THEY conjure up images of a gentle bygone era when few people had cars and most relied on the country’s railway network to get around.

But while fluffy white clouds billowing behind chugging steam trains were once a familiar sight along Southend’s Fenchurch Street and Liverpool Street lines, it is quite a while since one has carried travellers from the town.

Now, for the first time, those who are lucky enough to secure a ticket will get the chance to ride on the Cathedrals Express, from Southend to Sherborne, in Dorset, via Basildon, Upminster, London and Salisbury, in Wiltshire.

Surrey-based company Steam Dreams will run the 34067 Tangmere, Battle of Britain class engine, on Tuesday, May 24.

The Tangmere was designed by Oliver Bulleid and built at Brighton Works in 1947 before being put into service on Southern Railway.

Its streamlined design was state-of-the-art for its time and its interior provided opulent comfort for passengers.

Trips include champagne brunches, four-course meals or picnic boxes.

Marcus Robertson, chairman of Steam Dreams, is seeing demand for the trips increasing.

He said: “The Cathedrals Express has always gone from London picking up at one or two stops outside London.

“Just before Christmas we a tried a couple of tours starting outside London, from Kent to Oxford and from Guildford to Ealing, and they both went incredibly well.

“From Southend, people can only go to Fenchurch Street.

“They can’t go on to anywhere else without changing trains so we decided to provide a completely new destination.

“To my knowledge, it is the first train to go from Southend to Salisbury and Sherborne.

“About 10 per cent of our passengers are steam train enthusiasts. The rest are the general public who enjoy a day out with their families.”

The company is planning another trip on December 10 to Winchester Cathedral in Hampshire. Passengers will be able to attend a carol service in College Chapel.

Steam engine enthusiast Richard Turner, 42, of Eastwoodbury Crescent, Southend, will be one of the first to book his ticket.

He said: “I’ve been a railway enthusiast all my life.

“This engine has never been to this part of the county before. If it becomes a regular thing, it will be brilliant.”

For tickets, ranging from £82.50p to £209, call 01483 209888, or visit www.steamdreams.