Who remembers as a child hanging out of the train window and getting soot in their eyes? My memory was the Summer outing from Burley Methodist Church Sunday School – all the way to – Burley in Wharfedale! Our parents waved us off at Headingley Station, what an adventure being on a train without them!
After a tiring day of games and picnic by the river we were back on the train, taking it in turns to hang out of the window. By the time we were reunited with our families our eyes were smarting and stinging with the soot from the steam engine. Before long it was the birth of diesel trains and I would be asking Dad to take me on the new ‘diesel’. One day we left the Station, I think Dad just picked the next diesel out and we travelled as far as Cudworth, near Barnsley. We can’t have known there wasn’t a return train for a couple of hours, or what seemed like it. I don’t know what Cudworth is like nowadays but in the 50s it certainly wasn’t up to much; I remember a long walk round and buying sweets.
After the initial excitement of diesels I found them very boring. Gone were the compartment carriages to be replaced by open ones with bus seats. Next it was the turn of the ‘Inter-City 125’ luxury and speed. In the early 70s whilst working in Insurance, I was thrilled to travel to Folkestone and Exeter by train enjoying lunch in the restaurant car at no expense to myself. I decided I would travel on the ‘Sleeper’ next (the train not the track sleepers!) but sadly that didn’t materialise.
In December 1974 I joined my boyfriend for the recording of the Christmas “It’s A Knockout” at Aviemore. Travelling up by road wasn’t a problem apart from trying to apply false lashes in a less than comfortable truck! With no snow having fallen, the Aviemore Centre had to be covered with false snow by the Fire Service but on the way back which was by train, I was travelling alone and we ran into the most frightening blizzard. Typical! More than enough real snow now. The train stopped, there was no heating and no Buffet. A compartment train too where I was the lone passenger, not knowing whether to keep my sheepskin coat on or put it over my freezing legs. Well this was the time of the mini-minis and knee high boots. Thankfully an hour later the train continued its crawl of a journey to Edinburgh.
The Summer of 1982 had rail strikes and travelling three weekends to Brighton, Southern Region however, were running their services. Travelling by coach to London then walking to Victoria Rail Station in intense heat was not good, nor Friday rush hour with the commuters. I made a mental note never to live in London!
Since then I’ve always enjoyed the opportunity of steam travel by the Keighley & Worth Valley, the North Yorkshire Moors Railway or other such trains which continue to be introduced to a younger generation of travellers too. My favourite charter train was Leeds to Edinburgh for the Leeds Rhinos Challenge Cup Final at Murrayfield. Deciding to book First Class we expected something special. ‘Special’ was being over optimistic – ‘different’ was more in keeping. The train was made up of a variety of coaches from bygone years and to be fair, those of us travelling ‘1st’ did enjoy a better quality of moquette seating. From thereon we were all as one. The refreshments trolley was a wooden tea wagon, circa 1930s, on which sat a cream and green tea urn. It was secured to the trolley by rope tied to the legs and was rather battered and bruised. We all hoped an appointment had been made for a visit to a panel beater on our return. What a terrific atmosphere on board though and I recall it was the inaugural trip for my first mobile phone. A ‘Nokia’ which when it rang for the first time, I froze and daren’t pick it up! Our travelling companions cheered me on with so much banter I couldn’t hear a word anyway!
Recent rail travel with the umpteen train operators and even more unfathomable rail tickets do not make things easy. Of course rail travel is so much cheaper abroad with cleaner trains and the knowledge that they will run. An ambition was to travel on the ‘Orient Express’ but having seen ‘Whicker’s World’ I felt I’d done it, so promised myself a trip on ‘Switzerland’s ‘Glacier Express’ which I duly took in 2009. Memories can be made though with most journeys, whether a miniature steam railway or the new ‘Azuma’. For me and through my child eyes, the golden age of steam had the edge, the excitement and glamour. Instead I will continue to use my Senior Railcard to travel by – not ‘Trans-Siberian’ but ‘Transpennine Express’. I look forward to a more frequent timetable and the chance of cheaper tickets again. Probably as much chance of travelling on the ‘Venice-Simplon Orient.!
Picture sourced from Yorkshire Evening Post