Century-old Flying Scotsman locomotive ‘truly is the people’s engine’ – Mary Archer
They were up all night to ensure the paint sparkled.
In its heyday, Flying Scotsman would have arrived at Edinburgh Waverley caked in soot after its 400-mile non-stop journey hauling the same-named express service from London.
But thanks to its crew working late in a siding on the city’s eastern edge, the veteran locomotive gleamed in the late winter sunshine at the station on Friday, basking in the glory of its 100th birthday.
The engine was making a special visit to the Scottish capital ahead of excursions across Britain to mark its centenary that are due to include several more trips north of the Border.
However, while in pristine condition, Flying Scotsman looked oddly incongruous stopped at platform two with just a single, support-crew carriage attached to its coal tender rather than the luxury train of the inter-war years.
The team included former Scotsman photographer Jayne Emsley, who has also worked on the Bo’ness & Kinneil Railway before switching to the Strathspey Railway as a fireman and training to be a driver.
Shovelling coal for part of the trip to Edinburgh, she said: “It was an absolute eye opener. After only going up to 40mph on other lines, reaching 70mph on the main line for the first time was very loud and we got thrown around a bit. The draught through the cab took my breath away.”
Flying Scotsman was one of the many engines which headed the Flying Scotsman service, which departed from both Waverley and London King’s Cross at 10am. Underlining the passage of the years, one of LNER’s sleek electric Azuma fleet, which now connects the stations, swished past on its way south.
When Flying Scotsman first took to the rails in 1923, the train took eight-and-a-half hours to complete the journey, hauled by a succession of locomotives which were changed en-route like stagecoach horses. The Azumas take less than four hours 40 minutes.
Flying Scotsman started its career on the London-York leg of the east coast main line, only reaching Edinburgh two years later after a semi circle was cut out of its buffer beam so it would fit past obstacles such as Newcastle’s curved platforms.
The locomotive, which retired from active service in 1963, was bought by the York-based National Railway Museum (NRM) in 2004.
UK Poet Laureate Simon Armitage read his specially-written The Making of Flying Scotsman (A Phantasmagoria) at a reception beside Flying Scotsman during Friday’s visit.
Dancers from Morningside Primary School in Edinburgh and the Royal Scottish Country Dance Society performed The Flying Scotsman, devised in 1966 by Hugh Thurston to tell the story of the train’s journey.
Dame Mary Archer, chair of the trustees of the Science Museum Group, which owns the NRM, told guests: "I’m struck by the sheer number of people whose lives have been touched by Flying Scotsman – from the people who made and operated it, to those who have travelled with it, to those who saw it pass by. Flying Scotsman’s enduring appeal is its ability to connect with people.
"We rarely find ourselves waving at strangers and yet we wave at passing steam engines without a moment’s hesitation. That says something. I think we can say with some confidence that Flying Scotsman truly is the people’s engine.”