Two things the British do well are incredible scenic countryside and also producing wonderful ales. So when faced with the opportunity to enjoy both at the same time it was an easy answer.
The Real Ale Train, or RAT as it is affectionately known, continues a tradition of serving up quality and affordable local ales from the comfort of either a steam or diesel locomotive.
The Real Ale Train (Rat Train)
The train leaves from Alton Station in Hampshire and travels on the Watercress Line, completing two journeys from Alton to Alresford throughout the evening. Although we covered the same ground twice, it didn’t feel boring or that we were seeing the same scenery. The train departs at 19:20 but doors are open for boarding from 18:30 in case the the lure of £2 pints is too much to bear. The best bit is if you book early the first pint is free!
You might think being pulled around the Hampshire countryside by train is something only enjoyed by old men with cardigans and thick framed glasses but you’d be wrong. Young and old, men and women, locals and Londoners all turned up. Some people were there to sample good old fashioned chilled ales, brewed locally and served sediment free, and others were there to down as many £2 pints as humanly possible in three hours. There is plenty of friendly banter to get involved in which makes for a unique night out.
What I enjoyed the most (besides the ale naturally) was seeing the old fashioned train stations which remained largely unchanged. As though time had frozen when the railway was king of all modes of transport. The RAT was worth it just to see these stations.
What’s the cost
The train ticket costs £15 per person and each pint is just £2. Top tip is book early (outside of 3 days), print out the voucher and the first pint is free. Yes, it’s that simple, get yourself there with a ticket and then pay £2 a pint! The value for money is incredible and scenery pretty hard to beat!
What if I don’t like ale?
Then go to a wine bar! But if the RAT still has you itching to book a ticket and climb on board fear not. There is also a locally produced cider and another bar serving wine and spirits if you’re accompanying a hardened ale drinker, but not a fan yourself. However, if you don’t touch the devils juice, they sell soft drinks and you’ll get a kick out seeing the old fashioned train stations along the way (and probably take more notice than those drinking).
Drinks are served in plastic pint glasses although you can spend £5 and buy a proper glass tankard should you want to.
Lining the stomach
There is a small selection of reasonably priced hot food served on board. As one should expect, the better choices sell out quickly so my advice is to eat before you arrive, or accept that you are on a boozy train and don’t expect fine dining. If there’s a birthday you’ll get away with taking your own cake, but if you’re planning on a bringing your own 3 course lobster dinner it really isn’t the done thing.
Getting home afterwards
It should come as no shock that you’ll be a ‘few sheets to the wind’ when you arrive back to Alton Station so it’s good to have a plan as to how you’ll get home afterwards. You’ll be pleased to know that the RAT has done all the thinking for you and there’s a 10:44pm South West Train departing Alton, and another two more after this one.
So if a good night for you includes sitting on an old diesel or steam train, drinking choice ales on a sunny Friday afternoon with mates, and feeling like you’ve stepped back in time as you coast through the Hampshire countryside, then the Real Ale Train ticks all the right boxes and you won’t want to pass this up!.