Hands up — who expected the Paddington Bear films to be so good? Not me, certainly. When I first heard the Peruvian bear was heading to the big screen, I feared the worse — but I’d now happily put both movies in that precious category: ‘Films daddy can stand his children watching over and over again.’
So, the prospect of a Paddington-themed, daddy-daughter day out seemed too good to miss, especially one set to take place on the Belmond British Pullman, part of the same family who looks after the iconic Orient Express. And for all Paddington’s appeal, the train was definitely the star of the show, from its glorious steam locomotive to the beautifully crafted carriages, each one distinct and decked out like a Victorian parlour.
Our carriage was called Vera, and as I sat in my armchair, enjoying afternoon tea (including marmalade sandwiches, naturally), the train performed a circuit of leafy southern England, while a series of performers came by at intervals just regular enough to ensure the trip felt family-friendly.
These able players included a trilby-wearing storyteller with a pencil-thin moustache who regaled us with tales of our favourite bear, plus two highly entertaining magicians and a trio of glamorous singers who serenaded our carriage with upbeat, jazz-inflected Christmas carols. A goody bag including a toy Paddington and a Hornby train carriage, alongside a meeting with a life-size Paddington upon disembarking made this particular day a resounding success.
The next Paddington Afternoon Tea journey departs on 7 April, and costs from £800 for a family of four.
Four to try: Steam dreams
South Devon Railway
Devon is something of a hotbed for kid-friendly train attractions, but this historic steam service, traversing a seven-mile route through the valley of the River Dart, is something special. Combine your journey with a discounted trip to the nearby Totnes Rare Breeds Farm and the Dartmoor Otter Sanctuary.
Severn Valley Railway
This hugely popular Shropshire steam service is one of the country’s most atmospheric, and if your children aren’t captivated by the stunning scenery, there’s also a museum, two miniature railways and a railway-themed play area along the route — not to mention the intriguing Ghost Train events.
Isle of Wight Steam Railway
Settle back in a handsome Victorian or Edwardian carriage, and let a steam engine puff you through five miles of the island’s prettiest countryside. Better still, time your visit to coincide with a family-themed event, such as the Teddy Bear Days, or combine your ticket with the Haven Falconry Bird of Prey Centre.
Bo’ness & Kinnel Railway
The Flying Scotsman may be world famous, but the Bo’ness & Kinnel is perhaps Scotland’s best family steam outing, on account of its regular events (from Thomas the Tank Engine to Santa) and the spectacular Museum of Scottish Railways in Bo’ness.
Published in the April 2018 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)