We’ve dined on some memorable trains; breakfast on the Lake Shore Limited as it skirted the edge of Lake Erie on its route from New York to Chicago. Lunch at 190 miles per hour on one of the Frecciarossa trains between Naples and Florence and dinner on board the California Zepher as it made its long trek through the Rockies from the Pacific Ocean to our destination, Denver.
So, I jumped at the opportunity for Susan and myself to expand our dining experiences with afternoon tea on the local Ecclesbourne Valley Railway.
The line, which runs from Wirksworth to Duffield, was closed to passenger traffic 70 years ago and to freight 40 years later. With the help of volunteers the line has been re-opened and buildings restored. Many years ago the original Wirksworth station building was demolished to make way for a mineral loading dock. That has now been removed and a new station building, on the site of the old one, is under construction; built with modern materials and thankfully, up to date facilities.
Our journey started at the headquarters of the heritage railway center situated on Coldwell Street, Wirksworth, once the terminus of the old Duffield Wirksworth Midland Railway branch line. We parked in the large car park attached to the station site and made ourselves known at the souvenir shop; it also doubles as the booking office. We were told that this afternoon’s service would leave from platform 2.
The luxury afternoon teas are pre-booked and served on the 14:10 service from Wirksworth to Duffield. When the train arrived at platform 2 one of the many volunteers escorted us to our reserved compartment. The carriages are mid-20th century corridor style with opening top windows, brass door handles and a lot of polished woodwork. We could see that each compartment on the train was set for a party of 4. Tickets are sold in pairs and so, waiting for us in our compartment were 2 ladies we would be sharing the journey with: Barbara and Jane.
The compartment is designed to seat 6 people. However, for the afternoon tea, it’s restricted to 4. The table was decked out ready for the service: bright cutlery, china tea service, white table cloth and 4 glasses of buck’s fizz. We introduced ourselves and before the train had left the station all of us had started on the fizz!
As the train moved slowly away from Wirksworth station service began. The tea included a varied selection of freshly made sandwiches including tuna, cheese and cucumber and ham served on the bottom plate of a traditional tiered china stand. The top layer contained 2 delicious fruit scones with jam and clotted cream, 2 moist slices of carrot cake and an apricot filled pastry. Our empty glasses were taken away and replaced with a pot of fresh tea and for a coffee drinker like me, a pot of fresh coffee; regular or decaffeinated. Throughout the journey we were asked if we’d like more tea or coffee.
Although the journey is only a round trip of 18 miles we discovered a lot to chat about with our fellow travellers; who both had railway connections. We stayed on the train in Duffield for the return journey to Wirksworth. We finished the cakes and scones and were offered yet more tea and coffee.
It had been a delightful experience. Afternoon tea at a leisurely pace; watching the countryside glide past. Nothing to do for almost 2 hours but enjoy the food, conversation and scenery.
The experience includes a full day rover ticket so that guests can enjoy the freedom of the line on the day and explore the surrounding countryside. A comfortable way to explore is by leaving the train at Idridgehay and walking to Shottle to catch the next train or walking to Idridgehay from Shottle. You can also use the day ticket to start at Duffield before the dining train and return there afterwards on the last train of the day.
For the railway enthusiasts the locomotive hauling the train was a diesel BR Class 33 no. 33103, named Swordfish after the bi-plane not the predatory sea creature.