ALL ABOARD - FIRST CLASS DINING WITH DISTINCTION ON A Steam Train
It's New Year's Eve and the world has changed since my last blog. Queen Elizabeth II has died and during the 10 days of mourning that followed, tens of thousands joined queues that stretched for miles to pay their last respects before our Queen was laid to rest with her husband. We now have a king.
On 12th December, Britain recorded the coldest day of the year. Temperatures as low as minus 15.7 degrees Celsius meant that a blanket of snow covered London and other parts of the United Kingdom, causing widespread disruption and schools remained closed at the same time as a global fuel crisis.
What has not changed this time of year is that the nights are drawing in, our pavements are covered in reddish-brown leaves and Strictly Come Dancing 2022 has come and gone with my favourite celebrity Hamza, lifting the glitter ball.
Most of us work in jobs where being overworked and stressed is the price of job security. In June 2020 I decided to put myself front and centre by considering what I wanted. The correlation between stress, and our physical and mental well-being, is well known. During COVID we realised the importance of taking time away from the job. So we make it a priority to get away from it all and give ourselves time to think and rejuvenate. To grow, I had to step so far out of my comfort zone I had no idea how to or even want to get back. Log fires, chunky jumpers & boots encouraged me to swap central heating for the bold outdoors, and I haven’t looked back since.
Fortunately, my Fiance' shares my passion for travel. I am so excited to share our experience of fine dining aboard a steam train with you. We try to remember that time is a gift, not something we are entitled to. It is not about squeezing everything in. The magical moments seem to happen when we slow down. We choose how we spend the time we are given. So we make sure we celebrate every moment we get together. Readers welcome back to another staycation in the day and the life of a 60-year-old.
On this trip, our stopover at the Hilton inadvertently turned into an incredible wellness experience. Our outward stopover began with Afternoon Tea. Our homeward stopover ended with us taking full advantage of the hotel's spa facilities, which included the pool, hot tub, and sauna. Once we got over the initial shock of getting out of the pool and into the hot sauna, the endorphin rush from cold to hot was incredible.
According to some experts, all saunas have similar effects on the body. For me there is no replicating my body’s reaction to the sound of cold water hitting hot rocks and the whoosh of steam that follows. Then there is the feeling of ecstasy as my muscles crave the intense heat that follows, resulting in the dissipation of all stress, tension, tightness or soreness.
The relaxation effect is one of the main reasons I use a sauna. I simply have to cleanse and restore my body physically for my mind and emotions to follow suit. The effect of the sauna is long-lasting, and when I follow it up with a nightcap, I am guaranteed a better night’s sleep.
Stopover at Doubletree Hilton, Coventry
Lindell is so comfortable to be with and so protective. There had been the usual pre-staycation days of flirtatious texting, ritualistic daily countdown and growing excitement to that first night we find ourselves alone in our suite. The first lingering kisses are always natural and spontaneous, leaving us both breathless and hungry for more.
Our excitement could not be contained as the grey light of dawn found us standing outside packing the car at six in the morning. Lindell climbed into the passenger seat. The tiredness of yesterday's workday was long gone. Clean-shaven, he wore a crisp white shirt, jeans, new trainers, and a blazer. His appearance was impeccable. The seatbelt glided effortlessly across my middle and into the lock as I settled myself on the seat. After that, we were on our way.
Doubletree Hilton Coventry
Glad to arrive at the Doubletree Hilton Coventry, we pulled into the car park. Both of us were stiff, weary, and hot. We got out of the car and stretched. Our clothes were wrinkled and verging on tardiness. I returned the Sat Nav safely to its box. Lindell grabbed a luggage trolley from reception and began unloading the luggage around me. Knowing we were having Afternoon Tea in an hour, I tried to suppress my hunger. What I wanted most was to go to the luxurious suite I knew awaited and freshen up.
The suite was warm, the day’s heat lingering despite an open window. The four extra pillows requested were stacked at the foot of the bed. A room at the Hilton invites you to immediately unwind after your journey. The last suitcase had arrived. As I flopped onto the bed, the stress of driving evaporated.
Lindell caught sight of himself in the mirror. His shirt collar drooped; his clothes were as creased as the service receipts in his pocket. Stubble shadowed his jaw. I have just enough time to take care of that and dress for afternoon tea - he thought to himself.
Afternoon Tea at The Hilton
It was at the historic rooms of Bettys in Harrogate, many years ago that my love of afternoon tea began.
Clusters of businessmen and ladies on their phones and laptops buzzed around us in the restaurant, bar, and window seats. A sun-filled conservatory provided the perfect setting for our afternoon tea as we were seated at a table marked "reserved."
Our crisp white tablecloth was soon adorned with fondant fancies, dainty sandwiches, irresistible miniature cakes, scones, cream, jam, and other preserves. A ‘bottomless’ supply of English Breakfast Tea was soon to follow.
