Perfection on rails: The VSOE British Pullman

The interior of the Phoenix carriage

The interior of the Phoenix carriage

The re-creation of the British Pullman is a classic British story of eccentric, visionary wealth allied to traditional craftsmanship.  James Sherwood rescued carriages from weird locations and states of disarray.  Bob Dunn, whose grandfather made marquetry for the original cars, was one of a host of dedicated restorers.

Now, for a princely sum, you can get a princely ride on the British Pullman: most often, a day outing from London.  On June 7, I treated my mother and me to a trip on this palatial train, on a re-run of one of the Classic Pullman trips: the Bournemouth Belle.

When I was born, my family lived in a rented flat in Wyndham Road, near Bournemouth Station.  My mother has often told me how she’d lift me up at the kitchen window to see the Bournemouth Belle go by.  Later, when I moved to Reading, we’d regularly find ourselves peering longingly into those fairytale Pullman cars from our second-class compartment at Southampton Central Station, on our way to see family in Bournemouth.

Alan and his mother in front of the Phoenix carriage

Alan and his mother in front of the Phoenix carriage

So when I was looking for a really special gift for a big birthday, the Bournemouth Belle was ideal.  And everything about the trip was truly perfection on rails: the Pullman cars are works of art, down to the mosaics in the toilets; the food and drink were sumptuous; and the service was both friendly and impeccable.

Our itinerary included three hours of free time in Bournemouth, so we had a delightful nostalgia binge, revisiting Wyndham Road and other favourite spots from my childhood, and my mother’s.

The Pullman carriages are so special that you receive a colour booklet with a whole page on each one’s history.  Ours was Phoenix, who started life in 1927 as Rainbow, and was destroyed by fire in 1936.  She was rebuilt in 1952 and used on the Golden Arrow, carrying such celebrities as Sophia Loren and General de Gaulle.

This might be the trip of a lifetime for you, as it was for me: it’s totally worth taking!