Royal Pleasures Aboard the Pullman

Associate editor Caroline Scutt hopped aboard the British Pullman during a recent trip to the U.K. Her report follows:

Reed Travel Features

LONDON -- As the popularity of the children's story "The Little Engine That Could" or the adult thriller "Murder on the Orient Express" illustrates, people never seem to outgrow their fascination with trains.

I am no exception, and I awaited my journey aboard the British Pullman with great anticipation.

My companion, MaryEllen, and I boarded the train after making a mad dash through Victoria Station with our luggage in tow.

We were running late and thought the train might pull away without us; everyone knows trains in Britain are always on schedule.

As it turned out, when we hadn't checked in, the staff thought we had gone, mistakenly, to Paddington Station and were having us paged there.

We were greeted with a warm, and somewhat embarrassing, welcome when we finally stumbled into our car.

Minutes later, we sat sipping champagne as the whistle blew, and we slipped away from the rush of the city into the elegance of an Old World rail journey to Stratford-Upon-Avon.

The British Pullman is the English cousin of the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.

When George Mortimer Pullman, an innovative American railway builder, introduced the train in 1881, he referred to the carriages as "palaces on wheels," and that remains true today.

Thanks to him, the first sleeping carriages and parlor cars in Britain went into service in the mid-1870s.

Following Pullman's lead, Georges Nagelmackers, a Belgian railway enthusiast, built luxury railway carriages on the continent and eventually bought out Pullman, and on Oct. 4, 1883, the Orient-Express train was inaugurated.

By 1889, Pullman passengers traveling from London aboard the Club Train were able to connect to the Orient-Express on the French side of the Channel.

The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of lavish rail journeys, but, by 1977, the Orient-Express terminated service.

Another American entrepreneur, James B. Sherwood, re-introduced the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express in 1982.

The British Pullman was re-introduced as a day-excursion train the same year, after craftsmen restored the brass, upholstery, spectacular mosaic floors and intricate marquetry in each car.

Each of the carriages, which date from the 1920s and 1930s, is decorated individually.

Who wouldn't feel like royalty sinking into the high-backed winged chairs and sipping champagne while watching the English countryside through the large picture windows.

After enjoying a wonderful four-course meal that was beautifully presented, we wandered through the rest of the train and found the other passengers also thoroughly enjoying themselves.

Several couples I met weren't strangers to the weekend getaways (see sidebar, page E19). One couple from Southampton was already looking forward to a New Year's Eve trip months away.

Although the ages of most passengers ranged from 40 to 70 and beyond, two young gentlemen, twins the ripe old age of 9, didn't seem to mind that they were the youngest travelers on board.

They were having a grand time and didn't object to having to wear button-down shirts and ties.

The suggested dress code is "smart casual" day wear -- in other words, no jeans and sneakers.

As the train rumbled along, the stewards managed to be attentive and unobtrusive at the same time, a feat that can be difficult to master.

Before we knew it, the stewards were informing us that our three-hour journey was coming to an end.

I found myself envious of the other passengers, who would be spending the weekend in Stratford and have the pleasure of returning to London on this beautiful tribute to another time.

MaryEllen and I were heading to Wales from here, and although we would be returning to London by train, the journey wouldn't be quite the same.

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