Swapping Rush Hour for the Ultimate Slow Commute

The Mayflower passing by Brassknocker Basin
The Mayflower passing by Brassknocker Basin | Courtesy of Steam Dreams © Duncan Savage
Tim Rowland

Most of us associate trains with commuting into London, fighting for a seat and trying to avoid eye contact. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Steam Dreams offers train journeys purely for fun, as far away from commuter hell as you can get.

The Mayflower is decked out like every steam train-lover’s childhood dream, painted bright forest green with a red bumper and acres of gleaming metal. Departing every Tuesday until 23 August, this British Rail locomotive – built in 1948 – hauls passengers the 20-odd miles from Victoria to Windsor in style. It’s a route many commuters face on a daily basis, and one that doesn’t usually take too long, but this experience is like no other.

Everyone wants a picture with her on the platform before the 12.20 departure from Victoria, thrilled to be in the presence of such a piece of engineering. The driver leans out of the window in his blue overalls, Cornish pasty in one soot-covered hand as he chats to passengers. Everyone is smiling, even giddy. There are few more innocent pleasures than steam trains.

Inside the deep red 1950s and 60s carriages the tables are set for lunch Pullman Style, with white table cloths, patterned upholstered seats and wood panelled walls. Departure time and the Mayflower grinds into action as the chunter through West London begins.

The perfect place to watch the English countryside whizz by

It’s slow going but that’s the whole point, otherwise how else would you have time to enjoy lunch? Clapham Junction, Wandsworth Town and Putney slip past and then we’re in Barnes and about to cross the Thames again when the starter comes – goat’s cheese and beetroot salad with walnut and balsamic dressing. It’s fresh and flavoursome, followed by moist chicken breast with green beans, a delicious sauce and potatoes for main.

There’s a full drinks menu with wine, champagne, beer and an Espresso Martini, Old Fashioned or glass of port if you fancy. With dessert to follow on the return leg it’s time just to chat the rest of the way to Windsor and see what can be seen.

While still passing through London it’s fun to sneak a look at stranger’s lives through the windows of their homes pressed up against the track. Then the city gives way to suburbia and people leaning out of their back doors and home offices, some waving as the steam train passes.

It’s a joy to put the smartphone away, sit opposite my companion and just talk. The odd whisp of steam from the Mayflower drifts past the window.

According to our waiter, on Steam Dreams trips to the Lake District the vapour can get so thick in the tunnels they have to shut the windows. ‘Why else do you think we wear black?’ he jokes.

Before arrival in Windsor we make our way to the front of the train so we can nip out and enjoy another quick ogle of the Mayflower on the platform. On the way we pass through the kitchen car and marvel at how such a service can be put on from such confines.

Blending into the background, Steam Dreams iconic Mayflower locomotive in all its glory

There’s time for just a couple more photos of the locomotive before we’re ushered back onto the train. The old girl’s work today is through as all the labour on the way back is done by a diesel engine at the other end.

I’m ready for my dessert now and it’s worth the wait – delicious.

The journey on the way back seems to fly by, taking in a different route through Acton, Willesden and West Brompton. Then it’s back to Victoria and normal life again, where trains are just for getting you to A to B. I wish I could take every Tuesday off work and do this.

Steam Dreams offers day trips and holidays from London to the Lake District and Scotland, allowing you to slow travel your way through the UK.

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