Archive | July 2014

Take the easy East Coast fast track – London to Edinburgh – with first class style and service.

Rail fares study

The familiar saying Let the Train take the Strain is even more true today.  Travelling with East Coast trains offers a taste of classic rail travel of decades past, enhanced by speedy journey times, comfort and convenience, service and hospitality.

This summer is not just about sport.   Culture is the name of the game over the next month in Edinburgh: The Edinburgh International Festival,  Festival Fringe,  Jazz and Blues Festival,  the International Book Festival,  the Art Festival and Royal Military Tattoo, take place between mid July and the end of August – when the world comes to town,  doubling the population.

Fringe street theatre entertain the crowds

Fringe street theatre galore entertain the crowds

Edinburgh is considered the cultural capital of Europe – the atmosphere, architecture,  history and literary heritage,  so distinctive and unique.  No wonder it has frequently been voted the Favourite UK city and a top European destination, (World Travel Awards) .

The Festival Fringe alone will see a record-breaking year in 2014, with 3,193 productions from 47 countries, totalling 49,497 performances in 299 venues – this is the largest Arts Festival on the planet.

Around the city experience a a world class cultural feast of music, opera, ballet, dance, drama, literature, art, cabaret, physical theatre,  comedy, mime, magic, circus, burlesque,  buskers, jugglers, trick cyclists,  children’s shows –  every aspect of the performing and creative arts for all tastes and ages –which attracts an audience of over four million people each summer from home and abroad.

Sweet Mambo - innovative dance at the EIF

Sweet Mambo – innovative dance at the EIF

Q. How are you planning to travel to Edinburgh?

A.  East Coast Trains – the fast, frequent rail service linking London, York, Newcastle,  Edinburgh and Aberdeen– city centre to city centre.

The recent “Feel at Home” TV advertisement for East Coast Trains secured gold at the Roses Creative Awards in May, 2014.  It’s a simple, charming yet effective sketch, with a passenger walking through her house, kitchen to the lounge, before settling into a comfy sofa, a homely environment to unwind,  read a book, sip a coffee and gaze out at the passing scenery.

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Experience the most relaxing train journey up and down the East coastline of Britain by reserving seats in a First Class Carriage. In tranquil surroundings, this is civilised travel in the traditional, vintage manner of hospitality and service.

Experience a modern taste of vintage rail travel with East Coast First Class.

Traditional, romantic rail travel vintage-style

First Class Carriage

A First Class Carriage today

My partner Ken and I departed Waverley at 11.30am for the 4 hour, 21 minute journey to London.   Our armchair seats, (17 and 18, coach L) offer superb space and comfort, and in fact no-one else joined our table for four.  First Class carriages are well designed, with single, and two facing window seats, and ample space for luggage.

Restaurant on wheels,  fine dining on board

The former Restaurant on wheels,
fine dining on board

The classic, much beloved Dining Car may have been shunted into the siding in 2011 (after 132 years of meals on wheels),  but hospitality has moved with the times to offer a practical alternative for wining and dining on board.    Enjoy the At Seat complimentary service in First Class depending on the time of travel: for instance setting off early morning you’ll be offered a full British Breakfast, or porridge and fruit.

First we enjoy morning coffee and biscuits as the train races through East Lothian farmland and soon we are skirting along the steep cliffs, wild beaches and sea waves of the Berwickshire coast. Soon the friendly stewards  return with the drinks trolley suggesting an aperitif and we sip an ice chilled G&T, speeding south.

Approaching York, it’s time for lunch. Ken selected the Somerset Brie and red onion marmalade sandwich while I appreciated the healthy (gluten free), Pea and broad bean hummus with tabbouleh salad with a bread roll.  Corkers crisps are indeed crisp and I like the small packets (fewer calories!).   A glass or two of a crisp white Spanish Verdejo completes the meal.

If you travel later in the day, indulge in Afternoon tea and cake, and in the evening there’s a supper menu of hot dishes, such as Chicken breast with green beans, potato gratin, or Vegetarian option, and Baileys Chocolate cheesekcake.

Chef Anne Marie Beattie has worked with the East Coast galley team for eight years and her innovative dishes are on the summer menu. She’s inspired by Gordon Ramsay’s passion for good food and her favourite cuisine is Italian.

The Journey between Scotland and England is not a particularly long one – four or five hours depending on how many stations are stopped at. But four hours is long enough for conversations to develop and for people to reveal to others something of themselves. . A friendship may be conceived in four hours; a short book finished and put away, a life remembered. “

From “Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith. ** (see below).

