Yesterday was my 64th birthday, and the Swan Whisperer gave me the present of a Railtour, called the Great Central Lament. He even splashed out for First Class Dining, and I am very glad he did, as, unlike on the Railtour we went on last November, there weren't any stops where food could be had.
We had to be at Finsbury Park for 7:49 am, so got up at silly o'clock and were away by 7:00. Finsbury Park is NOT a user-friendly station, nothing but steps, firstly up from the Victoria Line to street level, and then more steps up to the Network Rail platforms. My poor knees - and I was certainly not the oldest and lamest person on the tour, by a long way.
The train came in on time and we found our seats - an old Pullman carriage (built in 1956, I was told later) - at a beautifully-laid table.
We had hoped we had the full four seat bay to ourselves, but were joined at Stevenage by a very nice couple - it was her birthday treat, too - and they were very knowledgeable about railways and so on, which was nice. The route we went was as follows:
When we got back on the train, lunch was ready - a baked potato with coleslaw and cheese, and tea or coffee if you wanted it (which I didn't, at that stage).
The train rolled on throughout the afternoon, sometimes running late, sometimes making up the time and having to wait for itself. We knitted (my seatmate and I did; the menfolk didn't!), dozed, and enjoyed watching the beautiful English countryside, truly at its best at this time of year, roll by. There were some interesting rail depots, too.
Dinner was served quite early, and was a bit of a marathon. The first course was a choice of prawn skewers (which the Swan Whisperer chose as he doesn't get prawns at home) or Crème du Barry soup, which is a posh name for cream of cauliflower soup, and very good it was, too. This was followed by roast pork with all sorts of vegetables and apple sauce. I know there was cod on offer, too, but I don't know what, if anything, they supplied for vegetarians; it is possible there were none on the tour, but I think you had to say when booking if this was what you wanted. Anyway, I didn't want, so that was all right. Then there was a choice of sweet or savoury - we all had the sweet, which was a delicious lemon tart with a fresh berry compote and cream, yummy, and, just as you thought you couldn't eat another mouthful, there was the cheeseboard! I didn't have much cheese, but a token amount. And they very kindly found me some lemon to have in my tea - I had had rather a lot of coffee with breakfast and didn't want any more that day - so that was nice, too. And chocolates, which would have been nicer had they been chilled, but you can't have everything....
Meanwhile the train rolled on; the tables were cleared and people dozed or chatted. Our new friends got out at Stevenage, so we had the table to ourselves for the last half hour and could get our things together ready to get out when we got back to Finsbury Park. And down all those stairs, then straight on to a Victoria Line train and so home.
It really was a lovely day. Quite apart from the pleasure of being on a train - always enjoyable - it was very luxurious, and the views from the train windows of the English countryside (and of Sheffield, if you like views of Sheffield!) were magnificent. Most people would have liked a second leg-stretch before dinner, though, and were sorry there was no opportunity for one. But it was a lovely day. England really is beautiful on a summer's day.