I’ll be honest, When I think about travelling through Wales, the two words that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind are ‘public’ and ‘transport’. Wales is full of windy roads, lakes, rolling hills and scenic mountains, surely getting from South to North via public transport would be a nightmare of epic proportions? The good people at Traveline Cymru assure me that this is not the case, you can, in fact, travel from Cardiff to Holyhead, in style aboard the ‘Gerald of Wales’ train, with Arriva Train Wales.
Ok Arriva, you have my attention. Gerald, by all accounts, is no ordinary train, he runs the length of Wales, making the occasional crossing into England and comes complete with an onboard chef, serving up three-course meals and cooked breakfasts. One of only two services in the UK that offer this service.
I was lucky enough to experience travelling on Gerald aboard the ‘flagship Business Class’ service from Cardiff to Bangor, which at a journey time of under 4 hours, is half an hour faster than other standard services operating on the same route. Gerald has four coaches, three for standard-class ones and a fourth coach for business class passengers, who receive a complimentary meal, that is cooked to order by the travelling chef.
After my initial delight at the prospect of posh train travel, panic set in, what on earth will I wear in business class? Will it be full of actual adults with their briefcases and important job titles, good god what if one of them speaks to me? After having a wine and a little calm down I decided that the best course of action would be to dress ‘smart casual’ and to copy whatever the grownups were doing on board.
As I boarded at Cardiff, I was warmly greeted by staff and seated in a comfy window seat complete with a table and power socket. Ever the professional, I took out my laptop, notepad and camera ready to be a proper travel blogger, I was going to take comprehensive notes, I was going to ask thoughtful questions, I was…. ’Excuse me, would you like to see our wine list?’ asked a lovely smiling lady. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly all my good intentions go out the window at the mere mention of the word ‘wine’.
Predictably, I ordered a glass of white, the Pier 42, Pinot Grigio, and started dreamily out of the window, watching the lovely scenery whiz by. The ever attentive staff were soon back enquiring what I would like to order from the menu. Each business class ticket holder receives a complimentary, cooked to order meal, that changes on a five-week cycle and features locally sourced produce. There is a hot breakfast on the morning service and a three-course meal on the north bound service in the evening, which is what I was travelling on.
I decided to order Chicken liver parfait with cracked pepper butter and caramelised red onion toast, Chicken and mushroom pot pie and Chocolate fudge cake with cream, with a cheeky little glass of rose wine as well, it would be rude not to right?
I was curious as to the quality of food that is cooked aboard a train, I had no frame of reference. I was really surprised at how tasty the food was, not to mention the portion sizes. The chicken pot pie was the size of my head!
After only managing around two-thirds of the gigantic pot pie, I was presented with a large slab of chocolate cake, warm and oozing with chocolate loveliness, how on earth was I supposed to fit this in? Like most ladies though, I am always game for a chocolate based challenge.
Full of food and wine, I sat back and watched the ever changing landscape as we passed through rolling hills, farmlands and the various towns of Abergavenny, Hereford, Shrewsbury and Wrexham.
You forget just how beautiful Wales is when you travel a lot. As a travel blogger, you become accustomed to beautiful scenery and it’s all too easy to forget the captivating landscapes back home. Best have another small wine for all this introspection and new found love of the homelands.
The sun was starting to slowly sink into the horizon as we rolled through the pretty seaside towns of Rhyl, Colwyn Bay and Llandudno Junction. Here’s where the window view became even more glorious, as we were treated to stunning sunset as the train rolled past the sea.
It’s these kinds of picture perfect scenes that make train travel through Wales a worthwhile option. It would perhaps be all too easy to miss whilst driving, train travel allows for appreciation, for reflection and most importantly, for Instagrams.
Before I knew it I was in Bangor, it felt as if the last few hours had flown by, with the help of lovely scenery and one or two, perhaps three wines. I was only going to be in North Wales for a few days with family, scoping out the area for a future article on adventure travel in North Wales. As I am without a car, I am relying on the Traveline Cymru’s journey planner to navigate public transport whilst I am in the area.
Two days later and I am back at Bangor train station ready for the rail journey home. Bangor is a rather sweet, almost retro looking, train station, with a little cafe and newsagents selling coffee in polystyrene cups, it filled me with a sense of nostalgia for childhood trips to the seaside by train.
It’s honestly not often that I can claim to enjoy long journeys, but this particular route has been so delightful that it has sparked an interest in train travel. Ok, so clearly not all UK rail routes are going to be quite so impressive, but I am now quite inspired to seek out interesting rail routes, preferably ones with sauvignon blanc on board.
More information about this service, including pricing, upgrades and timetables, visit https://www.arrivatrainswales.co.uk/BusinessClass/ or ask at any train station ticket office. Fares typically range from £10 to £80 depending on the route. Cooked to order meals are complimentary for first class ticket holders. Standard class ticket holders, however, can pay extra to upgrade to the first-class ticket, see Arriva’s website for details or ask on board.
My train journey was complimentary, but all views, as always, are my own.