The Clerk in the Country

Friday 10th March 2023

The Flying Smoke Cloud

On February 24th railway enthusiasts celebrated the centenary of the Flying Scotsman beginning its working “life”.  Probably the most famous steam engine in the world, those of us with just a general interest may not quite know what it is famous for.  Engine no 1472 (later 4472) did not have this name from the outset.  “The Flying Scotsman” was originally any train that provided the service from King’s Cross to Edinburgh, and its use for that particular engine was a publicity move by London & North Eastern Railway.  But once named, and given its striking green paintwork, the record-setting began.  In 1928, with the addition of a corridor which allowed crews to take over from each other on the move, it became the first train to run non-stop from London to Edinburgh.  In 1934 it was the first steam engine officially to reach 100 mph.  After being taken out of service in 1963 its adventures continued, as new owners took it for exhibition trips overseas.  A journey to Australia and back made it the first steam engine to go around the world (not of course on rails), and while there in 1989 it made a non-stop run of 422 miles, another record for a steam train.

This was in the future in May 1968 when, with a rather hazy idea of what we were going to see, I set off in an excited crocodile formation with my fellow primary school pupils to walk to the railway line at the other end of the village.  At the head of the procession was a boy whose father worked on the railway and who probably knew that the Flying Scotsman was recreating its record-breaking non-stop run of 40 years earlier.  We lined up near to the track where, pre-Beeching, our village station had been.  There was a distant rumble, then a sudden roar and we were enveloped in a cloud of black smoke. The roar died quickly to a rumble and we returned in crocodile formation to our classrooms, sooty and somewhat deflated.

So although I am one of those privileged to have witnessed the world-famous Flying Scotsman running non-stop from London to Edinburgh … alas, I only saw the smoke.