Liam Rudden: Last train to Golden Age of Steam departs Platform 20

Steam train driver on the Flying Scotsman. Pic: Liam Rudden
Steam train driver on the Flying Scotsman. Pic: Liam Rudden
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IT’S every kid’s dream, to ride on the footplate of a steam train. Last weekend, I did the next best thing.

The ripple of excitement that ran through the crowd lining Platform 20 meant but one thing; The Flying Scotsman had been spotted in the distance.

Moments later, its sleek black and green lines pulled into view, as hundreds of mobiles recorded its progress.

The most famous locomotive in the country, if not the world, was pulling into the Waverley, white steam billowing from its chimney, ready to take those lucky enough to have tickets on an excursion around the Fife Circle Line.

Built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), The Flying Scotsman pulled long distance express trains, notably on the London to Edinburgh service and, in 1934, became the first steam locomotive to reach 100 miles an hour.

Fully restored after some years in the wilderness, even now, it remains of thing of beauty, an amazing feat of technical and engineering prowess and artistic grace.

Boarding the vintage carriages - known as The Cathedrals Express - proved a breathtaking experience. Surrounding by 1930’s grandeur, crystal light fittings above and Champagne flutes on the tables... well, if the intention was to instantly transport the traveller back to the golden age of steam, it succeeded.

In fact, settling into a plush armchair of a seat I was half expecting Inspector Poirot to bustle in at any moment declaring there had been a murder. The promise from Steam Dreams (01483-209 888), the company responsible for operating these trips, is that ‘a day out on The Cathedrals Express is one to be remembered’.

It’s a promise they keep, but not just to those on board, from the moment the train puffed out of Edinburgh on its way to the Forth Bridge, its magical attraction was clear as well-wishers awaited at every vantage point.

Those waving crowds make the experience, as the sound of the engine’s whistle drifts back through the air, even more evocative. Memories of watching The Railway Children were suddenly recalled.

The 39 Steps too came to mind as we reached the famous bridge over the Firth of Forth and thankfully, unlike Robert Hannay’s trip, we didn’t stop half way across.

By that time breakfast had arrived, scrambled eggs and salmon washed down with a couple of glasses of fizz.

All very civilised.

Chatting with those around, it became clear many were marking a milestone occasion and the staff on board certainly ensured everyone felt very special indeed.

Even as we returned to the Waverley, the excitement didn’t wain as more photographs were taken, this time made all the more memorable by the willingness of the soot-faced fireman and driver to pose too before taking The Flying Scotsman off on its next adventure .