A recent report I read from Network Rail highlighted the growth in sales of food and drink at railway stations and how they have outstripped the High Street. In my mind there are 2 very distinct kinds of food & drink offerings at Britain’s stations.
1) The cold, dreary surroundings of a bland coffee shop with day old pastries on display, coffee in a paper cup and the obligatory group of teenagers huddled round a burger and chips while texting their mates. I don’t wish to appear snobby, but there are quite a few things I would rather do than be a small part of this set up while waiting the 23 minutes for the 17.37 to Glasgow Central (stopping at Warrington, Wigan, Preston etc etc etc). I couldn’t possibly call this an experience and even at the new, swanky food courts at the big London termini, I don’t think the Great British public get a taste of what I think railway food and drink should be.
2) The journey from Manchester to West Yorkshire will probably never quite match the glitz and glamour of The Orient Express, or the sheer excitement of The Canadian Pacific, but I know where I would rather be. Passing through towns whose names are vaguely familiar from TV shows like Open All Hours and Last of the Summer Wine, you will discover some hidden gems that have changed very little since Bernard Cribbins probably drank there while filming The Railway Children. If you are ever in this area, I implore you to visit www.realaletrail.net to get the lowdown on the stations and to plan your journey. There can be few better pleasures in life than sipping on a Python IPA from Little Valley in the West Riding Refreshment Rooms, Dewsbury or washing down your bacon casserole with a pint of Cheshire Gold in the Stalybridge Buffet Bar while waiting for the 14.28 to Slaithwaite.
Instead of building more identikit coffee shop chains or splashing £££ millions on creating concourse ‘dining experiences’, I would suggest the powers that be turn their attention to how food and drink should really be served and spend a day on The Pennine Ale Trail.