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The Torbay Express, Steam Hauled Train Excursion to Kingswear for Dartmouth Review 2nd July 2017

 Torbey Express
There aren’t many things that would tempt us out of bed at 6.30 am on a Sunday morning but a trip on the steam hauled Torbay Express is one of them. By 7.30 am we were on the platform at Temple Meads Station, as scrubbed and fresh faced as the Famous Five about to embark on one of their many adventures, but without the ham sandwiches and the lashings of ginger beer as we were looking forward to breakfast being served shortly after we boarded.

We mingled with waiting passengers amongst whom were quite a few serious steam buffs and the conversation was of condensers, parallel pipes, and the sighting of the 49386 on the Little Twittering line in 1967, which were all at once silenced as the stately Tornado slid majestically into view, wreathed in clouds of steam and with a satisfying hiss and screech of brakes came alongside us. An awesome sight, the smell and sound of steam evocative of a bygone age when every journey was an exciting treat. The Tornado locomotive comes with impeccable credentials having recently achieved the first 100 mph record of a steam locomotive in Britain for fifty years which must have resulted in some pretty frenzied coal shovelling going on.

We peeked into the windows of the heritage carriages, to see tables beautifully laid with snowy white cloths, china and gleaming cutlery all ready for breakfast. Drawn back velvet curtains and a flower arrangement on each table completed the picture and we hoped the Tornado would behave sedately at least for the duration of our breakfast. To appreciate all this you really need to book Premier Dining, which gives you a hearty three course breakfast on your outward journey and a stonking four course dinner on the return trip.

We took our seats noting the instruction that we must not allow any part of our bodies to protrude outside whilst the train is in motion, and that the steam heating under the seats was controlled by an impressively large silver knob at the end of the carriage. Drawing away from the platform, the train picked up speed giving us that agreeable fiddley de, fiddley dah motion as only vintage carriages can, and we took a look at the breakfast menu. There is a great choice, melon, honey and toasted almond yoghurt, cereal, or porridge, followed by a full English breakfast or smoked salmon and scrambled egg, supported by toast and preserves, marmalade or marmite. Unlimited tea and coffee is served throughout breakfast, with a glass of nicely chilled Bucks Fizz to start. This put me in mind of my grandfather who used to take the train to London first class specifically because of the excellent kippers and lightly poached eggs that were served, with his favourite blend of Darjeeling tea bought in specially by one of the stewards for the price of a half a crown tip.

No half a crown tip was required here, the full English breakfast included everything you could imagine, delicious black pudding, mushrooms, fried potatoes, Cumberland sausage and fried egg, which was expertly served from large trays piping hot fresh from the on board kitchen. Afterwards we settled back in our seats to appreciate the rolling fields and hills of Somerset gliding by before the train stopped at Taunton to take on more water. It was a beautiful day showing the English countryside at its very best, particularly as the train steams on into Devon and hugs the coastline through Dawlish and Teignmouth. Approaching Torquay we saw the sea for the first time, with many small boats bobbing about on the white-crested waves; passing onto Goodrington Sands where holiday makers busied themselves with picnics, buckets and spades and that good old British staple of a day out at the beach, the windbreak. We felt like royalty as wherever the train slowed down to pass through a station, people on platforms waved madly and photographers with long lenses crouched in the fields beside the track hoping for that perfect picture of the shiny locomotive with billowing steam in its wake.

Arriving at Dartmouth and fired up with a love of steam, we booked a passage on the paddle steamer Kingswear Castle which tours around the harbour, giving a 10% discount for Torbay Express passengers. It was a marvellous trip, all the better for the very amusing commentary by the pilot of the boat, and of course the glorious weather. We took a leisurely walk around pretty and picturesque Dartmouth, settling on a bench by the harbour with an ice-cream to watch the world go by – one of the stewards of the Torbay Express walking past said she’d snitch on us is we didn’t eat our dinner later!

Late afternoon it was time to take the ferry back to Kingswear and re-board the train for the journey home. Tables dressed for dinner, with cosy lights casting a romantic glow and a lively glass of champagne revived us after our stroll through Dartmouth. Dinner was excellent, to start, carrot, coriander and red lentil soup or prawn cocktail, followed by roast beef, Yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings, for pudding, mango and passion fruit bavarois, then the cheese board with cheddar, red Leicester and stilton, finished off with coffee and chocolates. We enjoyed our dinner hugely, and aided by the very reasonable bar prices had half a bottle of Mâcon Lugny (£10.00) and a bottle of Merlot (£19.00).

The highest praise goes to the Flying Scotsman Catering Services who provide the first class quality food, professionally served and always with a smile and some charming banter. We had a wonderful day and enjoyed every minute of it; everyone involved took the greatest care of us and it was a very special occasion.

Jacquie Vowles

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