What could be more quintessentially British than a trip through the rolling hills of Yorkshire and Cumbria on the most famous British steam train ever built? That steam train departing an hour late, of course.
With the Flying Scotsman being attached to thirteen coaches rather than the required nine, confusion ensued at York station from the get-go, as passengers embarked incorrectly labelled carriages and sat in seats whose numbers bore no resemblance to those on their tickets. When the error was spotted by the staff of the operating train tour company, we were shuffled around the coaches and asked to wait patiently while they came up with a solution, and as the struggling train manager offered what little information he could provide, the staff walked around handing out programmes, whilst apologising for the poor print quality.
The two troublesome trucks were eventually removed and we got under way, chugging out of York in the direction of Leeds, the first pick up point on the route. Photographers and waving children lined the platform, fields, bridges, and anything else we passed that could give them a vantage point to grab a glimpse of the iconic engine that was pulling us along, proving that almost a hundred years after being built, it still has the allure to entice not only paying customers such as us to ride it, but spectators of all ages to wait unwearyingly in all weathers to watch it pass them by.
The windows filled with views of fells and dry-stone walls, blurred only the passing puffs of smoke, and as soot particles whipped in through the open window and deposited themselves into my pint of Lancaster Bomber ale, the experience of being carried along the hilltops with a tasty beverage at hand, rather than hiking them as I usually would be at that time on a weekend, was a differently enjoyable experience altogether (although my inner yearning to get out there on foot was difficult to contain).
As we passed over the magnificent Ribblehead Viaduct, we couldn’t help but feel that the scores of onlookers dotted around the landscape with camera in hand were benefiting from a view that was escaping us. You just can’t see the train when you’re sat on it, so we vowed to one day return on the other side of the equation and watch the display from afar rather than within.
Following the initial delays we were concerned that our already skimpy turnaround time in Carlisle at the other end of the route would be reduced, however they must have transported in Doc Brown from Back to the Future III with his accelerator logs, or possibly abandoned a planned watering stop, as we managed to make up almost all of the lost time en-route.
Our time in Carlisle was brief, but with the incoming downpour and rumbling bellies, our time was well served in the nearest pub to the station. Despite having an occupancy made up of more rowdy Scotsmen screaming at a Motherwell-Rangers football game than we had anticipated, it did have a nice selection of beers, and the food arrived slightly before the forty minute waiting time they had prepared us for.
It wasn’t until the return journey and a delay departing from Leeds station that we could truly see the majesty of the great engine, where the crowd numbers died down and we could finally get an unobstructed viewpoint, and even climb inside for a few cheeky snaps. It’s a great hunk of marvellously engineered metal that has endured in the hearts and minds of not only train enthusiasts, but also the British public in general, which was beautifully demonstrated by the straggling partygoers heading home from Leeds Pride late on Sunday night, standing with smiling faces and waving rainbow flags as the stately machine chuffed out of the station for the final leg of its journey.
I’m a big fan of steam engines, and if you are too then taking a ride on the Flying Scotsman is something you really should be ticking off your bucket list. True, the best views of the train are reserved for those on the outside of the carriages, but the views from your window aren’t half bad, and if you’re quick enough, you might just get a chance to climb in next to the driver and feel the blazing heat from the furnace.