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A Little Bit of Jessica : Steam Training from Cape Town to Ceres

The Ceres Rail Company offers return trips every Saturday from Cape Town to Ceres, and is one of those little known gems of the Western Cape's tourism industry. I booked a trip with our 4 kids (ages 1, 4, 6 and 9); together with a buddy and his 3 children (similar ages).

It left Cape Town at 07h30 (we needed to be there 20 minutes before) and arrived at the Ceres Golf Club at 12h00. You can catch the train back, but we spent a night in Ceres (the wives were kind enough to drive through and meet us). In Cape Town the station is near the Royal Cape Yacht Club; and we travelled through the areas of Paarl, Wellington, Gouda, Tulbagh, Wolsely, Michell's Pass, and finally through a tunnel onto the Ceres Golf Estate.

 

When not plying the route for tourists, the company hauls freight with its diesel locomotives (in particular moving fruit for export to Cape Town harbour). On the 28th November 2015 they started operations for tourists; having got hold of 3 steam locomotives in their purchase of the forerunner of the Blue Train, Union Limited. The 3 steam locomotives are named Bailey (which previously operated the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe route), Jessica (an oil burner) and Red Devil (red painted).

Derrick du Toit and Simon Beckett are the co-founders of Ceres Rail, who were the developers of the Ceres Golf Estate. And I guess this is one of those synergistic things which make the golf estate more attractive still.

A tip is if you are travelling in a large group, you can reserve seats on the train, otherwise you'll have to arrive very early to make sure you get a good spot. In fact, arrive a bit early anyway, so that you can take photos of the train with the classic background of Table Mountain (the soft early morning sunlight is conducive to some stunning snaps). Here's a photo of "Jessica" in Cape Town..

Steam engine named "Jessica" with Lions Head and Signal Hill in the background

And the view of Table Mountain from inside Jessica:

Ceres Rail with Table Mountain in the background

Something which was surprising was to find out all booze & soft drinks are free on the train - but you pay for tea and coffee. I know some varsity students who would push that policy to its limits! So what type of passengers are there on the train? It's mostly an older crowd - train enthusiasts and those aching to remember a bygone era. There were few children, other than the 7 we had with us (not bad for 2 guys without their wives!), which was slightly surprising at first as our kids absolutely loved it...but maybe not so surprising when you realise that for most people the only way home was with the train again, making it 9 hours of travelling! However, the lack of teenagers was not as surprising.

After Table Mountain, the next interesting rock feature is Paarl Rock, and the train trip provides a new perspective of the gigantic monolith, which is as hardy as the people living at its feet.

Paarl Rock with vineyards in the foreground

Here's the dining carriage on "Jessica" ... reminds one of what was the ultimate luxury, in a bygone era. Our friendly waitress, who hails from Ceres, stands in the middle.

Dining carriage on the Ceres Rail train (Jessica)

The view of the beautiful Bree River Valley, at the point where the R43 joins the R46, at the beginning of Michell's Pass, and close to where the Dwarsrivier joins the Bree River.

Bree River Valley just before Michell's Pass

The view of timeless mountain peaks as one chugs through Michell's Pass. For many, this is the highlight of the trip.

Steam training going through Michell's Pass

Here's Ceres Railway Station - where the colour of the mountains is the same as the stones of the railway line. It's sandwiched in between the golf course and Charlie Hofmeyr High School.

Ceres Railway Station

Well, I call it Ceres Railway Station, because that's where it is, but officially it's Demeter Railway Station.

Demeter Train Station

To some here lies a pile of junk - to others this evokes memories - oh if only these carriages could tell their stories.

Abandoned railway carriages in Ceres

Here's Jessica strutting her stuff - our 20 month old son loves watching and rewatching this video:

We had lunch at the Ceres Golf Clubhouse. There's a set buffet menu which you can order as part of your trip. I just ordered a couple of toasted sandwiches off their menu. Sitting inside keeps you away from the smokers, but sitting outdoors has this sublime view - choose your poison.

And here's the entrance to the club:

Ceres Golf Club

To book, email bookings@ceresrail.co.za or phone 079-077-5332