LET THE TRAIN TAKE THE STRAIN
I love trains. Step aboard and even the twenty-five minute journey from my home into the nearby city of Bath is an adventure.
I can enjoy the scenery. The river, the canal, the weir at Avoncliff, the soft hills, the blackthorn flowering in spring and, last week, those blackthorn heavy with sloes. Then, finally, the view of Bath laid out over the hills, golden in sunlight.
When I was ten years old I travelled with my family by train to Austria for a holiday in St Anton. There were horrible green upright seats on the French trains (my Dad slept on the floor, my aunt stayed awake and knitted socks). The Swiss train had park bench style wooden seats which were bigger and a more ergonomic shape but then our travel courier said there was a spare first class carriage and we were moved to luxury as we swept by Lake Geneva. And we stopped in Basle for breakfast in the station restaurant – stiff white cloths, silver cutlery, our first “continental” breakfast!
I once had a fabulous day out with the dh and the children travelling from London to York on a privately hired Pullman, a treat from the client for all the consultants working on a big project. A fabulous full English silver service breakfast, a day in York (if you go there do not miss the Yorvik Centre – a recreation of medieval York with all the sounds and smells) and then home with roast beef and all the trimmings, good wine and a disco on board. York was amazing, but it’s the train that lingers in the memory. I sometimes see a Pullman waiting at the platform in Bath, the tables laid, lamps lit and long to be one of the passengers stepping aboard.
I’ve travelled first class on the Eurostar to Brussels from St Pancras with it’s beautiful statue of lovers – meeting or parting?. That was a joy. A glass of fizz at the Champagne Bar to toast the poet Sir John Betjeman who campaigned to save it’s Victorian glory from the vandals who would have demolished it, then all aboard to be served great food served by charming French staff. A very different experience to the Intercity from Swansea to Paddington the day before!
Needless to say, a trip of the Orient Express is top of my bucket list. (I recently read a book by Veronica Henry – A Night on the Orient Express ….sigh).
The nearest I’ve ever come to a night of the Orient Express was a night on the train from Nairobi to Mombasa. It’s only 300 miles. In Europe it would go by in a flash but the rails are narrow gauge in Kenya and the top speed is around 30 miles an hour.
The station was packed. We were travelling first class with a sleeping car but there were hundreds of people, loaded up with baskets and bags, crowding onto the carriages with open windows. It was that joyous mayhem that you only get at railway stations – not that hideous stress engendered by air travel.
We were settled in our compartment by our steward. It was an old train and the art deco interior was not quite up to the standard of the Orient Express but it evoked thoughts of the travellers, back in the twenties and thirties who, having disembarked from their ship at Mombasa had travelled to Nairobi and on to their Highland farms. It did have all those Orient express touches, however. The tiny bathroom, the seats that were converted to beds while we having dinner.
Yes, I’m back to food. By the time we arrived at the dining room – flowers on the table, a lamp – white clothes and silver cutlery, we were sliding out of the city in a great curve that took us into the bush. We’d lived in Kenya for eighteen months, not in the city but a small town called Machakos, about forty miles south of Nairobi where, first thing in the morning, before the heat created a haze, we could see the snows on Mount Kilimanjaro from our verandah.
This was familiar territory but for once we were not rushing by in a car, or bouncing over tracks in a Landrover, but high up There were no towns to pass through now and, as darkness fell, all we could see were the fires lit in small villages, and alongside the tracks.
We knew all about this railway. The dh and I had both read a fabulous book called The Lunatic Express by Charles Miller which tells the history of the building of the railway from Mombasa to Lake Victoria. We crossed the Tsavo river where it had been held up for a year by man-eating lions – the dh had been constructing a road bridge further down the river. It was a crazy, epic adventure and out there, in the dark, very little had changed.
There was no air conditioning and windows had been let down so that there was only the fly screen between us and the bush. The train felt almost like a time machine. We could have been those early settlers whose house we had had been living in.
We slept a fitfully – narrow gauge is not the most comfortable ride in the world – and were woken by our steward with morning tea. There was just time to freshen up, have breakfast and then we were pulling into Mombasa station. White picket fence, bougainvillaea scrambling over the place and an entirely different climate. We had travelled not just three hundred miles, but down six thousand feet from the crisp cool air of Nairobi to the warm humidity of the coast where the Arabs had left their indelible mark and their language and where our driver, with our car and luggage was waiting to pick us up.
Liz Fielding has a new book this month, The Bridesmaid’s Royal Bodyguard.
After being sacked from her job on the gossip magazine Celebrity, Ally Parker is forced to return home to Combe St. Philip with her tail between her legs. She is given a fresh start when her childhood friend, Hope, asks her to work PR for Hope’s marriage to Prince Jonas of San Michele.
When Count Fredrik Jensson, head of security for the royal family, arrives to check out the village, he makes it clear that her past employment makes her unfit for the role. The fact that there’s a sizzle between them from the moment they meet only makes everything worse.
Forced together on a trip to San Michele for the official announcement of the wedding, Fredrik and Ally find themselves stranded overnight in his mountain retreat. Their sizzle flares into an inferno. However, their night of passion sours when he sees her with her ex-boss. Believing that Ally is about to buy back her job with wedding secrets, Fredrik turns back to ice. What will it take to see the person she truly is and a thaw to set in?