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The Northern Belle was voted one of world’s top ten train journeys, and Britain’s most luxurious train by the prestigious Condé Naste Traveler magazine in 2022. Often referred to as the Orient Express of the UK, you will be transported to the golden age of travel when you step onboard. From the sumptuously furnished carriages to the delicious cuisine and extensive wine list, attentive service and nostalgic ambience, a day on the Northern Belle will create memories of a lifetime.
However with day prices starting at around £400 a person it is far from a bargain. So, what is it really like to ride Britain’s most luxurious train, the Northern Belle?
Northern Belle mission
Visit the Northern Belle website and you will see that the company’s mission is ‘to exceed our guests’ expectations. We are constantly striving to improve the experience, make special memories for our passengers and operate the most luxurious train’. Sounds simple in practice but can you really deliver value for money when a day out for two leaves little change from £1,000?
Watch the video below to get a feel for what your experience will be like. From your red carpet greeting to the intricate design and craftsmenship of the train, a champagne reception and glorious countryside views, prepare to take a step back in time to an era of glamourous train travel.
Northern Belle day trips
The company offers a variety of day trips around the UK from afternoon teas to indulgent lunches and themed celebrations. We opted for the Spirit of Travel lunch from Crewe which departs at 11.30am and returns around 18.00. Each journey has multiple pick-up points, after which the train takes passengers on a scenic tour of the nearby countryside.
On the trip from Crewe, passengers can also board in Warrington or Liverpool. The train then follows a scenic route through the Yorkshire Dales to Carnforth. From there it heads south back to Crewe, and on to Warrington and Liverpool. You receive confirmation of your exact timings a few days in advance of your trip and on the day you receive a bespoke route map.
Northern Belle experience
The train chugs into the station at the appointed time. With swift efficiency staff descend from the carriages, roll out red carpets and line up in smart uniforms by the entrance to each carriage.
Your ticket will indicate your carriage and seat numbers so when the train pulls into the station keep an eye on the cars to identify yours. Hand painted burgundy and cream livery adorns each carriage with the name of the car in bold letters. Immaculately dressed stewards greet you on the red carpet and offer to take photos as you board. Inside, carriages combine luxurious veneered panels, hand painted motifs, deep wool Axminster carpets, and elegant furnishings. Your stewards will show you to your seat and offer you a glass of champagne whilst you feast your eyes on the beautifully laid dinner tables set for your seven-course lunch.
Each table is stunning with sparkling glasses and beautiful Northern Belle chinaware. A pink carnation and a small lamp add the finishing touches.
The Alnwick carriage is owned by the Duke of Northumberland and I am sure you will agree is magnificent.
Old fashioned elegance
As the carriage attendants make their way through the car they ask guests whether they are celebrating a special occasion. It’s fascinating to earwig on some of the stories. One lady is celebrating her 80th birthday whilst another couple are enjoying a Christmas present from their sons.
We came to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary and clearly all these little stories are noted because some time later one of the Northern Belle staff delivers a wedding anniversary card to our table with a thoughtful message inside. It’s a lovely touch and entirely unexpected.
What is included in the day
In the price of your Spirit of Lunch travel ticket you receive
- A circular train journey on the Northern Belle luxury train
- A champagne reception with pretty canapés and caviar blinis
- A stunning seasonal seven-course lunch including the award-winning Great British cheese board
- Port to accompany your selection of cheese
- A delicious dessert and selection of petits fours
- A bottle of wine per couple. Your ticket includes any bottle up to £28.50 but you can pay to upgrade if you prefer something else.
- Entertainment including a table magician and musicians who tailor their song selection to the guests’ circumstances
- After dinner tea or coffee
- A gift on departure
A word on seating arrangements. The carriages host a table of four on one side and tables of two on the other side. You can opt for a table of four and be paired with another couple or pay extra for a two seater table. We didn’t see any mixed tables so if you opt for a four you might get lucky and be alone.
However, we really enjoyed chatting to the ladies on the table opposite so whichever option you go for you are likely to have some social interactions with other passengers.
The schedules will vary depending on the trip you opt for but will loosely follow this outline:
- Champagne and canapés on arrival
- Your carriage staff introduce themselves and take your drinks order
- Caviar canapé served shortly after boarding
- Meal service – it takes most of the journey to complete the food service in a relaxed atmosphere.
- Your entertainers will pass through the carriage between courses.
- Bill payment time!
- Gift distribution 🙂
The onboard menu is created by head chef Matthew Green who uses seasonal, local produce throughout the journeys. This is the wonderful meal that our Spirit of Lunch trip included.
- Champagne reception
- Canapes of;
- Caviar with sour cream, quail egg, pickled shallot and parsley
- Smoked halibut with harissa mayonnaise and pumpernickel croute
- Chicken tarragon roulade with red onion and brioche croute
- Ballotine of salmon with beetroot gravalax, dill crème fraiche, crispy capers, cucumber and fennel salad, lemon and mustard dressing and rye bread croute. Doesn’t it look stunning?
- Chicken and celerine soup with sweetcorn salsa
- Slow cooked British beef feather blade with dauphinoise potatoes, slow cooked carrot, pod vegetables, and forestiere red wine gravy. How juicy is that?!
- Yorkshire rhubarb cheesecake
- The most magnificent cheese board I have ever seen with huge slabs of cheese on a massive chunk of wood that sits across the aisle.
- Chutney fruit cake and biscuits
- Tea, coffee and petits fours
The food was exquisite, beautifully presented and delicious to eat. It really was a magnificent seduction of our taste buds.
Throughout dinner, musicians stroll through the carriages serenading guests with songs of their choice. Dressed in stylish evening wear, they chat comfortably with guests, enquiring about celebrations and promptly picking out songs based on your taste. As we are not romantic types, they opt for an uplifting rendition of a song for us that has everyone singing along.
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They make two walk throughs so each group has the chance to enjoy two personal songs.
At some point, you will also enjoy a brief magic show from the onboard magician. Small balls magically transform into golf balls or disappear entirely as he deftly confuddles onboard guests. The wine might also be contributing by this stage.
I expect the gift to be a postcard or a gift voucher towards another trip so it is a wonderful surprise to receive an incredibly elegant pen embossed with Northern Belle. Displayed in a plush silk bedded box, it was a lovely end to an incredible day.
Despite the hefty price tag I absolutely believe that the Northern Belle delivers. From the old school elegance onboard to the fine dining and attentive staff, it truly is a beautiful day out. Sipping on wine whilst watching the British countryside slip by is a truly wonderful way to celebrate a special occasion.