In the hope of seeing some Easter sunshine, I took a trip down to Cornwall to hike some of the South West Coast Path. The fastest journey from London to Penzance takes about 5 hours on Great Western Railway (GWR) so I travelled on the Thursday before Easter in order use a service that offered the full service Pullman restaurant. Overall, I’m glad I did as the Pullman dining service was excellent and well worth the money but beyond the restaurant there were some issues which detracted from the experience and made me question how far the company had transformed with its relaunch.
London to Penzance (Plymouth) on the GWR Pullman
This service is offered on a few weekday GWR trains noted on the website (note that the 12:06 train that I took actually terminates at Penzance, not Plymouth as listed).
Good Friday and Easter Monday, the days you’d probably want to travel, aren’t counted as weekdays so the service doesn’t operate – it’s a good job I didn’t travel as it seems I would have had to share my seat, in fact the rest of the train was completely packed until we reached Plymouth.
I bought an advance First Class ticket which meant I could call the (overseas) call centre and book a table in advance. This was worth it as the restaurant was full when we arrived at our table. We were the last people to sit down as we hadn’t realised that you could board early and begin the experience.
Once we had been seated, the staff were extremely attentive and the whole restaurant experience was worth timing the journey for. Travelling through the West Country whilst enjoying a 3 course meal made the long journey seem like an experience in itself.
The experience on the Pullman service did very much live up to the advertising. The attentive service continued throughout the meal and the quality of food was excellent. My travelling companion and I were extremely impressed with the whole meal.
It was unfortunately, therefore, that when you left the restaurant that you remembered you were on an old First Great Western train. Despite the train having left London Paddington, the toilet adjacent to the restaurant (in First Class) was filthy. The rubbish was so full that the holder was swinging open, there was no water in the tap and no way to dry hands – quite unsatisfactory when you want to wash your hands before you eat.
As we were sitting comfortably, the restaurant staff advised us that we could stay put when they cleared away the Pullman service in order to disembark at Plymouth, a rather sad transformation happened where our cosy saloon was unveiled to be a standard First Class carriage. The service staff left us and we stared at the blank table wondering what had happened to our special train ride.
On the plus side, I did notice that, at least in First Class, the power sockets had been reorientated to fit a laptop charger now. Plus, somewhere towards the end of the journey, a generous passenger left a packet of wet wipes in the toilet for us to use.
I barely saw a member of staff after Plymouth, apart from when I ventured to find some water. It appears that once the lovely Pullman service staff have departed, passengers have to scavenge for their free snacks from a trolley parked at the buffet counter. First World problems…
It was a shame that the service level evaporated so clearly after what had been a relaxing experience, the final announcement when we pulled into Penzance 5 minutes late was to apologise that we were late “due to a large number of passengers travelling with us” – its not great to blame your customers for a service delay.
Onwards from Penzance
It is at Penzance station that you can take the daily departure of the Scillonian ferry to the Isles of Scilly (2 hours 45 minutes). Passengers can also change at St Erth station (10 minutes before Penzance) for the shuttle service to St Ives, via the short St Ives branch.
Author: Liam Henderson