A triumph of Victorian engineering when it opened in the 19th century, cutting through the northern Pennines and Yorkshire Dales with 22 spectacular viaducts and 14 tunnels, I had the pleasure of boarding the West Coast Railtours Pendle Dalesman on the first of the 13 Tuesdays when it will call at Clitheroe over the summer to take passengers on this wonderful journey.
Several of the carefully-restored 1950s crimson carriages on The Pendle Dalesman featured in the Harry Potter movies as part of the Hogwarts Express, that took the boy magician to school.
As we waited on the platform for the arrival of the train, with several other passengers, there was a tangible atmosphere of anticipation in the air on a crisp and sunny morning.
And when it steamed into Clitheroe it certainly did not disappoint.
After being shown to our first class carriage where a Buck's Fizz reception awaited, I sank into the luxurious seat and it dawned on me this was going to be a very special trip.
As the train pulled away from the platform and we admired the views over the Ribble Valley, orders were taken for our breakfast which included cereals, porridge served with fresh cream, a fruit dish and a selection of breads and toasts followed by a full English breakfast or Scottish smoked salmon with scrambled eggs, tea and coffee.
As we got underway I learned the vintage steam locomotive once pulled crack British Rail express trains over the route through the Yorkshire Dales before diesel engines took over during the 1960s. The particular locomotive we travelled on was named the British India Line.
Weighing around 94 tons with 6ft diameter wheels and capable of more than 100mph the British India Line – or “BIL” as it is affectionately known in railway circles – was withdrawn from British Rail service in August 1964 and sold to a scrapyard in Barry, South Wales, before being rescued in 1979.
Work to restore it only began in 2012 and it ran again under its own steam on the mainline in 2017.
First opening to passengers in 1876, the 72 mile long Settle - Carlisle line showcases the English countryside at its best.
Two of the most impressive structures on the line are Dent Head and Arten Gill viaducts, classed as Scheduled Ancient Monuments. Arten Gill viaduct is constructed from 'Dent marble' - a dark limestone with high fossil content, and has eleven impressive arches.
Blea Moor tunnel, located between Ribblehead Viaduct and Dent station, it is the longest tunnel on the line. Rise Hill tunnel, built by the Midland Railway, passes 500 feet below the moor after which it was named.
We drank in the stunning scenery of the beautifiul English countryside as he journey unfolded and it was lovely to see numerous people gathering, or ready and waiting in their gardens, to catch a glimpse of the train, many of them armed with cameras. We waved back at them as enthusiastically as they waved at us. I realised we were very lucky to be on this special train.
As the Dalesman reached the Batty Moss Viaduct, more popularly known as the Ribblehead Viaduct, in North Yorkshire, it slowed down and again, and we spotted dozens of photographers ready and waiting to catch the best shot. This impressive feat of engineering 28 miles north-west of Skipton in Yorkshire is a grade two listed structure, designed by engineer John Sydney Crossley.
A staggering 1.5 million bricks were used in its construction, with some of the blocks weighing eight tons each.
I felt quite emotional when we came to the spectacular views of the Eden Valley, the Eden Gorge and the Lake District from the Dalesman. It was like looking at a painting, the changing colours of the landscape were breathtaking.
We had a two hour stop over in Carlisle, which gives you just enough time to visit the 12th century Gothic cathedral or Norman castle. Our first port of call was the cathedral, which is about a five minute walk from the station.
Founded as an Augustinian priory it became a cathedral in 1133. Carlisle is the second smallest of England's ancient cathedrals and its notable features include figurative stone carving, a set of medieval choir stalls and the largest window in the Flowing Decorated Gothic style in England. Set in immaculate grounds, entry is free to the cathedral and it is well worth a visit.
We did try to visit the castle, which is about 10 to 15 minutes from the station, but tickets must be booked in advance. So if you don't want to be disappointed head to the website to book a time slot for your visit.
I was impressed with Carlisle's vibrant city centre boasting a good selection of shops, bars and cafes.
Once it was time to head back home we returned to our carriage to be greeted by champagne and canapes to tempt us before dinner.
The fabulous four course dinner included a choice of three starters: either chef's own tomato and red pepper and mascarpone soup, maple glazed ham hock terrine or brie and asparagus cheesecake. We opted for the soup and the cheesecake and it was delicious. Gordon Ramsay would have been proud.
The main course of roasted chicken supreme in a creamy wild mushroom sauce was served with Dauphinoise potatoes, broccoli and Chantenay carrots. This was rounded off with spiced apple tart served with freshly made custard and finally, a cheese course with a selection of cheeses and biscuits, celery and red onion chutney.
And the meal was served with a quarter bottle of either red, white or rose wine. A vegetarian menu is available with seven days notice.
Throughout the amazing journey train manager Bob Turner-Horton and his team provided a top notch professional service. Nothing was too much trouble for the team. They made us feel very special.
If you're a steam train enthusiast or want to treat someone to a special day out then the Pendle Dalesman is a must.
Running Tuesdays on the following dates: (8th, 15th and 29th June) ( 6th, 20th and 27th July) (10th, 17th and 31st August )( 7th and 21st September 2021)
Our seats, in premier dining first class, are £265 per adult and £180 per child.
Premier first class tickets are available at £160 a head for adults and £90 for children. You will be served a breakfast roll on the outward journey and sandwiches, a scone, jam and butter will be served on the return journey. To accompany this, there is also a complimentary service of tea or coffee on both journeys.
For all other tickets fares and details of the Pendle Dalesman and and all other services run by West Coast Railways please click HERE