If you thought last week’s London tube strikes were bad, spare a thought for me – last Thursday I was on a train in West Sussex that hadn’t moved in over 20 years.
Luckily the stationary part of my train was all part of its olde-worlde charm. With a stay at The Old Railway Station, you don’t have to worry about missed connections, delays or not getting a seat – the four Pullman carriages perched on the site within the South Downs National Park have been turned into eight luxury rooms, each with their own private entrance, en suite facilities and thoughtful little extras.
What are Pullman carriages?
“Don’t tell me you’re a trainspotter.”
That was the reaction of many of my friends when I told them I would be spending the night on a train.
Now, not that there’s anything wrong with trainspotters, but The Old Railway Station is more than just a place for train enthusiasts to retreat to with their notebook and pen in hand. Afterall, these are infamous Pullman carriages, the very first of which entered service way back in 1874. These were more luxurious carriages – much more upmarket than your regular mainline service – with swanky dining cars and accommodation carriages to appeal to those (with the money) wanting to travel in style.
Each of the four carriages at The Old Railway Station are authentic, once used to transport hundreds of people around the country. So, quite rightly, stepping on board is just like stepping back into a bygone era of glamour, wrapping you up in colonial grandeur and romanticism.
The carriage we were in – the Montana – used to be an old dining carriage which once called Cambridge its home. Two of the other carriages took up residence in Cornwall once they were retired, becoming accommodation for travellers looking for a place to rest their head. It’s fair to say they’ve seen their fair share of history since they were first built.
So just who does The Old Railway Station appeal to? I’ve narrowed it down to a few different (not mutually exclusive) categories:
- Train/history enthusiasts
- Lovers of boutique, quirky stays
- Country lovers
- Couples looking for a romantic retreat
As a history graduate with a love of the English countryside and quirky accommodation, I was insanely excited to step on-board my Pullman carriage for the night – and I even managed to convince my boyfriend to pop along for the ride too!
“It’ll be the birds and the squirrels that will wake you up at 4am.”
Of all the things to wake you up, I guess there are worse things.
With a wall of greenery just centimetres away from our windows on one side, I was beginning to feel like I was in the thick of the jungle, with only a draw full of tea to survive on. (Again, there are worse things…)
Boarding the train through your own private entrance, almost reminiscent of an old London Routemaster bus, you find yourself in a small vestibule, perfect for leaving shoes and hanging up coats. Through another door you’re led down a small hallway leading off to the bathroom, while at the end sits the luxurious bedroom-cum-living-area, with a pull-out flat-screen TV so you can watch it whether you’re in bed or sitting on the two comfy chairs.
Each carriage still retains all of its original features, including the Pullman shield, rounded stain glass windows and wooden wall panels ingrained with floral patterns. In fact, the only significant thing that’s been added is the bathroom, plus a partition wall to separate it from the bedroom.
It’s a well-planned use of the space available, and at times you almost forget that you’re even on a train – the only thing that gives it away is the narrowness of the room, and the iconic windows featuring sliding panels up top.
If you’ve had enough of trains on your daily commute, or perhaps just fancy something different, why not rest up in the 19th century old station house which was formerly Petworth railway station? While still brimming with character in the shape of overhead wooden beams, stain glass windows and wooden wall panels, the bathrooms are a bit more contemporary.
During the day, you can also rest up in the station’s lounge with a cup of tea in hand. Fitted with all kinds of railway paraphernalia and original features, I’m pretty sure this is one of my favourite, cosiest lounges I’ve seen in a long while…
Places to Eat
As it was getting on a bit when we finally arrived at the Station, we decided to pop into the local pub (Badgers) for our evening meal. It turned out to be one of the best decisions we made. Light and airy with wooden window shutters, flowers on the tables and striking artwork, our visit to the Badger was made even better by the fact there was hardly anyone in there. They also nab bonus points for having my favourite flavour of Pimms (blackberry and elderberry) out on display!
My whole seabass – literally, a whole seabass – was pretty delicious, paired up with tomatoes and potatoes for a Mediterranean flavouring. And for desserts, it would have been rude to pass up the cheesecake topped with summer berries, right?
In the morning, don’t worry about having to find somewhere to eat as this is all included in the price on-site. And you get a lot for your buck, with a fruit starter followed by cereals, toast, fry-ups, juice, tea…it’s pretty endless. Thankfully the weather was perfect while we were there, so we were able to have our breakfast outside under the umbrellas, looking out onto the verdant garden.
What to See and Do
In Petworth itself there are a handful of things to see, namely the 17th-century Petworth House and the town’s cute boutique shops.
Of course, being right in the heart of the South Downs National Park, The Old Railway Station is also well located for country walks. There are a few printable maps here of some of the more popular walking routes in the area.
Our taxi driver on the way back to Pulborough train station also recommended taking the train a few stops over to Amberley where there’s apparently a lot more to see and do. Sadly we didn’t have enough time to try this one out, so please get in touch if you have any Amberley tips up your sleeve.
We absolutely loved our stay at The Old Railway Station, and it’s made us a lot more determined to enjoy a few more ‘quirky’ stays like this before the year is out. One of the best moments was when we were sitting down for breakfast, with nothing to hear but the sway of the trees and the muffled clinks of cutlery as people tucked into their substantial morning dishes.
It’s an absolutely fantastic way to wrap yourself in English heritage, all within easy reach of London (trains are around 70 minutes from London Bridge to Pulborough station.)
Stay in a Pullman carriage from £120 a night (minimum stay of 2 nights at the weekend); a room in the Station House costs from £100 a night
Many thanks to The Old Railway Station for providing me with a complimentary stay for the purpose of this review. All opinions and thoughts are my own.