a chilled bottle of sparkling white wine, generously shared with us by two attractive ladies at a table across the aisle.

The ride to Canterbury and our return to London in that wonderful classic rail carriage reminded me of the Pacific Parlour Cars that made travel on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight such a wonderful experience. And it underscored again how much there is about long-distance train travel and its emotional appeal that has escaped Amtrak’s current management. 

In my mind’s eye, I could see Richard Anderson walking through that wonderful Belmond rail car, pausing briefly, and saying, “Boy! I’ll bet the maintenance on this thing is a bitch!”