On the right track
From an extra special railway station to historic hotels, Laura Cartledge rounds up romantic getaways sure to suit any taste.
While Gudmund Olafsson admits he ‘is not a train nerd’ a birthday treat saw him embark on a railway adventure.
“On my 50th and my wife’s 40th we decided to do something special,” Gudmund recalls, explaining the plan was to start at The Old Station, Petworth.
“It was already a B&B then,” he reveals. “We liked it so much when I spoke to the owner the next morning I said ‘if you ever want to sell call me’.”
Two years later, Gudmund’s phone rang and for the last nine years he’s called the remarkable station his home.
So what made him fall for the place so quickly?
“It is such a terribly pretty building,” Gudmund replies. “It was put here primarily for the king to get to Goodwood – that is probably why.”
Built in 1892, there is no doubt it radiates a level of glamour fit for royalty – however as a working station the reality was quite different.
“It was a ridiculous operation really, they had no passengers,” he laughs.
“It lost money its entire life. This is a big station and in its heyday it probably had 30 staff. I believe in 1955 it lost £38,000.”
In fact, rather than people, the services mostly carried the goods and even cattle of local farmers.
Even now, with the air of elegance restored, you can almost hear the bustle as you take to the platform which is flanked by iconic Pullman carriages.
“It is only since buying here that I have become a Pullman enthusiast,” confesses Gudmund. “I don’t think anyone else owns four privately, the Orient Express has 11.
“It’s really special to stay in a railway car but a Pullman makes it something else .”
Before stepping aboard I know this is an understatement.
Alongside traditional details, like wooden roses inset in the panelling and the shuttered windows, are luxurious en-suite bathrooms and beautiful beds.
With eight rooms in the carriages and two in the station house you get a feeling it is not just a hotel offering an overnight stay, but an adventure.
And there is no doubt Gudmund, for one, has been on quite a journey with it.
“It’s a labour of love,” he admits. “It always needs work, it is, essentially, a wooden shed.
“All the carriages are built of wood which needs constant attention and care – there’s always a painter here.
“It is not hard work, it is long work,” adds Gudmund.
“Anyone who lives in these listed buildings is a caretaker, they happen to own it, but it is their duty to look after it.”
Being listed means it has to be kept in the ‘colours and condition it was’, while quirky details, including retro posters and railway tickets, complete the image.
“It doesn’t look very different,” he agrees, “but it looks better, it always looks fresh.”
However the station is also looking to the future, with a biomass system being installed to take care of elements like the heating.
While the appeal of this place is evident, I ask Gudmund what he likes most about the station?
“Looking at it and saying ‘that is all mine’. I have to share it with people which is a bit of a bummer,” he jests, adding that seeing ‘the guests satisfaction, the way they love it,’ is also a highlight.
“Imagine having a train,” Gudmund smiles. “You can’t say ‘lets take it out for a picnic’, or ‘go to the shops’, like you do with a classic car.”
Despite the station now being stationary, it is more than a time capsule as it keeps creating memories.
“It is a quite special place,” Gudmund enthuses, adding he hopes this will forge full steam ahead for years to come.
“My hope for the future is that it continues successfully under the stewardship of someone who loves it as much as I do.
“There is no reason why it shouldn’t – we have an amazingly high number of returnees.”
And before I have even left, I know I will be one of them.
For more information about The Old Station, Petworth, call 01798 342346 or visit www.old-station.co.uk
January 29, 2015 Travel and Lifestyle