Last Saturday I woke up early and ventured out into the misty cold of Cape Town Harbour to catch a train. And not just any train. Run by Ceres Rail Company, the steam locomotive Jessica lives up to her beauteous name by greeting travellers with a sight from a bygone era. Torrents of steam gushing from the engine, headlights breaking through the gloom of a winter’s morning and a series of brick-red carriages trailing in her wake, Jessica truly is a magnificent view to behold. The opportunity to travel by steam train along the selfsame tracks we often see from the N2 highway is a chance to go back in time. And generally people feel the same way – the nostalgic sight of Jessica puffing her merry way along a landscape so changed by industrial progress has the power to bring people out of their homes, make them pull over off the road, hang of windows, waving hello, filming the train on their cellphones, laughing and calling to the passengers. Being a passenger is no different. After the initial good behaviour to stay in one’s seats and look out of the window has worn off, rampant enthusiasm takes over – swaying through the carriages to the dining car up front, giggling while trying to keep hot coffee in the cup, opening the windows wide so as to better see the locomotive (and get a face full of coal smoke while you’re at it) all adds up to an experience that is able to coax the inner child out of even the most seasoned of travellers. Emotions run wild too – for the train, for Jessica, for an age that we will never again see. For the talented engineers, the drivers, the conductors that want to make sure that the latter doesn’t quite happen. For the men and women that made a living from steam travel all those years ago. Going over Sir Lowry’s pass had me gazing out of the window, a lump in my throat that had little to do with the delicious cupcake I had just eaten. My grandfather was born in this station – his father was stationmaster. I have history here. And almost a century later, I’m retracing the footsteps (or rather the train tracks) of my ancestors. Travelling on a steam train conjures up just that – a poignant longing for times past. I imagined families waiting on the station platform in smart hats, carrying suitcases. I imagined the dining car full of scented steam, china teapots and polite conversation combined with the thrill of being off somewhere new. My mother speaks fondly of taking the train back home from boarding school, the gentle motion of the trip rocking her to sleep on the overnight journey. But what would a train trip be without a destination? We arrived in Elgin station to much fanfare and excitement – it was of course in celebration of the opening of the Elgin Railway Market. Inside I felt as if someone had combined Platform 9 3/4 with The World’s Fair circa 1920. The organically exuberant designs of Art Nouveau meets the angular industrialisation of Art Deco and make up a market unlike any other. A large space houses many tables – a sort of nod to a Viking feasting hall – while food stalls line the perimeter. Coffee, curries, crispy fried chicken, TexMex, falafel, shawarma, kebabs, burgers, pizza, and of course an abundance of wine makes the Market an utter Mecca of flavour and choice. Local pottery made on the Almenkerk Wine Estate is sold upstairs, as is handmade jewellery and vintage fashions. What with 2.5 hours to spend exploring before our return trip home, the only thing was to sample a bit of everything (I was particularly partial to deep-fried hot wings paired with South Hill Vineyards dry Rosé 2016) and relax. What a way to spend a Saturday! Interested in taking a trip back in time (with hot wings!) yourself? A return trip on the Jessica to Elgin through Ceres Rail Company costs R750.00 per adult and R500.00 per child. Find out more here:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.