Even though we travel to many beautiful places, he always makes me feel grounded and grateful, no matter where I am. We always make time to unwind together at the end of each day. When I am alone with him, I am always rested. His presence makes all my worries disappear and the world a better place.
With no shame, I bite into the scone I had just stuffed full of jam and cream. In response to the now familiar, you're doing something you enjoy dopamine rush, my body relaxed and slumped into my chair. I turned my face skyward for the sun that filtered through the conservatory glass to warm my face. I take a few mindful breaths. Amidst the hustle and bustle of daily life, rest and recreation are deemed a luxury to be experienced in limited amounts, at weekends or on holiday.
I closed my eyes to concentrate on the present moment. I take a few deep breaths of warm air and sink deeper into the chair as I exhale. Gratitude, trust, calm, and clarity fill my whole being as I relax my forehead, muscles, and shoulders.
We didn't have to worry about feeling full because any food we didn't consume was boxed for us to take to our room. Definitely a Tea-licious experience.
Evening in at Hilton
Don't get me wrong, we love to be in the middle of things where there's a lot to do, but it's also a requirement that we have another kind of fun by simply doing nothing. Our rooms provide a calm and tranquil environment where we can relax in comfort and total peace. Our own place of solitude where we can dim the lights, tune out the world's chatter and dial down the pace of our lives.
Unwinding in silk pyjamas, propped up on plump pillows on crisp linen, is one of our favourite ways to relax. The conversation would drift in many directions, but mostly about upcoming events and getaways, just the two of us. A perfect place to laugh, relax, and re-energise. Drinking Irish Single Malt Whiskey and nibbling on snacks works wonders to relieve residual tension.
When he eventually crawled into bed, I realised that all he wanted was closeness and sleep. I warmed the glass with hot water, tossed it, poured the whiskey, and handed it to him. He smiled before moving his hand down and gripping one buttock beneath my silky pyjamas before accepting. He sipped slowly, savouring the warm flavour of whiskey on his lips, in his throat, and in his stomach.
I looked across at him, his shoulders relaxed, his breathing slow and even. I could tell at a glance that the whiskey had had an effect. His eyes were drowsy and heavy lidded. The bedside light cast shadows over the face of an uncomplicated man. He could be obstinate at times and yet always loving, protective and kind at the same time. I exhaled.
His eyelids drooped lower and lower. I knew it was time to rescue the whiskey glass from his slumping hand.
“I love you,” I said. His eyes blinked drowsily open. “Did you say something?”
“No,” I lied before moving closer and kissing him. He turned his head towards mine, sleepily seeking my mouth. We kissed for a few seconds until his jaw relaxed and his kiss grew sleepier.
I remembered we had a long drive to Lancashire the next day and was suddenly very tired. My veins hummed with happiness and alcohol. I extricated myself from his half embrace, turned out the bedside light and fell asleep.
Best Western Manchester Bury Bolholt Country Park Hotel
Putting the picturesque grounds aside, one glance at this charming hotel and I instinctively knew that it could not compete with the Hilton. I held my tongue; Lindell's 60th Birthday was too important to spoil. I chose this hotel because of its proximity to Bolton Station, where our Stream Train Fine Dining Experience would begin.
The corridor to our room was narrow and dark, and the carpet was threadbare and stained. A distinct smell of mould permeated the air. On arrival, we were too tired to change rooms. The hotel was rundown and in need of a fresh coat of paint.
If you are not a wedding guest, don't expect to stay in the standard rooms advertised. The bathroom was spacious, the mirror for applying makeup was large, and there was additional lighting that was excellent. There was a deep, clean bath.
Cleanliness has been and will always be the most basic expectation. Poor hotel hygiene, even before COVID, remains an unforgivable aspect of hotel stays.
Get Ready With Me
After carefully placing the wig, I anchored it with hairpins and looked at myself in the mirror. I had the same features as I always had, eyes, nose, mouth, chin, but I wasn't myself anymore. It was astounding how much difference a wig made. There was one for every mood and every outfit. The wig gave her the Hollywood glamour she felt was necessary for an evening aboard a steam train.
Lindell shrugged into his evening jacket, turned to me and asked, "Well, what do you think?"
I stared back at him, my chest filled with pride. His broad shoulders in the dinner jacket elicited the familiar chest tightening, skin tingling, and pulse fluttering response. Tears pricked my eyelids. "You Sir", I said, finding my voice, “Look like James Bond that’s what I think".
I suddenly found it difficult to breathe the room seemed not to have enough air, and it had nothing to do with the heatwave the UK was experiencing and everything to do with the man standing across the room staring at me.
