Day trip to Winchester for Mum’s big birthday with Steam Dreams Rail Co
The Railway Children movie - the original 1970s one, obviously - is one of my Mum’s favourite films, so I was pretty ‘chuffed’ with myself when I thought of the perfect way we could celebrate her big birthday together. Not only did I want to spoil my Mum but I wanted to create everlasting memories with her, so I looked into day trips from London via steam train.
Choosing Steam Dreams Rail Co and Pullman Style Dining
After scrolling the internet, I was immediately drawn to Steam Dreams Rail Co who offer a variety of day trips to different cities and towns across the UK, all hauled by historic locomotives from their collection.
The day trip to Winchester specifically caught my attention. I had never been to the city before; everything I knew about it was from the Netflix series The Last Kingdom, when it was known as Wintancaester in 900 A.D. If you haven’t seen the series then you must, it’s the best thing I have watched in years. Anyway, after some subtle detective work with my Dad, turns out Mum had been to Winchester before but only briefly. The decision was made.
I read online that Steam Dreams had just launched a new elevated dining menu, led by new Executive Chef, Nicholas Allen, and in Pullman Style Dining guests are served a seasonal four course meal created by regional and responsibly sourced suppliers. I decided to book Pullman Style Dining - one of the three classes on offer.
On arrival in London Victoria at 8.15 a.m., and successfully putting her off the scent by hinting at seeing a show in London, I finally told Mum where we were going and she was absolutely delighted. We headed straight to Platform 2 to board our locomotive for the day, the Braunton, and were greeted by an abundance of friendly, very dapper looking staff.
Chugging our way to Winchester
We sat down at our table, in elegant 1950s wood panelled carriages, in the most comfortable classic armchairs and it instantly felt like we were transported to a bygone era. The decor was stunning, with beautiful crockery and fresh flowers on our table. Breakfast was served leisurely and everyone enjoyed Tricloi melon and blueberry granola, Tiresford Farm yoghurt and seeded granola, followed by their choice of two breakfast options- a Full English or Loch Duart smoked salmon with poached Freshfield farm eggs on sourdough toast with caviar. Now I don’t think I am fussy, my Mum would disagree, but asking for the smoked salmon with no eggs, no butter and no caviar, was no problem at all for the onboard chef. We sat back relaxed and enjoyed a breakfast Bellini as we chugged out of London Victoria, waving regally to awaiting steam trains fans.
The train crossed Grosvenor Bridge over the River Thames, and past the now decommissioned Battersea Power Station, before making its way to Woking. From here, the train traversed through Surrey and Hampshire between the North Wessex Downs and South Downs on the approach to this historic city.
The journey to Winchester was three hours and with the meticulous service and never-ending breathtaking scenery, it didn’t feel either too long or too short a time. It was spot on. Just as we were due to disembark, our server came round to take our drinks order for the evening haul back to London. He said they would be waiting when we got back, which sounded heavenly as we had a lot of exploring to do and were in for a busy afternoon.
Exploring historic Winchester
We arrived in Winchester just before midday and had until our departure at 18.43 (precisely) to explore the city. The passengers disembarked and all headed one way, to the main high street. Our first stop was meant to be the iconic Winchester Cathedral but we got distracted by the Saturday market selling a variety of items including culinary delights, bespoke jewellery and commemorative Coronation items.
Winchester Cathedral, as expected, was magnificent. At over 900 years old it stands mighty and even the slight drizzle didn’t stop the crowds gathering to gaze in wonder. We went into the entrance to take a peep inside but decided not to pay to go for a tour. We had a lot more to see!
As we strolled along the River Itchen, taking in the houses with gardens that back onto the water, we came across Winchester City Mill, a National Trust site. The mill is a rare example of an urban corn mill that dates back at least 1000 years. Entrance was free (donations are encouraged) as the site isn’t that large and there was a quaint coffee shop where we got our caffeine fix.
I was very excited to spot the striking statue of King Alfred the Great - I know all about him from The Last Kingdom - and it was amazing to see King Arthur’s legendary Round Table in the Great Hall. The Great Hall is all that remains of the medieval castle originally constructed for William the Conqueror in 1067 and it was really something to see. It only costs £4 per person to see this piece of history, an absolute bargain.
We spent the rest of our afternoon strolling through the streets, passing Jane Austen’s House, the city’s Westgate, and popping into some shops, before finding a really delightful restaurant/bar called Brasserie Blanc that was offering tempting Happy Hour cocktails. We were only a five-minute walk from the station, so it seemed like the perfect spot to end our time in Winchester.
The journey back to London Victoria
The train left on time and we arrived back to our seats with a glass of champagne waiting alongside some scrummy looking canapes. Steam Dreams’ menus are inspired by the route taken and the locations visited. Therefore, our four course dinner started with a Hampshire Coast Fishcake, followed by a main of free-range herb fed chicken supreme with a layered potato cake and New Forest wild mushrooms. Both courses were paired perfectly with the bottle of Giddy Goose Sauvignon Blanc that we pre-ordered and that was being kept chilled in a wine cooler on the table. Half a bottle of wine per person is included with the meal or you can choose to spend the equivalent (£21 per person) on drinks of your choice. Whilst browsing the drinks menu, we were pleasantly surprised at how reasonably priced the drinks were.
After a little break, the Great British cheese board came round on a trolley, served with Allen’s chutney and Artisan biscuits, before a St Clements tart berry meringue pudding. Coffees were served before arriving back in London Victoria at just before 10 p.m. for our homeward journey.
Everything about the day was seamless. The service was impeccable and the food was top-notch. The portions were considerable but not too large; we were able to enjoy every flavour of every delicious course. We were so well looked after; we felt like royalty. The whole day was one we will cherish forever. It was everything I hoped it would be for my Mum, and much more.
To book, visit Steam Dreams Rail Co's website today.
Dining options from £259 per person in Pullman Style Dining. £159 per person in First Class and Premium Standard tickets from £109 per person.