Ok, picture the scene. You’re at Carlisle train station. You’re carrying far more than a person should carry. Your wedding dress is piled atop boxes. The wedding cake, a two-tier rainbow cake to serve 30, is on the floor somewhere. You see the train you’re meant to be travelling on, scoop up as much of the haul as your puny arms can manage, and attempt to get through the train doors. Once you’ve hoisted yourself onto the carriage, you find your seat and prepare for the journey to the wedding destination, Edinburgh.
OH BUT THAT’S NOT WHERE THE STORY ENDS, READER.
A train conductor boards and tells you to get off as all trains have been cancelled for the next few hours while the track gets repaired. You see, Britain is a ‘first world’ country, in everything except any public services of any kind. Our water mains are literally Victorian, and our railways are like the weakest of kittens. A stiff breeze and before you know it trains are cancelled left, right and centre.
So. Due to the hours spent wandering Carlisle’s platform being followed by the creepiest of train spotters (another story) and getting to Edinburgh with nary a second to spare before the wedding, we were given free first class tickets from Virgin, to make up for the hassle. Which is lovely.
Rather than waste them going to somewhere like Birmingham, we decided on spending a few nights back in Edinburgh. Hey, first class for a journey that long wasn’t happening again unless my parents had a child whom they later gave up for adoption to a wealthy barren couple who in turn died and left all their inheritance to my long-lost brother or sister and said sibling planned to donate at least £2,000,000 to make up for lost time, that is.
The trip was booked. Euston to Edinburgh. Five(ish) hours in first class, with all the drink and snacks one could eat. £400 it would have cost us. Worth it? Read on.
So what can you expect travelling first class on Virgin trains?
We boarded the 11 coach Pendelino train at Euston after a little journey from Brentwood to London. We arrived at Euston, found the platform and as we had about 15 minutes to spare, popped into Pret for a soya milk coffee. To our absolute delight, we’d bagged a two person table with a gorgeous window. Sure the little table light wasn’t working, but the paper mat, ceramic mug and stainless steel teaspoon were a welcome difference from standard class, of which we’re only too familiar (sadly). Orange juice was poured ready, as soon as we were seated.
Before departing, and unlike anything in cattle class, a train steward brought round two tea urns and offered us a cuppa. During the weekday, and partly the reason we chose to travel on a Friday, all drinks and snacks are included in the price of your ticket. Including booze. During the weekend, I believe no alcoholic drinks are included and the food offering is a bit more limited, with a snack box instead of the meals on offer, though you can bring your own bottle and sarnies if you want. Train picnic anyone?
After leaving the station, about ten minutes into the journey, the stewards once again brought around the tea and coffee urns, as well as a choice of sausage and bacon baps. These were delicious, and so unexpected. David went back for second helpings, and judging by the woman’s face, we assumed this wasn’t usually done. He is a growing man, train lady.
The best thing about the journey by this point was the relative calm and space. The chairs reclined to a degree, and we had so much footspace. The two person table was great as it meant we weren’t sat next to anyone else at all. Those who aren’t a fan of the general public, and lord knows I fall into that spectrum, should try and get these tables.
Every 30-45 minutes someone would pass through the carriage offering food (which was salads, sandwiches and wraps with fruit, pretzels (avoid), crisps, chocolate and a cheese toastie towards the end of the journey).
Each window seat had its own power socket, essential in this day and age of useless battery life. Free wi-fi was on offer, but seriously, it was almost like pre-broadband dial up times. Remember those? When you couldn’t be on the phone and on the internet at the same time, lest your mum hear the familiar PSSSSSSSSSHH-BRRRRRRRLLL-BRRRRRL-FRLEEEEEEEEEE-WOM-WUM-WOM-WUM-WOM-KKKRRRSSSSHSSSSSH. It didn’t work at all, and that was the only real issue on the five hour journey.
Unlike first class on a plane, which I assume has perfumes, luxury hand lotions, and a butler to provide wiping services if needed, the loos on Virgin trains are the same as those in standard, and, like those in standard, stank.
It was a really comfortable journey, if very long. There was mild delirium experienced. If we were planning on getting the train again for such a long journey, it’s something that I’d fleetingly consider. Sadly, the price is a whopper and could easily fly the Mr and me to Europe for the cost of one first class ticket. In fact, we flew from London City to Edinburgh, which took about an hour and cost us both about £68. AND we got free drinks and snacks.
The comfort side of things makes me want it. The practical side of me screams HOW CAN THEY CHARGE THAT FOR TOASTIES AND TEA?
If you have the cash, if you don’t travel much and want it for the experience, or you just hate people and have a credit card, then it’s worth a go. Sometimes, first class tickets are only a few quid more, and in that case it’s worth it. But £400 is far to steep to consider for us.
Here’s hoping my long-lost hypothetical sibling cashes in soon, huh.