• Simon Cox

A steam trip on the Swanage Belle

I recently booked a trip on the Swanage Belle, a steam hauled special train service from London down to Swanage on the Dorset Coast.

A trip on a steam pulled train from London to the coast.

An early start to catch the train

I got up up with the sparrows at 5am on Sat­ur­day 15th Octo­ber 2011, main­ly because Paula had to do her hair prop­er­ly as we had planned to dress­ in a 50’s style to look the part on this spe­cial trip. Paula had pur­chased a gen­uine 50’s dress in Brighton and I had got hold of a Har­ris Tweed jack­et on the inter­net, which was a very good fit at very rea­son­able price. I topped this off with a cra­vat and a tweed hat, but I for­got to take my pipe (I don’t smoke any­more, so I didn’t miss it).

Catching the local train at 6:44, we met our good chums Nigel and Mar­i­anne on board, also dressed for the 50’s day out, and made our way up to Vic­to­ria where we were meant to board the Swan­age Belle but its depar­ture had been moved to Euston. I was quite wor­ried by this as Euston tends to point North where­as Vic­to­ria points South which is more in the direc­tion of Swan­age. How­ev­er, a quick peek at Google maps of Lon­don shows that you can whip round to the West and South — Lon­don is still full of inter­est­ing rail­way routes and con­nec­tions despite los­ing miles of trackbed over the years.

Euston station

At Euston we had a cup of tea — Paula was quite inter­est­ed in get­ting some­thing to eat, I had not told her about the details of the day as it was a sur­prise, but we got a cup of tea and wait­ed for the train indi­ca­tor to tell us the plat­form which after a while it did, and we strolled over to plat­form 16 to find a rake of old maroon coach­ing stock with a mag­nif­i­cent main­line steam loco­mo­tive at the front — Oliv­er Cromwell.

Swanage Belle by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: Euston Paula with Paula

Up at the end of the platform we had a good look at the loco­mo­tive and took a few pic­tures, as were many peo­ple. Look­ing around there were a few well-dressed peo­ple but no one else had done the step back in time look! Then we went and found our coach, B, and seats. The coach was beau­ti­ful­ly pan­elled in wood and the seats fin­ished in a rich red moquette. Our table was already laid out for break­fast and the seats were more like arm­chairs with four of us around one table, then the pas­sage­way and a table for two next to the oth­er win­dow. Each table had its own lamp and the car­riage was divid­ed by pan­elled and win­dowed screens.

Swanage Belle by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: Euston Nigel, Marienne and Oliver Cromwell

Swanage Belle by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: Euston Me, Paula and Olvier Cromwell

The Swanage Belle sets off from Euston

At 08:32 the engine whis­tled. With a series of mas­sive chuffs slow­ly pulled for­ward and out of the plat­form to a throng of pho­tog­ra­phers and peo­ple wav­ing. I have been on quite a few steam pulled trains in my time but this was the first time from a Lon­don Ter­mi­nus sta­tion on the main line and there real­ly was some­thing quite thrilling about the expe­ri­ence. It was a step back in time to trav­el before the 1960’s.

Each rota­tion of the mas­sive wheels brought a cou­ple of gen­tle push­es to my back to remind me that we were being pulled along by steam pow­er. I am sure the loco­mo­tive crew are quite gen­tle with these old loco­mo­tives but it was so very much slow­er than mod­ern train to accel­er­ate up to a run­ning speed. Some­times I think we for­get how much more reli­able and quick are modern(ish) trains are.

Breakfast on the Swanage Belle

But I didn’t have long to bathe in the thoughts of the past as the Pull­man trained and badged wait­ing staff descend­ed on us like a flock of spar­rows with copi­ous amounts of break­fast food like the fire­man upfront shov­el­ing the coal into the fire­box, tea, cof­fee, por­ridge, mel­on with hon­ey and yoghurt, grilled Manx kip­pers, baked beans, sausage, hash brown, grilled toma­toes, fried bread, mush­rooms, fried egg and toast, clack­i­ty-clack, down the hatch. (Apolo­gies to Bet­je­man — only with con­tin­u­ous­ly weld­ed rail we were miss­ing the clack­i­ty-clack rhythm of the rail joints but enjoy­ing the tea spillage-less smooth ride all the same!)

Swanage Belle by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On the Swanage Belle Paula and Marianne at breakfast on the Swanage Belle

Swanage Belle by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On the Swanage Belle A hearty breakfast

Break­fast was cleared, and we relaxed back into the seats as the morn­ing sun streamed in through the window.

Leaving London on the train

Com­ing out of Lon­don Euston does not have the most endear­ing views of Lon­don — where­as Vic­to­ria gives stun­ning views over the Thames next to Bat­tersea pow­er sta­tion — which would have been nice. How­ev­er, once we were past the var­i­ous scrap yards, new build flats and indus­tri­al ware­hous­es we start­ed to be rout­ed through the inter­est­ing net­work of routes around Willes­den to join up with the main South West routes.

Stains and Woking

Our first stop at Stains where quite a few pas­sen­gers got on, then Wok­ing and then we made a stop for about 10 min­utes at Winch­field for the loco­mo­tive to take on water — we got out to have a look. There was a large truck with two large fire type hoses that were con­nect­ed onto the ten­der just below plat­form lev­el, and we could hear a large pump whirring away from the truck push­ing the water in as fast as pos­si­ble. All the way down the railway line there were peo­ple strung along fences like migrating birds, hang­ing out of win­dows and stand­ing on bal­conies wav­ing to us or tak­ing pho­tographs. You can hear a big steam loco­mo­tive a cou­ple of miles off espe­cial­ly if it’s blow­ing its whistle!

