Refine your search
There’s a wonderful moment at the beginning of any train journey when, gazing through the window, the platform starts to slip away. On this particular train there’s also a unique sound, not dissimilar to an orchestra tuning up: the soft chinking of crystal glassware. Then the gentle rhythmic chiming of fine china and silver cutlery as the train gathers speed, and the rising descant of excited conversation as the effervescence of Champagne takes effect. The Belmond Northern Belle is under way.
This is train travel as it was originally meant to be. From its inception up to its heyday in the early 20th century, first class rail journeys were truly glamorous and romantic. The big expresses had evocative names like Flying Scotsman, Golden Arrow and Cornish Riviera Express, and were synonymous with luxurious service and magnificent countryside. Belmond Northern Belle brings that era back to life.
The train’s seven carriages, named for British castles and country estates, come with their own inspiring names, all redolent of aristocracy and heritage. From Duart and Glamis in Scotland to Harlech on the Welsh coast, and Belvoir in central England, they are suggestive of the train’s wide-ranging itineraries. While there may be a ‘Northern’ in its name, its journeys span the country’s length and breadth, from Edinburgh to Bodmin Moor and back again.
In the repertoire are day trips or weekend breaks to some of Britain’s finest attractions, such as London’s Hampton Court Palace or the Royal Yacht Britannia at its mooring in Edinburgh. For history buffs, there are trips to grand castles such as Alnwick on the Northumberland coast, to the Roman-walled city of Chester, or York with its magnificent Minster.
There are city-break tours to London and Inverness and to horticultural events such as the RHS Chelsea and Harrogate Flower Shows. And for gourmet food lovers there are non-stop dining adventures, with the chance to indulge in the finest cuisine, wine and scenery without ever disembarking.
And why would you want to leave the train? You travel in carriages aglow with polished brass, brocaded curtains and mosaic floors, in a celebration of British heritage and craftsmanship. Ceilings are hand-painted, too, with motifs that capture the spirit of the castle or country house after which each carriage is named. The ceiling of Duart, for example, features a painting of plants and animals native to Scotland, such as the red deer and Scottish primrose.
Walls are decorated with marquetry panelling by A Dunn & Son, a studio founded in 1895 whose previous commissions include ocean liners, such as the Titanic, the Lusitania, the Queen Mary and the Queen Elizabeth. Albert’s granddaughter and her team still employ traditional methods that were used back in the 1700s.
Lavatory floors are a riot of colourful mosaic work, so fine you barely dare to tread on them. They are the work of Brighton-based Aimee Harman, a former art student who was drawn to their “permanent and indestructible nature” For Chatsworth, her work takes inspiration from the facade, the fountains and the wandering pheasants.
This intricate interior detailing requires the constant care and attention of specialist teams to stay in tiptop condition. They include Bryan Greenham at the family firm of French polishers Greenham & Sons (established 1884), who is responsible for the marquetry panels and other woods. He works his way steadily through the train once a year, making it shine. His favourite carriage is Chatsworth, he says. “You don’t see that level or style of workmanship in many places these days.”
And then there’s the staff, for whom attention to detail is key – even those whom the passengers seldom see, such as the engineers who make sure everything works. Of course the most visible are the liveried stewards, who must keep their poise in a rocking train, pouring wine, placing plates, and greeting everyone by name.
Behind the scenes are the chefs in the two on-board 1950s kitchens who have the challenge of preparing exquisite meals in a narrow, moving space. Their menus reflect the regions where the train operates, so there’s Rhug Estate lamb and Caerphilly cheese when travelling through Wales.
With an annual schedule of around 200 trips, Belmond Northern Belle is a complex operation. Although based in Crewe, in the centre of England, its timetable might require it to arrive almost anywhere, ready and gleaming, to start a journey in the early hours of the morning. It needs to be self-contained and self-supporting, like a cruise ship, as it travels around. Staff have their own sleeping quarters on board, and there are offices and travelling stores.
Passengers return again and again for the experience. Since the service launched in 2000 some have travelled with the train over 200 times. And over the years more than 1,000 engagements and 20 weddings have taken place on board.
The romance of train travel lives on.
Evoking the golden age of travel, Belmond Northern Belle is a celebration of British heritage and the opulent “Belle” trains of the 1930s.
Individually designed carriages, named for and inspired by British castles and stately homes, are furnished with specially commissioned designs, hand decorated interiors, exclusive fabrics and fine worked panels. Every guest is warmly welcomed aboard by an attentive and dedicated crew. Immaculately laid tables with starched linen and gleaming silverware speak of glamour, sophistication and luxuryDownload factsheet