Sunday, August 22, 2010

A steamy lunch in and around Sheringham

I've got a steamy Sunday lunch on the menu today. I'm dining on the Sheringham to Holt steam railway (also known as the Poppy Line). I had worked it all out I would breakfast and then grab a Coasthopper to Sheringham to start my steaming adventure. When I checked the timetable however I realized that the combination of the distance of Sheringham (a mere stone throw up the coast) and the Sunday really meant that I had to leave immediately. Luckily they provided me with a delicious foil wrapped sausage sandwich and I leapt on the little green and gold bus in time. Winding along the North Norfolk coast through all the little villages in a bus albeit a small bus can be a challenge. When we had to make tight corner in Cley we were hampered by a caravan and some terribly inconsiderate four wheel drive tanks. Our bus driver fearing that we were going to be wedged in all day, took charge, told all the other drivers what to do and directed all the traffic until we had a route through. She then regaled us with poetry about the places on our route and a little ditty about the Coasthopper itself. You so don't get that on a London bus, neither do you get greeted by your driver or get given a treat for your dog!
But fortunately about an hour and half later I was able to disembark at Sheringham and explore the station. The Poppy Line is a success due to the tireless efforts of so many local steam enthusiasts. They add great atmosphere by piling wonderful old well-travelled leather cases on the platform, traditional signage over the walls and an old carriage and signal box to explore. Any reader of my blog will know I have an infinity to dining on trains and steam trains doubly so, therefore a chance to experience the Poppy Line's version.

They'd sent today's lunch menu choices ahead for selection so it wasn't a surprise but I had to inform them that I wasn't a fan of either of the starters of King Prawn Cocktail or Greek Salad with Feta Cheese but to make it easier I suggested a few alternatives and out of these they chosen a healthy quenelle of a tasty Chicken Liver Parfait. So all worked out well there. My table was at the front of the first of two dining cars attached ahead of all the passenger carriages. I could see all the comings and goings and being behind the engine could see the steam billowing forth. Occasionally a merest amount of smut would enter the window and fall into my rosé but that just seemed to be entirely part of the experience.

For mains I had to chose from Roast Loin of Pork, Sage & Onion Stuffing, Apple Sauce or Broccoli & Blue Stilton Crumble. Well the Blue Stilton made the choice easy but normally I wouldn't go for pork as I find it a tad bland. There was nothing wrong with it, the meat and vegetables were cooked perfectly but most of my 'eating on trains' experiences have been courtesy of the Orient Express companies or the Grand Luxe in the US (which sadly ceased trading after our trip) so I have been rather spoilt. But it is terribly unfair to compare their Sunday lunch with those sort of lavish fine dining extravaganza so I'll say it was lovely, the portions were generous, the staff were so thoughtful and charming and it would recommend it highly. And to be fair it's incredible good value especially if you did compare it to a lunch on the VSOE British Pullman steam train, (one of the many blog posts I need to catch up on!)

For dessert there was the choice of Peach Melba Trifle, Belgian Chocolate Tart or Cheese & Biscuits. That was tricky! I saw the word 'chocolate' and it was all over and I really enjoyed it, the strawberries were lovely also.
I loved the trip on the North Norfolkman, it was fun trying to rush to the end of the train to capture the engine 'money shot' before it decoupled and chuffed off to join the other end of the train. I had many fellow train spotters (for this occasion only I'll designate myself as thus) also trying to capture the optimal shot. Probably a few of them could tell you something about (if not the entire history of) the engine, I could not, apart from - it was big and black!

It seemed sensible to walk off my Sunday lunch by exploring Sheringham before heading back on the Coasthopper and I really wanted to see the sea, not just on the horizon but crashing on the shore below me and I know just the spot. Sheringham is full of holiday-makers today, the air is ringing with the tling tling from the amusement arcades, happy children and some others being admonished by harassed parents. The aromas of fish and chips and fudge fills the air and in the blue sky bunting can be seen stretched across the little winding streets, a proper English seaside experience. If I wasn't too full from lunch I would have loved to partake of a crab sandwich from Joyful West's little hut which was doing a fine trade as I passed. I don't recall many childhood visits to the seaside with my parents (instead we had magnificent museum visits and luxury of luxuries the occasional holiday to Greek islands, Perth Australia, New York, San Francisco, New Orleans and Orlando - I was far from deprived) but my grandparents made sure that I made complex turreted sandcastles, rode recalcitrant donkeys, suffered sand in my sandwiches (normally jam), lost stacks if pennies in the penny arcades and generally experienced all that's good and tawdry about a typical English seaside resort. Never in this part of the world though, their stomping grounds were Blackpool, Southport and environs - an entirely different coast.

As a child I'm sure I found Blackpool terribly exciting definitely during the illuminations but now I certainly wouldn't swap these ever so calming coasts, with the soothing colours and again those skies!

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