Inside GWR’s Pullman service – England’s last dining car – then wilderness camping on Dartmoor

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When British adventurer Alastair Humphreys coined the term “micro-adventure” in 2011, he had no idea his neologism would embark on a mini-expedition. His concept of launching expeditions from your front door rather than to the North Pole inspired people to go out on quick, off-the-beaten-path journeys – journeys that typically involved self-propulsion coupled with accommodation under the stars.

“A micro-adventure,” said the inventor of the term, “is a short, simple, local, inexpensive adventure.

The quick and quirky journey that I’m describing here was none of those things, but in my book it was still a micro-adventure as it featured self-propulsion – thanks to folding bikes – and the accommodation was a tiny bit. tent on a misty moor.

Scroll down to watch a video of the incredible journey

Josh enjoying his starter with burnt leeks. Carlton had a duck confit and chicken terrine

GWR Pullman crew members chosen for their sunny disposition

The trip was not cheap. With my globetrotting son (he imported a Chinese-made bike to the UK by bringing it back 14,000 km from the factory), we traveled by first class train from London to Devon on the Pullman service from Great Western Railway – England’s last dining car.

If the crew on board were run over by two guys boarding with bikes and a bunch of bike bags, they sure didn’t show it. Far from sniffing, they were fascinated by the pedaling gear stacked on Paddington Platform 2.

Perhaps part of the warm welcome is due to the fact that The famous Pullman service from GWR was only gradually getting back on track – literally – after a long pandemic-like hiatus.

But that was more likely because the Pullman crew are chosen for their sunny dispositions. Two oiks with filthy bikes boarding a fancy chic train service? No problem.

We had booked the evening train to Penzance and were getting off at Newton Abbot late at night. From there it would be a ten mile climb to Saddle Tor in the dark where we would pitch our two person tent. (Unlike the rest of England, wild camping is legal in much of Dartmoor.) The next day we would go camping and bring him back to the station for Pullman lunch in Paddington.

GWR Pullman’s menu outside Carlton as Josh overlooks the scenic Exe estuary

We were traveling quite light but it was still difficult, back on platform 2, to collect the luggage, to fold up the bikes, to put everything on the train and to stay socially distanced.

Overlooked by a statue of the Paddington Bear, the crew asked us to squeeze the bikes and bags between our first class seats.

Sorted. Then the luxury began. Would we like a drink? Do the parents of Paddington-du-Pérou leave deposits among the trees?

Josh eating his second curry of the trip – Carlton ordered the duck confit

On the left, the GWR Pullman Chocolate velvet mousse. In the photo on the right, the Paddington Bear statue in London Paddington

A first class return ticket from London to Newton Abbot costs around £ 180

Usually I’d ask for a gin and tonic, but with a hilly bike ride looming at 10pm, I opted for sparkling water instead, sipping it cautiously as the train picked up speed.

The historic Great Western Railway main line – designed in 1835 to link Bristol to London by 29-year-old civil engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel – is renowned for its speed. After Old Oak Common, just six minutes after leaving Paddington, the train begins its 125 mph acceleration to Reading.

Outside the windows, the suburbs fade away, the focus is on the menu and the promise of gourmet cuisine.

I had burnt leeks as a starter. No complaints, it’s the description of the entry on the menu. The grilled zucchini kept company with the caramelized vegetables bound by a romesco vinaigrette. It was the only vegan appetizer – and as a vegan that’s what Josh had, too.

He had the same round trip choices. I ate most of the menu.

The other starters were a terrine of duck confit with chicken, and a puff of smoked trout interspersed with red beet quarters.

I had the seared cod for my main course, Josh had the first of his two butternut squash and coconut curries. (The third main course was a duck leg confit with ratatouille.)

With a grueling race ahead, I chose the most calorie-dense dessert: a rather delicious Kingston Prune and Black Pear Pie. This vegan treat was served with a dairy free custard – which to my surprise wasn’t bad at all – and Josh had it too. Twice it turned out. (The other dessert was a chocolate mousse with a cherry compote.)

Josh riding near the tracks of the Haytor Granite tram built in 1820 to transport granite from the Haytor Down quarry in Dartmoor, Devon, to the Stover Canal. The caterpillars once guided the wheels of horse-drawn carriages

Carlton and Josh arrived at Newton Abbot at 10 p.m., then cycled to Dartmoor (pictured) via country roads

GWR’s Pullman has long been known for its Silver Service Dinners. That is, the food is guided to the GWR monogrammed plate with skillfully manipulated spoons and vegetables slipped from the silver platters. Today’s service is “plated” service. Always chic, always delicious, but the food is no longer served with a ladle but is brought to the table, as the name suggests, on the plate.

The legendary Pullman steaks have yet to make a comeback. Traditionalists can complain, but the fact that the company was able to offer any fine cuisine during these trying times shows that the Pullman three times a day is highly regarded.

There are more chic trains, of course, like the super-deluxe Belmond British Pullman, but it’s a special offer of £ 400 per seat – GWR’s Pullman is a regular service.

A wild camping sunrise next to Saddle Tor. Carlton and Josh found their way to this location using the Hammerhead Karoo 2 navigation tool

Josh descending on Dartmoor after a night of wild camping. “I love micro-adventures, especially the more luxurious ones,” writes Carlton

Operating a Pullman catering service is part of FirstGroup’s GWR franchise agreement with the government, and while the company doesn’t admit it (yes, I asked), the service – even with meals of £ 30 per person and £ 21 bottles of wine – works at a loss.

The economy of the railroad company was the last thing I thought of as we made our way to Newton Abbot station at 10pm. As our meal on wheels set off, we got the bikes back in shape, secured the bags, and put the handlebar mounted navigation device into night mode so it could guide us, through dark country roads, to to our destination on the edge of Dartmoor. .

Fueled by our fast food, it was the best part of two hours later before we finally slipped into our sleeping bags. And we still had the return trip to look forward to, a daylight glide along the beautiful stretch of trail between Dawlish Beach and Exminster via the scenic Exe Estuary.

I love micro-adventures, especially the luxurious ones.

TRAVEL FACTS

GWR offers a 12-course Pullman dining car on two routes. This GWR service is represented in Reading (stock image)

GWR offers a Pullman dining car on 12 services on two routes: London to Penzance and London to Swansea. A first class ticket for a service when the Pullman restaurant is operating does not include the catering service itself, this must be booked separately in advance, online or by phone, up to two weeks in advance. ‘advance. The meal is paid for on the train. Standard class passengers can access the Pullman restaurant but cannot pre-book. This means that it is possible to purchase an upgrade to first class for the price of a starter and a main course, but there is no guarantee of space.

A first class return ticket from London to Newton Abbot costs around £ 180. A two-course Pullman meal costs £ 25 with £ 5 for dessert or cheese course; bottled water is free; alcoholic drinks are extra.

Carlton was driving a Brompton folding bike. Josh was on a Momentum folding bike, which is not the bike he returned from China. They slept in a Robens tent, with navigation on country roads by the Hammerhead Karoo 2. Large bikes can be taken on GWR trains, but they must be reserved in advance, and it can be difficult for anything other than thin road bikes.

For more information visit www.gwr.com/travelling-with-us/pullman-dining. Availability can be checked with the GWR Social Media team via WhatsApp on 07890 608043.

A first class return ticket from London to Newton Abbot costs around £ 180. A two-course Pullman meal costs £ 25 with £ 5 for dessert or cheese course; bottled water is free; alcoholic drinks are extra


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