Last week Britain’s National Railway Museum celebrated its 40th anniversary.
I only happen to know this because last year Virgin East Coast Rail replaced my cancelled London-Manchester flight (at an eye-popping last minute cost) after the Big One battered Britain thereby earning me a weekly trans-Atlantic email containing their involvement in the NRM festivities.
Although I’ve never visited the National Railway Museum, it reminds me that few children nowadays have experienced the thrill of riding the rails. As you know, availability is a problem, as well as cost. More’s the pity, as folks of yesteryear might say.
Digging into the NRM site I find that it’s the largest UK rail museum, houses ‘300 years of history and 1,000,000 objects that changed the world’. Next July a First World War 100 year commemorative anniversary exhibit will open at the NRM. Ambulance trains will be among the many highlights. I’m guessing those alone will be worth visiting.
Something I am familiar with is the locomotive legend, the Flying Scotsman. Having undergone a £4m restoration project, the famous steam engine is scheduled to make its inaugural run from London Kings Cross to York next February. You can follow the final pictorial details at www.nrm.org.uk/flyingscotman
As a child travelling between Scotland and England I was one of the league of ‘train spotters’ glued to British Rail carriage windows clutching booklets containing pictures of the most famous trains and lists of numbers of all the trains in the systems.
[Left, a facelift for old Kings Cross, London. Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo]
Steaming into ancient Victorian stone stations we’d note train numbers in a notebook, before entertaining ourselves by crossing them off in official Train Spotter books purchased from WH Smith’s for about a shilling and sixpence (25 cents these days?). The Flying Scotsman featured prominently in the books. Being lucky enough to spot it generated general jubilation. What an easy way to keep kids entertained and making friends on a long dusty journey. Of course, nowadays trains could be tracked electronically thereby eliminating the need to converse with anyone, or even glance out of the window.
My cousin, Euan, refuses to holiday anywhere unless he can go by rail. He plans to travel by train from the British Midlands to meet his son, Cameron, in Corsica. Euan will kick back, chat with fellow passengers, munch on assorted supplies, and let the world roll by. Neither he, nor I, know how long he’ll take to get to Corsica, but Cameron will be there in two hours onboard easyJet. His dad will turn up eventually.
Personally, I also enjoy train travel. London’s King’s Cross opened in 1852. It’s been upgraded of course, but whenever I’m there I feel as though I’m on the verge of a great adventure…or a missed train.
Saltcoats Central, the Scottish North Ayrshire station we often departed from when I was a child, was opened in 1840 and actually was moved twice, once in 1858 and again1882. Moving all that rock boggles the mind, but I’ll bet it has been grey and brooding since day one. Beauty isn’t one of its attributes, but the memories linger on.
I’ve traversed Canada from Montreal to Vancouver on VIA Rail (the CPR route) for the princely sum of $99 one-way, rattled around assorted destinations throughout Europe and chugged through South Africa from Johannesburg to Durban or Cape Town more than once.
[It’s fine to wine on the Whistler Mountaineer – Ursula Maxwell-Lewis photo]
Last summer my two-year-old Albertan granddaughter excitedly waved to trains rolling through White Rock. She’d be much more excited to actually climb onboard. For now, though, the Bear Creek Park Train, or the Fraser Valley Heritage Rail Interurban will have to suffice.
As I write this a distant train whistle is blasts through the night. I think of train dining cars complete with silver service, white-jacketed stewards, kippers and scrambled eggs, businessmen hidden behind The Times, or Telegraph, and English countryside zipping by. Doubtless that costs a bonny penny these days, but I think dining on rolling stock takes the cake. The same goes for coffee and croissants at high speed on the TGV through France, or snacks on Swiss Rail twisting hither and yon around Alps and through mountain tunnels.
No wonder Agatha Christie planted her famous sleuth, Poirot, onboard the Orient Express. I wonder if the Amtrak Cascades service to Seattle would offer the same allure. Perhaps we’ll meet onboard and find out.
– Ursula Maxwell-Lewis is a retired editor and tireless traveller. She can be found on assorted Social Media or at firstname.lastname@example.org