Ceres Rail had their inaugural trip into Elgin to the brand-new Elgin Railway market on Saturday 28th April, with a second trip on Sunday 29th. Traveltime chose to visit on Sunday. It meant a very early start for everyone who was booked on the train – scheduled time to get down to the Unity Station near the Royal Cape Yacht club was 07:30. Taxis rolled in and the train manager eventually took his place at the wooden steps to start checking everyone in! Such huge anticipation when at a few minutes past 08:00 the train whistle sounded and you could feel the train starting to move – and hear the steam; see the black smoke billowing out of the funnel;
OH, the JOYS OF TRAVEL of DAYS GONE BY!!
Most people had not had time to have breakfast so there was a ‘rush’ to get to the dining car to have a sandwich / muffin etc and cup of coffee. Train staff had walkie-talkies on hand, and from coach to coach they give instructions of how many seats were available in the dining car – it seemed to work well, except that it was a lengthy process!
Standing waiting to board, we were amazed to meet a couple who had travelled in from la Agulhas and left home at 03:30 to get to Cape Town in time for the trip. The lady is a steam train enthusiast; amazing what people will do to follow their passion – because when they got back to Cape Town they were returning home by road and would probably only arrive there by 22:00!
Our group of 24 were so fortunate that we had our own coach – made for such a fun time with very comfortable chairs in little circles – and just “Oh so gesellig” – meaning it gave everyone time to move around and chat to each other.
It takes a full 3 hours 20 minutes to get to Elgin – a distance (by road) of 70km! Steam train travel is obviously a more laid-back way of traveling – a few tunnels to go through, where the norm became that everyone in our coach started chanting “OOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH” until the light was visible again – Oh what fun it was! Like a bunch of school kids for sure.
Going up Sir Lowry’s Pass we had quite a long stop near the summit – “Why so long” – “What are they doing” “Are the rails wet?” – eventually we were told they had to replenish the water for the steam and take on additional sand bags. (Sand is dropped on the rails to provide additional traction). what views we all had – travel in the old-fashioned way – such a treat! No rush to get to your destination when it is such a comfortable & relaxing way to get there!
Amazingly how many people come out to watch the engine go past their homes and level crossings – all with cameras taking photos – makes you feel like a celebrity gliding clickety-clickety along the rails.
The engineers in our group recognised the different sounds of the engine especially on the ascent up Sir Lowry’s – interesting indeed! Yes it lost a bit of traction near the top!
The views one has from the train gives you a new slant on the areas we normally whizz past in our cars – “Gee look how BIG the informal area near Elgin is” – “How beautiful these mountains really are”
Our arrival at the Elgin Railway Market at 11:20 was very exciting – to see the Market completed. We had gone through a week beforehand and they were nowhere ready (at that stage) to host such a large function – but now the stage had been set! The bandstand had a musician singing; and the food stands offered anything from pizzas; burgers (including a Rovos burger); to Spanish Platters; to Indian curries; to Tapas; with wine stands and beer on tap, and even a gin bar which was very popular with the ladies in our group! Plenty of seating made this a special place to choose a meal and sit and catch up with friends!
You could get coffee beans ground to your liking and even take a bunch of glorious fresh flowers from Oak Valley, home. Buy a new jewelry piece; take home some new décor; even buy a bottle of new Gin! A lot of planning had gone into this market and we feel sure it will be a fantastic addition to the Elgin scene – we look forward to returning in months to come to see how this magical space gets transformed into a permanent marketing venue with several restaurants / shops being added to the mix.
We all had to board the train by 14:15 – everyone except 2 of our party and time was marching on – a bit of a panic situation – as the train must roll out of Elgin station at its allotted time of 14:30!! With a few minutes to spare the two ladies in question arrived! A HUGE sigh of relief for the organisers of this train trip! (and for Brian who would have had to remain behind to ensure the safety of the two!). No names, no pack drill”, but “Hilda” you know, we know, where you went!
We rolled back into the city feeling ever so satisfied when we saw the cars in a solid line going down Sir Lowry’s pass – My goodness, the end of the long weekend is only on Tuesday – why are there so many cars on the road! We had a 30-minute wait near Somerset West to wait for the Main Line train (which was 30 minutes behind schedule), to pass by so we could carry on with our journey.
Eventually familiar places on our route meant we were close to Unity Station and a very happy, satisfied group of people disembarked the train and headed back to their homes!
“Rail travel for me is the most relaxing, most scenic way to see the country”.
John Paul De Joria