Stopped for water by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: Winchfield Oliver Cromwell takes on water

Refreshed the train moved ever onwards, and we enjoyed the views of the coun­try­side on a clear blue sky day. We rum­bled through Southamp­ton Cen­tral a few min­utes late and then cracked on to Bournemouth and Poole. the sea estu­ary views were spec­tac­u­lar. We stopped at Ware­ham for a crew change and then a mile after the sta­tion branched off on the old Swan­age branch line. This was closed to pas­sen­ger traf­fic in 1972 and has only been used for occa­sion­al goods trains to the oil depot a cou­ple of miles down the line.

Two more miles down the line from that the Swan­age preser­va­tion rail­way starts and the track between the two has been restored for these char­ter trains. A tem­po­rary road cross­ing con­sist­ing of steel crowd bar­ri­ers and lots of men with red flags pro­tect­ed road users as the mighty Oliv­er Cromwell gin­ger­ly made its way over the road and onto the Swan­age Rail­way tracks where we were met by big crowds of peo­ple all wav­ing and tak­ing photographs.


A light lunch of sand­wich­es, scones and tea was served which was just right after the hearty break­fast ear­li­er in the morning.

A pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ty quick­ly revealed itself to our right as the mag­nif­i­cent Corfe Cas­tle ruins appeared as we went around a curve — again lots of peo­ple about on the cas­tle or in the sur­round­ing fields tak­ing pho­tographs and wav­ing and soon we were pulling to a stop at the ter­mi­nal sta­tion in Swan­age. I was intend­ing to take a cou­ple of pho­tos of the engine at Swan­age but the crowds of peo­ple already on the plat­form meant I couldn’t get any­where near!

A walk around Swanage

Gath­ering our belongings we strolled into Swan­age for the two hours allotted before the return journey. The rail­way sta­tion is at the top of the main shop­ping street and it’s a 5-minute walk down that to the beach.

A wonderfull day out on Swanage promenade
Swanage by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On Swanage promenade Paula, Nigel and Marianne at the seaside in Swanage

We had a love­ly per­am­bu­la­tion along the front and to the end of the pier to walk off break­fast and lunch! Next we vis­it­ed the local muse­um, wan­dered around Swan­age which is a love­ly lit­tle town, and then we went and found Choco­co the Choco­late mak­ers Paula buys from on the inter­net. We then ambled back to the sta­tion where a new engine, Tang­mere, had been attached to the front of the train for the jour­ney back at 16:20.

And back to London on the Swanage Belle

The jour­ney back up was very sim­i­lar to the jour­ney down. Tang­mere must have been doing over 60mph at times — you couldn’t hear the indi­vid­ual beats of the engine and it was absolute­ly fly­ing. the Timetable we had stat­ed that we would pass through Southamp­ton at 18:25:30 — yes — 25 past 6 and 30 sec­onds. And we did! My 21-minute com­mute in the morn­ings isn’t that accu­rate on tim­ing!

But the main dif­fer­ence was the food — a four-course din­ner and plen­ty of wine to accom­pa­ny. As the sun set, we were treat­ed to Smoked Salmon and prawns on a bed of wild rock­et fol­lowed by fil­let of Scotch beef in a whisky and pep­per­corn sauce with scrump­tious fresh veg­eta­bles.

Evening dinner by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On the Swanage Belle Evening dinner on the Swanage Belle
Pudding and sunset by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On the Swanage Belle Sun sets over the coast

Steam puddings!

This was then fol­lowed by a for­est cheese­cake with rasp­ber­ry coulis and dou­ble cream and then a selec­tion of cheese, grapes and bis­cuits. We worked our way through some cham­pagne and a very pre­sentable bot­tle of shi­raz fol­lowed up by a pass­able mer­lot and tea and mints. The sun went down, the table lamp came into its own and time flew by. We did have time for three games of Banana­gram, all of which Paula won — words are her thing (v good at scrab­ble — tip: nev­er play her for money).

After dinner by Simon Cox - Sat, October 15, 2011: On the swanage Belle Having gone through four courses it was time to relax

And we found our­selves in the sub­urbs of Lon­don stuck for 20 min­utes on a dark line wait­ing for a sig­nal — some­one may have nicked some cop­per wire! Con­sid­er­ing how fast Tang­mere had made most of the jour­ney this last stop was unchar­ac­ter­is­tic but after a while, we pulled into Kens­ing­ton Olympia and disembarked.

Whilst we wait­ed for our local train con­nec­tion to Clapham junc­tion an old diesel pulled the train back­wards to its dept — a wisp of steam drift­ing from the chim­ney of Tang­mere as it wheezed its way back­wards off to the shed for a rest.

That has got to have been one of the best days out I have ever done. Wow.

And there is more...

I have been asked sev­er­al times who we booked the trip through, and I am hap­py to give them a shout out: The Rail­way Tour­ing Com­pa­ny. I had some issues with their online book­ing func­tion so do check that you haven’t booked 4 times, but they are very nice and help­ful peo­ple on the phone — ring them if you have any questions.


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