Ever since I was a wee boy I have had a thing about trains. I blame my dad, who used to take my brother and I down to Princes Street Gardens to watch them rumble in and out of Edinburgh Waverley. Little did I know then that I was looking at the trains heading off on one of the most famous rail routes in the world, that of the legendary Flying Scotsman.
History of the Flying Scotsman
The Flying Scotsman began life way back in 1862 with the introduction of a simultaneous 10am departure from Kings Cross in London and Edinburgh Waverley. Originally named the ‘Special Scotch Express’ the journey time was 10½ hours, inclusive of a decadent half hour lunch stop at York.
The famous Flying Scotsman service itself did not begin covering the 392 miles non-stop between London and Edinburgh until 1928, with journey times still over eight hours despite new dining cars cutting out the York stop. By the outbreak of the Second World War the service onboard had moved upmarket with a posh restaurant and even a hairdresser aboard, frivolities that soon, though, went out the window with the arrival of wartime austerity, which also saw buffet food introduced for the first time.
The Flying Scotsman Today
By the time British Rail was privatised and broken-up in the 1990s the route had been completely electrified and journey times were down to around four and a half hours, like they are today, though much of the romance had been lost.
Following various troubled incarnations the route is now run by East Coast and the romance is back with the luxury of complimentary food and drink in First Class. I reckon I must have easily taken this journey 100 times and I really never get bored of it.
The Route of the Flying Scotsman
Pulling out from Edinburgh the train soon picks up speed in search of the coast. Often the first port of call is Dunbar, with its scenic harbour within walking distance of the station. As the train pushes south the Borders scenery really opens up with some lovely sea cliffs before the train sneaks around the giant curling viaduct over the River Tweed into Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Other highlights on the route include traversing the River Tyne and admiring Newcastle’s flurry of bridges and revamped waterfront as you go. Newcastle seems to have added something new every time I pass over. Durham, just half an hour later on, offers an impressive setpiece too, this time its majestic castle and cathedral, which hang high about the town and are best viewed from the train line.
Halfway on the line is roughly around York, which is a great stop both for the city itself and also for the National Railway Museum. The latter even has an exhibition showcasing the story of the Flying Scotsman and the original locomotive is currently here undergoing restoration. York itself is deeply historic with a tight warren of cobbles charming its way through an old quarter overflowing with shops and places to eat.
London and Journey’s End
I love the approach to London too, which for me really starts when you see Alexandra Palace hanging high on a ridge to the right of the line. As the urban sprawl takes hold Arsenal’s impressive stadium, the Emirates, rears up on the left before the train disappears into the dark of a tunnel and a triumphant announcement proclaims the Flying Scotsman’s arrival on its long journey from Scotland.
There are many ways to leave and also to arrive in Scotland, but for me following the old route of the world famous Flying Scotsman is the way to do it. You can fly, bus it or drive, but I prefer to let the train take the strain.
*Virgin Trains East Coast run trains on the route of the Flying Scotsman (some with the famous name emblazoned on the side) from London to Edinburgh, then also on to a number of other Scottish destinations including Glasgow, Aberdeen, Inverness and Dundee.
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