He came across the room and hugged me. The impact of those eyes made my chest tighten and my heartbeat quicken. He drew me in closer, kissed my ear lobe, took it in his teeth, lightly bit it, and kissed his way down my jaw to my mouth. I knew we had to leave, that I should stop him, but it felt so good. I was acutely aware of my body reacting to him. The tingling heat, the lack of breath. As his soft lips explored my throat, my body hummed. If this had happened at a different time and place, I would have cancelled all plans for this special evening.
"Babe, I'll meet you at the car, I just need to go to reception." I took an instant dislike to the Receptionist. This must have been evident on my face as he stiffened, his thin lips compressed as I approached him.
I managed to muster a polite smile and, through gritted teeth, told him that I had a complaint. Leaning over the reception desk I hissed, "the CEO will be hearing from me, if our room is not replenished with toiletries, complimentary coffee, tea, sugar and our beds not changed before my return." His lips tightened even more and practically disappeared.
His voice was stiff and wooden, and his face torturous as he assured me he would take care of it. He was clearly offended, but did I give a damn? Hell no!
Our Premier Fine Dining journey aboard a luxury steam train began in Bury at a historic station tucked away in Lancashire.
As he gave our names to the station master, I glanced down at his large, strong hands and how my slim fingers fit perfectly into his. His excitement had gotten the better of him. Like a naughty toddler, he was itching to run but forced himself to walk instead. In his uncharacteristic haste to join the other guests, he had forgotten to place me on the side farthest away from danger. This was not the time to remind him. I decided to match my stride to his instead.
Tonight was a chance to dress up and be treated like an A-lister. Obviously, I had my iPhone handy to help me remember the experience. As the aperitifs and champagne were being served on the opposite platform, I couldn't help but stare at the evening dresses sparkling against the black dinner jackets. As he placed his hand on the small of my back to cross the tracks to the platform, a tidal wave of longing surged through me. Over the years, we have created many memories together. An evening spent in a carriage would rank among the most romantic experiences.
The sound of the horn and eloquently dressed stewards lined up in military precision signalled that it was time to step on the red carpet. Once on board the iconic steam locomotive, I am greeted by crisp white linen, polished wooden panelling and luxurious surroundings. I am instantly transported back to the days of Hollywood glamour when dining on a traditional Pullman carriage, like those on the Orient Express, was considered the height of luxury. As we are shown to our table and seated, I realise this is no ordinary train and all on board are travelling first class. To start things off, I ask the waiter to crack open a bottle of Champagne. Amongst the murmur of excited conversation, there was a gentle huffing of the train, and without any further ado, we were off.
The romance of a steam train dinner with a steward on hand to cater to your every whim, cannot be matched! The whistles and horns of the locomotive pull you further away from reality. The gentle chugging of the engine is juxtaposed with soft music playing in the background as you watch nature pass you by through the windows.
We both sat in awe, looking out at the edge of the city where the townscape gives way to moorland and steam through the picturesque Lancashire countryside. As the landscape outside becomes sparse and day merges into the night, a bread basket is offered, and a wine list is presented.
We weren't sure where we were after the first course, but the gently sloping hills, tidy head rows, and fat sheep were a world away from London.
Slowing and hissing sounds indicated our arrival at the first stop at Ramsbottom Station.
After a short interval, our mains are presented. The servings were generous.
My stomach tightens, reminding me that I had purposefully not eaten much today.
The beef wellington was probably the best I have ever eaten. The vegetables were golden and buttery. The beef was tender and wrapped in a light and flaky pastry. Too hungry to observe etiquette, I devoured one delicious mouthful after another halfway through my main course before I could drag my eyes from my plate.
My pulse gave an appreciating little flutter. I set down my knife and fork, reached for some sparkling water, and took a thirst-quenching drink.
Stealing a glance at him, I studied his face. His was a face of assertive masculinity and kindness. He didn't have a bad-boy swagger, but that didn't matter. My father instilled in me that a man's character is what matters.
Our love happened so naturally and beautifully that I didn't even notice it. I never have to ask for quality time. Prioritising what matters most to us helped us grow together. We have never stopped doing the things we did to win each other over.
This man taught me that love is not rational. Love is magical, patient and kind; Love is deliberate; Love is a challenge; Love is pain and sacrifice. He was love.
The second half of my main course was starting to get cold. Rave reviews emanated from the couple sitting at the opposite table. This time I ate slowly, gently turning thoughts over in my mind about how passionate I felt.
We sat staring out the window and made no attempt at conversation while the serving staff removed dishes, cutlery and napkins before refilling their wine glasses. We stopped on a section of the trail that towered over a forested ridge with a panoramic view of Heywood and the River Roch running underneath the town centre, bringing the North West's industrial legacy to life right before our eyes.
It was a remarkable feat aboard a moving train that the food was served hot. You could be excused for believing you had entered a high-end West End Michelin Star restaurant if it weren't for the occasional rocking.
