Britain's poshest train came to Norwich and Ipswich and it was pure luxury
- Credit: Louisa Baldwin
The Northern Belle, once part of the iconic Orient Express group, returned to East Anglia this week, with trips to stately homes departing from Norwich and Ipswich.
I arrived with my mum at Norwich Station just before 7am on Tuesday and was bleary-eyed but eager to step on board.
After checking in at the help desk and a short wait, a member of staff opened the side gate and all the passengers, mostly wearing smart clothes, walked onto the platform to find their carriage, with all named after British stately homes or castles.
This includes Chatsworth House in Derbyshire, which was one of the places guests could visit on their day trip, with the option also to go to nearby Hardwick Hall.
We were in Alnwick, named after the castle in Northumberland, and we had a real VIP welcome by a member of staff as we stepped on board and were immediately transported back in time to the golden age of rail travel, with 1930s-style Pullman carriages.
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It certainly had the wow factor with plush sofas and cushions, beautifully-laid dining tables, between groups of two or four, and elegant patterns throughout.
Before long, the train set off and we were given tea and coffee and a welcome peach Bellini, which definitely woke us up, and around 8am we picked up more passengers at Ipswich Station.
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With all passengers on board, the fun really began and we set off on the long journey to Chesterfield Station, where there would be coach transfers to the stately homes.
While the prospect of sitting on a train for over five hours would normally fill me with dread, I simply did not want to get off when we arrived at our destination at midday.
On the way, we were treated to a three-course brunch, which included a twice-baked mature cheddar cheese soufflé with hot smoked salmon and it was divine, with a sprinkling of caviar on top to make it extra special.
The courses were well spaced out and a magician walked down the train doing sleight of hand tricks during the gaps - he also checked that we were comfortable with him performing due to coronavirus.
Other safety measures in place included plastic screens above seats and between groups, which you could barely notice, and masks needed when going to the toilet, which were spotlessly clean and a member of staff also went around regularly cleaning all touch points.
From the station, a coach then took us to Chatsworth House, around a 30-minute trip, with a friendly tour guide giving information about the Peak District as we drove through, which was beautiful with miles of rolling hills and stone cottages.
We eventually arrived at the estate, which is where 2005 film Pride and Prejudice was shot, and the house towers above hundreds of acres of gardens and grounds.
We were then given our timed entry tickets and told to be back at the coach around three hours later.
While the house was beautiful, it was such a gorgeous day that we whizzed around quite quickly so we could explore more of the gardens.
The gardens were the absolute star of the show and looked sublime in the summer sunshine, with its Kitchen Garden, gravity-fed Emperor Fountain, which reaches 60 metres high, and the hugely-impressive Rock Garden with a waterfall.
We then got back on the coach and headed to Chesterfield Station, where we had another warm welcome onto the train and the tables had been re-laid for dinner with a bottle of Pinot Grigio that we had selected.
This was covered by the £25 budget for each group of two for dinner drinks and it was served with canapés.
Before long, the train was moving again and four more courses followed, with a main of Welsh spring lamb and slow cooked shoulder with stock pot potatoes, new season asparagus, baby carrot and minted lamb jus.
The dish was delicious, with the shoulder falling apart at the touch of my fork, and thankfully I still had room for the cheeseboard afterwards - with a giant wooden tray brought over so you could choose what you wanted.
The entertainment this time was a guitarist and a trombone player, with the latter impressively playing through a hole in his moustache mask.
The meal took up most of the way back to Ipswich and the train then went on to Norwich, with staff going around and asking how everyone's day had been, and it eventually arrived at the station around 10.30pm.
It was 15 hours of pure luxury and in the current times, when many thinks are cancelled due to coronavirus, it was welcome escapism and the best day out I have had in a long time, with top notch service.
The Northern Belle next comes to Norwich and Ipswich for Christmas lunch on December 16, find out more and book at northernbelle.co.uk