The programme of steam tours this Spring has been decimated by the prohibition order on West Coast Railway Company. Happily this tour was rescued from the wreckage to allow No 46233 Duchess of Sutherland to operate from Manchester to Edinburgh over Grayrigg, Shap, Beattock and Cobbinshaw. The last of these was a first for me with steam so it was a ‘must-do’, and happily a deal was put together involving WCRC providing stock and catering and the newly renamed DB Cargo UK operating the train.
So the Duchess made a smart getaway from Victoria over the old L&M line, with 11 coaches and no diesel. She raced along beside the M602 to pass Eccles at 55, Patricroft at 58 and reached 64 over Chat Moss to arrive 5 minutes early at Parkside Junction. The run on the main line to Wigan was more measured, but she was away sharply uphill from Wigan North Western to reach 38 at Boar’s Head and 47 at Coppull summit She then rattled up to 60 before signals starting detaining us from Balshaw Lane into Preston, reached one minute late.
Northwards on the almost level stretch, we reached 59 at Barton and Broughton and ran through from there to Oubeck in better than even time, with a maximum of 68 at Brock. We were slowed through Lancaster (passed at 22) but managed 55 at Hest Bank before crawling into the loop at Carnforth for water.
From there we blasted up to Yealand summit (41) and passed Burton and Holme at 58 and Bela Viaduct at 64. As the adverse grades began we slowed to 57 at Hincaster Junction and 48 through Oxenholme. Then the Duchess dug in for the climb and her speed dropped only slowly, to 39 at Docker and 35 at Beckhouses, then slogged over the summit at 34.
On the downhill stretch she took until well after Low Gill to reach a maximum of 57 along the Lune Gorge, and any hope of a run at Shap had gone when she passed Tebay at 47. The misery continued as she dropped to 35 at Birkeck viaduct, 27 at Greenholme and 17 at High Scales. Briefly down to 16 mph, she recovered back to 17 at Scout Green and 19 at Shap Wells, but she was down to 16 again at the top of the climb. Poor coal and inexperienced crew were speculated on as the reasons, and it certainly seemed that Grayrigg had winded her. A lively run downhill, in the seventies all the way from before Thrimby Grange to Wreay, with a maximum of 75 at Plumpton, saw our late arrival in Carlisle reduced to 7 minutes.
Due to difficulties with coaling and watering we left Carlisle 50 minutes late, but we were up to 56 by Rockcliffe and a maximum of 69 after Floriston, then flew past our planned stop in Quintinshill loop, making us only 17 minutes behind time! We continued in the 60s until just short of Lockerbie, where a spurt to 70 was swiftly followed by heavy braking, causing us to fear we would be looped there. But no, we were off again reaching 63 at Nethercleugh, 70 at Dinwoodie and 74 at Wamphray. By Beattock station we were already down to 61 as the serious climbing began. Speed was 48 at Auchencastle, 40 at Middlegill and 34 at Greskine, but we hung on in there in the early 30s, passing Harthope at 31 and only slowing to 29 when the driver sighted the single yellow for the summit loop.
Quick work with the bowser (as we watched two Pendolinos limp by) ensured that we left the loop only two minutes later, and we had another rousing run down the Clyde Vallley in the late 60s and early 70s, with a maximum of 73 just before Crawford. From Carstairs the gradient to Cobbinshaw is more or less continuous, but we made it to 25 at Carnwath and up to 52 during the slight easing before Auchengray, passed at 48. Gradually we slowed over the final stages of the climb, passing the summit at 32. Then we had a final glorious chase down into Edinburgh, touching 75 just after Harburn, 74 at Midcalder Junction and continuing at 72 through Curriehill and 68 at Kingsnowe before slowing for the junction into Haymarket. Setting the disappointment of Shap aside, it had been an epic run, against the odds, on what turned out in Scotland to be a glorious sunny spring day Many thanks to all who made it possible.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures