There was a documentary on the telly yesterday about the Venice Simplon Orient Express. One of the lady’s in it mentioned that she can now tick it off her bucket list. It was also on my list for a very long time till two years ago. Murali received an award from work for services and a voucher to spend. One of the items on the list, where we could spend our voucher on, was ‘travel on the Belmond trains’. These are the sister trains to the Orient Express. To join the famous Venice trip from London on the Orient Express, the first leg of the journey is on the ‘Belmond British Pulman’. For me this was the only item which caught the eye. I went through the list of travel dates and journeys we could take on these luxury trains. It had to fit in with our free time and also the starting point had to be within easy reach.
We settled for the ‘Brief Encounter’ trip on the ‘Northern Belle’ and did it in August 2014 to coincide with our wedding anniversary. The beautifully boxed train tickets arrived detailing the journey information and four course dinner menu. It spelt of luxury and I couldn’t wait.
The day finally came. We travelled to Crewe and checked into our hotel. The station was a short walk from the hotel. We arrived in plenty of time. We could easily make out our fellow travellers from the way they were dressed. Everyone looked smart as if they were going to a posh wedding. The minutes passed as we all waited to see the train come around the bend and when it finally did, it was all we expected it to be. We were transported back in time and it felt like we were on an ‘Agatha Christie’ movie set. The train stopped and the stewards came out and welcomed us in. We were shown to our seats. Each of the six carriages are named after a British castle or stately home. Lavishly furnished and lovingly restored the carriages provide a 1930s ‘country house’ atmosphere. I looked around to see if Hercule Poirot was sitting at any of the tables. Our tables were laid with crystal and branded silverware. Soon our champagne arrived which set the tone for what was to come. Once the train started moving through the Lancashire countryside our food was served along with the wine.
The trip we chose was to Carnforth railway station, which was the setting for one of Britain’s most popular romantic films, David Lean’s ‘ Brief Encounter ‘. Filmed in 1945, it starred Celia Johnson, who was nominated for an academy award for this role, and Trevor Howard. A chance encounter at the station between the middle class house wife (Laura) and doctor (Howard) led to an almost near affair. Both, married with kids, enjoy each other’s company and agree to meet every Thursdays. The relationship soon becomes complicated as they fall in love and yet realise that a future together is impossible. The film shows Laura narrating the story in her mind to her husband, Fred, a loving but boring husband. Beautifully filmed in black and white the film still holds a special place in film history even after 70 years. The station buildings underwent extensive refurbishment and the Heritage Centre was opened in 2003. At the station we got off for a short break. ‘The Brief Encounter refreshment room ‘ where the couple first meet has been restored to it’s 1940s glory and the ‘Brief Encounter’ exhibition room plays the film on a loop. There are other exhibitions dedicated to the steam age. The station clock made famous in the film also still exists. We did not get back to our hotel room till quite late that night. The trip back covered the same route, but this time the sun was setting which gave the whole scene a different hue. It was a trip to remember and I will certainly cherish it.
Can I tick it off my bucket list? After all it is not the actual Orient Express and the famous Paris to Venice trip. I thought I could until yesterday. After watching the programme, I think it is still on my list and one of these days I will definitely do it.