It just so happened that the bar was stationed right behind my seat; how convenient. Those that know me would say I had planned it this way. As we chug along deep into the moorlands, the wine, gentle rocking of the train and soft music add to the romance of the occasion. It was the perfect moment to relax and soak up the views, revelling in the golden age of rail travel.
The East Lancashire historic steam train provides the best view of the stark, solitary beauty of the undulating heath and moorland. The sturdy grey stone of fortified homes that were once weaving mills is the perfect setting for Taylor Bradford's novel, A Woman of Substance.
Back at the hotel, I burrowed myself into his embrace, trying to press myself even closer to him. Slowly, sleepily and tenderly, he kissed me. Our kiss was gradual and leisurely. His lips were tinged with single-malt whiskey. I was warmed by the firmness of his body beneath his pyjamas. As he proceeded to kiss me again, the slow blink of his eyes, lazy arms and the steady rise and fall of his chest signalled to me that he was ready for sleep.
I reached down and stroked his cheek. Then I bent down and pressed my lips lightly to his. He didn't stir. Bursting with emotions all mixed in the joy and wonder of love, I turned over and turned out the light.
Bolton - The Morning After
The next time I saw Lindell, he was propped on one elbow. "Good morning gorgeous what time is it?"
"Time you got up, showered and shaved so that we can go to breakfast and get going. I didn't mean to wake you but we need to get out of here and back to the Hilton fast."
"You are right," he yawned and threw back the covers.
Our three-night stay at the Bolton Hotel had finally come to an end. We were anxious to return to the cosy environment of the Hilton Hotel. We missed the homely amenities like bathrobes, slippers, numerous power outlets with USB ports and Mocha for breakfast upon request. Fair enough, the beds at the Bolton were comparable to those in other lodgings, and we both slept rather well—apart from the morning we were awakened by children shouting and running up and down the hallway. This did not make for a pleasant beginning and set the tone for what was to come. The situation was made worse when our hotel key—yes, they only gave us one—kept locking us out and needed to be reset by uncooperative reception employees.
We had to wait in line every morning for breakfast to hear the same thing: "I have to go to reception to see if you have paid since it shows you haven't here on my list." We also had to ask reception to update this information on the list so that it didn't happen to us the following morning. I couldn't help thinking this would never happen at the Hilton.
Breakfast was self-service and similar to the Hilton. We chose the only luxury offered at this hotel - a full English. Knowing the comforts of the Hilton would be at hand in only two hours and thirty minutes, we returned to our room and packed in haste.
It will come as no surprise to you that an email hit the CEO’s desk before we checked into the Hilton.
Homeward Bound at Hilton
Arriving somewhat worn out, we opt for a hot bath, room service, and a nightcap. I must have dozed off as soon as my head was on the pillow because it was suddenly daylight. I blinked and softly stretched. I could hear movement and the bubbling sound of an electric kettle, and I knew someone was brewing coffee. I reached out to retrieve my vibrating phone from the bedside table and said, "Good morning, darling," as I unlocked it. "It is now nine o'clock" I screamed.
He smiled, his tone soft, and said, "That's OK, I have arranged a late check out because today, my lady is having breakfast in bed." And there it was, I thought, staring back at him - from the beginning, he had given her his attention, been honest, loyal, and always tried. The qualities that had made him the man she had fallen in love with now reflected back at her. Suddenly, I was choked up with tears as my throat muscles tightened. Not only did he make me feel alive, but he also made me feel loved, and that was deeply and profoundly comforting. Her heart had been lost or won depending on how one looked at it.
"Thank you so much," I replied tenderly. I wanted nothing more than to lie in bed and let myself be swept up in the moment. The last time I slept in that late was before I had children.
It was one of those blissful indulgences reserved for when I was away from home.
"Room service," said a female voice at the door. As the trolley was wheeled into the room, the smell wafting from under the silver cloches made me hungry.
The second we were alone, I threw back the covers and crossed the room needing to be close to him. He put both arms around me. I closed my eyes and rested my cheek against his chest, feeling dazed, languorous and deeply contented. His chest was broad, his arms warm, and his heart beat strong beneath my ear.
It felt right, deeply and profoundly right. This was how it was meant to be the two of us together. Lindell slid a hand down and cupped one buttock beneath my silky pyjamas, and a sigh of contentment escaped my lips.
I looked up at him and pressed my lips against his. He kissed me back eagerly. As our mouths moved slowly together, there was no heat in the exchange, just comfort and tenderness. Reluctantly, he broke the kiss. Looking past me at the trolley, his voice deep and authoritative, he whispered, "Shall we"?
This 60th birthday celebration extended well beyond 5-star fine dining on a steam train. It was an enriching, indulgent experience. It’s a luxury train service with dedicated staff providing exquisite cuisine.