Downpatrick railway’s first afternoon tea event is runaway success

Downpatrick railway’s first afternoon tea event is runaway success

7 August 2019

THE Downpatrick and Co Down Railway got out the best china when it hosted its very first afternoon tea event recently.

The experience started with guests boarding the train at Downpatrick town station and taking a relaxing journey, travelling in a comfortable 1950s carriage, to Inch Abbey by steam train.

They then boarded the buffet carriage where guests were welcomed by the volunteers with a glass of prosecco, wine or a soft drink, before being directed to their allocated tables to enjoy a mouthwatering selection of freshly handmade sandwiches, luxury homemade scones with jam and cream and mini French patisseries.

Guests were also offered bottomless teas and coffees, or their own pot of luxury specialist tea.

Railway chairman Robert Gardiner, who was one of the servers, said: “This is something we’ve wanted to do for some time, and it’s always been a very popular treat on heritage railways in Great Britain.”

“Nerves may have been a bit jangled as with all first events. How would it go down with our visitors? We’d never done anything like this before.”

As it turned out, stomach butterflies were swiftly replaced with full bellies.

“It sold out very quickly and in the end there were lots of smiling faces and empty plates,” Mr Gardiner said. “The only downside was that the volunteers didn’t have any leftovers to enjoy.”

Mr Gardiner reveals the preparation that went into the event. 

“We knew the food would be great. It was freshly prepared by Franck Brétéché from Mange Tout, who we have worked with before on private charters — including my own 40th birthday party — and we were determined that this would look the part.

“We scoured charity shops across the county to give forgotten but beautiful old bone china tea sets a new lease of life, including fabricating 20 new cake stands from scratch using these lovely vintage finds – no modern off the shelf crockery for us.

“It also marked an attempt to diversify our offering and attract more people to the railway and the local area than might otherwise come.

Paula O’Neill, along with her friends Natasha Mellon and Denise McGuinness, travelled from Ardee in Co Louth and gave the day the thumbs up.

“The gluten free option was excellent — great variety and lovely presentation with plenty of options of drinks available. The staff were very friendly and helpful. We would definitely recommend.”

Kim Mullholland, from Groomsport, said: “The railway team did great. Every one of the staff looked so happy to be attending to everyone which so often isn’t the case at these sorts of events. We were with my husband’s parents who both enjoyed the afternoon very much.”

Danielle Beaver, from Armagh, arranged her visit as an anniversary gift for her husband, John.

She said: “We had a fab time. Lovely atmosphere, great choice of teas and coffees – especially as we are tee-total. We didn’t feel left out at all. Lovely selection of food and cakes. We will be back.”

Owing to demand, another afternoon tea event will take place this Sunday at 1.45pm.

Tickets cost £30 per head which, as well as the afternoon tea and drinks, includes all-day steam train journeys, access to all museum areas, and is inclusive of credit card and booking fees. 

Places are limited and pre-booking is required. To book log on to