Days Out

Nostalgic Afternoon Tea by Steam Train Review


Reviewed by Laura Bryant

Joining the ‘South Devon Railway’ steam train dining car for afternoon tea was an experience that I was never going to turn down. I combined a passion for steam trains and my love of a good tea, in the ultimate indulgent treat.  This Sunday we set off along the A38 ‘Devon Expressway’ to Buckfastleigh Station, ready for our voyage back in time.
We arrived with plenty of time to find a parking space in the large free car park, right next door to the station, on what was likely to be the first dry and sunny Sunday afternoon that Devon had seen this April!

Sitting on the edge of Dartmoor, Buckfastleigh station is a delightful and unspoilt building with a mix of original features and typical station signage. There’s easy access for wheelchair users, including ramps to access the trains, and reserved parking close to the platform.

The station’s old goods shed is also home to the railway museum. We saw historic steam and diesel locomotives and rolling stock. There’s also a children’s play area, award-winning gardens, riverside walks, a picnic area, as well as a refreshment room and a gift and model shop with a fabulous model railway.

After exploring the station, I presented our QR code at the ticket office by the main entrance and collected the tickets for our seats on the ‘Afternoon Tea.’

As we were early, we boarded a train and travelled to Totnes and back via a brief stop at Staverton. We enjoyed the gentle meander along the banks of the river Dart, through the glorious Devon scenery in our beautifully restored vintage carriage. We took in the flora and fauna, as the wisps of white steam drifted past our window.

On arrival back at Buckfastleigh we hopped off the train and into the brand new and immaculate station facilities for a quick comfort break. Walking along the platform, the guard directed us to the 1950s Restaurant Car, where we were greeted by a friendly, smiling waitress. We presented our tickets and were shown to our pre-booked seats and table.

The South Devon Railway is run as a charitable organisation and most of the train crews are volunteers, performing the roles of drivers, firemen, guards, travelling ticket inspectors and buffet attendants. The volunteers certainly make the South Devon Railway an interesting, informative experience for visitors. They answered all our questions and happily posed for photos – as well as sharing snippets of local railway history.

Heading out of Buckfastleigh, we were transported back to the Golden Age of travel.

Each table was covered in a white linen tablecloth, with pretty bone China side plates, teacups and saucers, a vase with a beautiful fresh white rose, all lit by a small table lamp.

No messing, with the afternoon tea which consisted of classic fluffy scones, Devon clotted cream (cream on first!), topped with Tiptree strawberry jam. We also enjoyed the elegant sandwiches, savoury pastries, and pretty-as-a-picture cakes. Our teapot was replenished twice, and if you fancy something stronger, you can purchase an alcoholic drink to quaff alongside your decadent afternoon tea. The food, supplied by the Babbacombe Bay Café, is absolutely first class. Gluten-free, vegetarian, and vegan diets can also be catered for by prior arrangement.

The opportunity to relax in elegant surroundings, watching the passing scenery unfold and savouring the gastronomic delights on offer is an experience that I would totally recommend. You will feel well and truly spoilt.

Booking the experience is very straightforward. You can book via the website, or you can phone on 01364 644 370 to book a table for two, four or larger groups.

Each ticket costs £48 for your first-class train fare, and the afternoon tea. You can also do as we did and enjoy unlimited travel on other public SDR services for the whole day of your visit. Trains run on selected Sundays from April through to the first Sunday in November, departing at 3.45pm from Buckfastleigh station to Totnes Riverside and back.

This experience is perfect for couples, families, or friends as a celebration or just as an unforgettable gift and day out for all. Advance booking is essential.

Rating: 5/5.

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