Platform 9 3/4 for the Hogwarts Express

Platform 9 3/4 for the Hogwarts Express

There’s a neat literary connection between King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley:  Platform 9 ¾ is where Harry Potter boards the train in London to Hogwarts School through the secret, magical wall.  Waverley Station is named after the novel by Sir Walter Scott, (published 1814), with the towering Scott Monument opposite in Princes Street Gardens.

“Waverley is a railway station which belongs to its city, is part of its city in a way that cannot be seen comparably in any other station in the UK.”  The North British Railway, 1955.

Waverley Station

Waverley Station

Our journey is smooth, seamless and restful with actually little time to read, punctuated as it is by conversation and good food and drink.  Free Wifi is available for those working on laptops which is most practical for business travellers – but don’t miss seeing the changing landscape, rolling farmland, bridges over the Tyne, Durham Cathedral,  the grand York Station ….

Scenic view along the Eaast Coast

Scenic views along the East Coastline

“ ….. All through the meadows the horses and cattle,
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.”  …..

“From a Railway Carriage”, R.L. Stevenson

Berwickshire coastline

Berwickshire cliffs and the North Sea

No wonder around a third of all visitors travelling to Edinburgh arrive by train. Waverley Station is the largest outside London, with twenty trains daily between the two Capital cities.

For Standard class passengers, facilities and hospitality are also much improved.   The Buffet Car has been replaced with a modern Food Bar. “Good honest food for people on the move at 125 mph”, promoting British produce – quality bacon,  Somerset Cheddar, Yorkshire Tea, Cambridgeshire Corkers Crisps.  Favourite sandwiches (egg mayo, Ploughman’s), and tasty hot dishes – Asian beef noodles, Penne pasta Arrabbiata, cakes, snacks, bar drinks – catering for British commuters, tourists and international visitors.

And you may have seen the TV series ‘All Aboard: East Coast Trains’ series shown on Sky1 in Winter 2013, repeated recently on Pick TV.  This was a fascinating behind the scenes documentary to show the hard working staff, from galley chefs to guards, station whistle-blowers to train drivers, working long hours to ensure travellers are transported safely up and down the country, from Aberdeen to London.

The classic, vintage Flying Scotsman locomotive

The classic Flying Scotsman steam locomotive

Travel from Edinburgh to London for business or pleasure in just four hours!.

In 2011 East Coast relaunched the Flying Scotsman service from Edinburgh and Newcastle to London King’s Cross, to revive the historic service of the classic London and North Eastern steam locomotive. From 1928, the non-stop Flying Scotsman offered excellent catering and other on-board services including a barber’s shop.  By 1938 the journey time was  7 hours 20 minutes so you would certainly have time for breakfast and lunch and a haircut….

Flying Scotsman for the 21st century

Flying Scotsman for the 21st century

Three years on, the Express train  has been a runaway success, perfect for business travellers who enjoy a hearty breakfast en route and arrive in London before 10am. Departing Edinburgh Waverley at 05.40 each weekday, stopping only at Newcastle, it pulls into King’s Cross at 09.40.

Feel at Home - a comfortable window seat with a view

Feel at Home – a comfortable window seat with a view

The new marketing slogan “Make East Coast your home”  is a clever, enticing concept to emphasise the easy comfort and welcoming hospitality on board.  Just sit back and relax, read, work, email, type, text, sleep, snooze … this is leisurely luxury train travel for the modern age.

Well done to East Coast for preserving the heritage and reviving the romantic ambience of classic British railway journeys from a bygone era.

“The journey not the arrival matters.”
– T.S. Eliot

For timetables, reservations, seasonal offers and travel information – www.eastcoast.co.uk

Links to all the Edinburgh Festivals this summer and year round –  www.edinburghfestivals.co.uk

Edinburgh International Book Festival in the garden

Edinburgh International Book Festival in the garden

**  “Trains and Lovers” by Alexander McCall Smith (Polygon).  In this poignant story,  four strangers meet on a train journey from Edinburgh to London. Each has a tale to tell. ..

This world renowned, bestselling author will be appearing at several events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in August, discussing his diverse range of fiction, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, 44 Scotland Street, The Forever Girl,  and other fictional series and novels.

For information on all 750 authors appearing at 800 events this summer, see www.edbookfest.co.uk