AFTERNOON tea is the new brunch, they say.

Having had our fill of smashed avocado on sourdough toast, the foodie fashionistas have revived the very English tradition of taking tea late in the day and turning it in to something of an occasion.

Never have so many tiered cake stands been dug out of vintage shops and doilies deployed. They may have stopped making Downton Abbey for the telly but we’re all posh now. The appetite for cucumber sandwiches continues to grow.

Every self-respecting hospitality business is jumping on this particular bandwagon with most hotels and even a few pubs offering obscure tea blends along with the fondant fancies, clotted cream and scones.

In its efforts to attract more travellers on to its trains, the wonderful Wensleydale Railway launched an afternoon tea service last year and this summer it has been a great success. You need to reserve well in advance to secure a place and half the trains from September and October are already fully booked.

Very sensibly, the volunteer-run railway has realised that running trains and serving posh afternoon teas are not generally compatible skillsets and have teamed up with the people who run the Café at Institution in Bedale to do the hospitality bit.

The railway has provided the carriage used as the afternoon tea setting – a 1912 saloon originally built for the directors of the London and North Western Railway, who happened to include a certain J Bruce Ismay, the infamous chairman of the White Star shipping line who avoided likely death on the maiden voyage of the ill-fated Titanic by jumping into a lifeboat in defiance of the accepted women-and-children first rule.

There is some doubt about the actual veracity of the tale but what isn’t in doubt is Ismay’s decision to cut the number of lifeboats on the new ship to the legal minimum.

I only mention this because a minor disaster led to the delay of our afternoon tea train (apologies in advance to those who think it is very poor taste comparing The Leeming Bar Crockery Incident with the death of 1,500 in the icy waters of the North Atlantic).

Nobody died but in preparing the train for service at Leeming Bar station some over-enthusiastic shunting led to the saloon carriage being shunted too vigorously and a large amount of the tea crockery ended up in pieces on the carriage floor. Luckily a spare set of crockery was to hand, the carriage was re-set and duly arrived at Bedale serenely pristine.

The carriage is undeniably stylish, with large windows which afford splendid views. Which in this case is lower Wensleydale which doesn’t get much more splendid. It reminded me of the last time I was on a posh train. It was the Venice Simplon Orient Express, chartered by John Smith’s Brewery for York Races Magnet Cup Day. I was among the brewery’s guests who enjoyed a short but luxurious trip … to Leeds. We had lunch overlooking the sidings in Garforth. Lovely.

Wensleydale always looks beautiful especially when the sun shines as it mostly did for the trundle up to Redmire. It needs to be said that you see so much more on the train than you do in the car as the line takes a very different route up the dale than A684.

At Crakehall we were drinking glasses of fizz, at Finghall we were tucking into a selection of sandwiches and dinky smoked salmon and samphire tartlets. The sandwiches included ham and wholegrain mustard on wholemeal, cheddar with a carrot and ginger relish on seeded bread, egg mayo and cress on wholegrain and cucumber on white.

By Finghall we were on to the fruit scones - very fresh, light - and the time-honoured debate about jam or clotted cream first (Sylvia choses to be Cornish – jam then clotted cream – I’m a Devon-method devotee – cream then jam).

At Leyburn Station, after a brief stop, we moved on to the cakes – individual mouthfuls of gateaux, meringue nests, profiterolles and strawberries dipped in chocolate.

By the time we reached the end of the line – Redmire – we’d had our fill, having been offered – and declined – extra sandwiches and refills of our tea pot. We contented ourselves by stretching our legs, taking in the Pen Hill-dominated views of the dale.

The return journey was punctuated by a minor medical emergency – a fellow tea party guest caught her sandaled-foot on a floor-level heating pipe bracket and the bruise swelled up rather alarmingly – a matter which the young staff dealt with as attentively and calmly as possible.

Shunting and injury incidents aside, the afternoon had a real sense of occasion about it. A lovely tea, served in spectacular surrounding by courteous and friendly people.

The cost of £42.50 per person includes the rail ticket and the complimentary glass of fizz (or soft drink). If you want to sample it before the end of the season, you need to move fast.

Wensleydale Railway Afternoon Tea

  • Bedale Station
  • Bedale Road, Aiskew DL8 1AW
  • Tel: 01677-425541
  • Web:
  • Afternoon Tea trains run on Saturdays and some Tuesdays and Wednesdays until the end of October. Booking is essential. Don’t try turning up unannounced.
  • Ratings (out of ten): Food quality 8, Service 9, Surroundings 10, Value 8