I don’t know which I enjoyed most. The journey or the destination. Both as much probably.
But then, that’s hardly surprising. The getting there was courtesy of Northern Belle, a sister train to the legendary Orient Express. And the arrrival meant seeing the much-prized giant pandas at Edinburgh Zoo.
Bit of a win-win.
The excursion was just one of a catalogue of luxury journeys available aboard Northern Belle, whose carriages recreate all the glamour of the 1920s and 30s, the ‘golden age’ of rail travel.
You sit back in sumptuous surroundings featuring intricate panelled marquetry, being served delicious food by liveried stewards. All while savouring the gorgeous scenery of the East Coast from Leeds up to Scotland. It really is like stepping back in time.
But the present makes its mark in style upon arrival in Edinburgh when passengers can opt for organised trips to the zoo or Royal Yacht Britannia or simply spend a few hours soaking up the unique atmosphere of the Scottish capital.
We chose the zoo and the pandas. And what an experience. Only 50 or so people at a time are allowed into the special enclosure which is home to Tian Tian and Yang Guang.
You have to have pre-booked slots to see the bears and queues quickly form. But the waiting is worthwhile. At least it was for us.
Tian Tian and Yang Guang couldn’t have cared less. He was perched under a window-sill munching bamboo. She sat with her back to us – munching bamboo.
Apparently, though, we were blessed. The zoo guide said: “You are witnessing a very rare sight – two pandas both awake at the same and both doing stuff!”
By ‘doing stuff’ he meant - munching bamboo.
These amazing creatures sleep for around 16 hours a day and spend much of their sparse waking hours...munching bamboo!
Edinburgh is hugely proud of this unique addition to its zoo population and hopes the pairing of TT and YG will produce cubs. In fact, at the time of our visit there was a feverish atmosphere with the first talk of a possible pregnancy, which has since been confirmed.
Back on board Northern Belle, we are served champagne before a delicious four-course dinner – perfectly paced to ensure you finish coffee just before pulling back into Leeds.
The stewards have changed into evening livery and each table is beautifully laid out for the meal. Staff are so attentive it’s hard to do anything for yourself.
At one point I reached for the bottle of wine only to be interrupted by our waiter saying:”No, no. I’ll do that.” I even had to apologise for putting my napkin on my knee!
Wonderful, though, to be reminded that such sophisticated travel still exists. Just the ticket.