In 1968 Mum was at college in Leeds, learning that there’s more to being a librarian than just wielding a well-inked date-stamp, filing tickets and putting books back on shelves. As part of the course she had to do six weeks’ practical work, starting in mid-September, at a library chosen randomly by the college. In Mum’s case this was the Cumberland County Library headquarters in Carlisle.
Although she’d passed her driving test two years before, she didn’t have a car at that time and so the easiest way to travel from Leeds to Carlisle was by train. And this wasn’t just any old train service – it actually had a name. It was called the Thames-Clyde Express, but, although it went from London (on the Thames) to Glasgow (on the Clyde), the name Express was a bit of an exaggeration! As it travelled through the beautiful scenery of the Yorkshire Dales, it got further and further behind schedule and Mum heard other passengers speaking nostalgically of the steam-hauled service which had made its final journey earlier that year.
She began to wish that she could have travelled on it, but, with no more steam engines on time-tabled passenger routes, this seemed like an impossible dream – and even more so by the mid-1980s when the Settle-Carlisle line was threatened with closure. Fortunately many people fought long and hard to save it and in 1989 it was reprieved. Repairs were carried out and great efforts were made to promote it as a tourist attraction, as well as a practical means of transport for local people.
Steam-hauled excursion trains began to run on the line again, but, although Mum could afford the fares, she wasn’t willing to pay them and so she tried to let the dream go.
In June 2015, however, she took me on the train to Appleby Fair, the setting for part of one of her forthcoming Yorkshire Romances (titled Where Two Worlds Meet). We had a lovely time, looking round the little town and seeing all the beautiful horses and ponies, including the tiniest foal which was only a few days old and which I had to stop Mum bringing home with her.
While we were looking at the little foal, we got talking to a couple of people who’d come to Appleby on a steam-hauled excursion train and, as we went back to the station to get on our little diesel train back to Skipton, we saw their locomotive waiting nearby getting ready to take them back – and suddenly Mum’s dream returned, along with the realisation that the characters in her novel would also have travelled on a steam train as it is set in the 1920s.
Disaster struck the railway later that year when a deluge of rain caused severe flooding and a landslide near Armathwaite which closed the line north of Appleby for well over a year. Mum began to think that she’d never make the journey before she started writing the book, but early in 2017 she saw a feature in the local paper which said that, to draw attention to the fact that the repairs were nearly completed by then, the Tornado –
the first new steam locomotive to be built in Britain since the 1960s – would visit Skipton for three days in February and haul some of the time-tabled services between there and Appleby for the same price as an ordinary ticket.
Mum and I managed to book a ticket for the final day – and, when we saw the crowds at Skipton station who’d turned up on the chance of getting on the train, we were very glad we’d done so.
We’d also reserved a seat by the window and, as the train made its way through Gargrave, Hellifield and Long Preston towards Settle, we began to feel like Royalty as so many people had turned out to wave at us as the train passed by. In the villages they watched out of their bedroom windows or stood in their gardens, but in open country they stood in fields, sat on walls, leaned on gates and hung over bridges. We tried to wave to them all and I’m sure that at one point Mum waved to a tree stump and then a gate-post, but she didn’t seem to notice that they didn’t wave back.
Mum had booked ahead for a guided tour of Appleby castle which is now partly a luxury hotel, as well as a private residence. This included transport from the station and back again, which was good as the station is at the top of a very steep hill and quite a long walk from the castle.
The tour took about an hour and just left us enough time to have a salmon-and-cream-cheese sandwich and a glass of wine in the Appleby castle cafe before we’d to go back to the station for the train home.
And, if we thought there were a lot of people to wave to on the journey up to Appleby, there were even more on the journey back. As we went over the viaduct at Ribblehead we could see cars parked along the roads as far as the eye could see in any direction. Although the rain clouds were making it almost dark by then, there were what seemed like hundreds of people standing to watch us and wave, which made us feel even more popular than the Flying Scotsman shown below.
All too soon we were back in Skipton and heading for the bus home. But we’d enjoyed every minute and would do it again, given chance – though next time Mum says she’ll wear a tiara and I can wear a crown and then we can really wave in style!
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