The golden age of train travel has always been fascinating to me. My grandfather was a train conductor out of Union Station in Chicago and I loved hearing his tales of stars and starlets sightings, and descriptions of classy men and women dressed to the nines as they boarded his train to exotic destinations for expensive holidays.
Today in England, train travel is as popular as ever – a necessity, really – although perhaps not quite as glamorous as it once was. The Victorian train stations that remain are filled with character and charm, and some still have a refreshment room.
By the mid 19th century, most medium and large railway stations in England had refreshment rooms. Before the creation of the buffet car, the refreshment room was a kind of ‘tearoom’ where commuters and travelers could get a good cup of tea and something to eat, including buns and pastries. They were owned and operated by outside entities, the catering contractors Messrs Spiers and Pond being the most well-known.
Earlier this year, Mr. Tea and I traveled to Hampshire for a special Cream Tea aboard a heritage steam train called The Watercress Line. The train left from the Alresford railway station, and above is a picture of its refreshment room.
Alresford, Hampshire is considered to be the Watercress Capital of the World. Back in the day, the Mid-Hants Railway used to transport Hampshire watercress to markets in London, and it affectionately became known as The Watercress Line. Hampshire’s prolific watercress fields still produce that lovely peppery, tangy leaf vegetable, but these days The Watercress Line only delivers nostaligic train rides through those fields, leaving the market delivery work to lorries.
Watercress is popular here, and a traditional Afternoon Tea in England will always provide an egg and cress tea sandwich on the menu.
This was my very first trip on a steam train and although it was an overcast day, the ride through Hampshire’s lush, green watercress fields was immensely enjoyable. Add to that a Cream Tea accompanied by the clickety-clak of the train’s wheels, and you have all the ingredients for a tea lover’s delight.
The Watercress Line offers themed railway trips throughout the year. Because of the tea/watercress connection, I highly recommend a trip on The Watercress Line if you are looking for a unique, English tea-related experience.
The railway refreshment room is immortalised in the film Brief Encounter, a love story about two people who meet at a railway refreshment room and, despite the complications involved, fall in love. A real refreshment room (Carnforth Station) was used during the filming. The Refreshment Room at Carnforth Station is now a popular destination for film buffs, and lovers of tea and trains.
See the Tea in England Facebook page for more pictures of my trip on The Watercress Line.
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