It was a red letter day in railway steam preservation when the most famous locomotive in the world made its proud return to its home as the people’s engine, the National Railway Museum at York.
Of course, it had only left the day before, after over ten years’ absence, a comprehensive overhaul at Riley and Son in Bury, then repainting and last minute snagging back at the museum. But a run north from London Kings Cross over the line that made it famous, the ex-LNER East Coast Main Line to York, was the proper way to mark the beginning of the next stage in its illustrious history.
And a fine sight she looked in her sparkling BR green livery as No 60103, as she was hauled into Kings Cross shortly after 7 am. We warmed the engine up by climbing slowly and steadily through the suburbs, reaching 49 at Potters Bar and 55 at Brookmans Park before some further checks before Welwyn. By Knebworth we were doing a mile a minute and reached 64 before Stevenage where we again slowed for signals.
Then, after passing Hitchin at 31, we were up to 73 at Three Counties, less than four miles on. Our spewed continued in the 70s for over a dozen miles with a maximum of 77 at Biggleswade before the brakes were slammed on just short of St Neots because of mass trespass on the line. The sight of a man and a child standing in the fourfoot of the up slow, with their backs to any unit which might approach at 100 mph, beggared belief. After 10 minutes or so we resumed and reached 68 by Offord, passed Huntingdon at 59, Abbots Ripton at 62 and touched 69 before stopping for water at Holme.
We left 23 late from there and 30 late from the crew change at Peterborough. Our climb to Stoke was measured, in the 40s and 50s, but by this means we avoided being looped at Stoke Junction and flew down through Great Ponton at 67 to pass Grantham only 19 late. We shot out of Peascliff Tunnel at 65 and reached 76 after Barkston before being briefly looped at Claypole. After this we were through Newark at 63 and reached 71 at Carlton and 76 at Sutton. The run down to Retford was sedate, in the 50s, where we stopped for water at Babworth. We were soon up again to 66 at Scrooby and beyond Bawtry we were flying again, reaching 75 before Rossington and continuing thus to the outskirts of Doncaster, passed at 54 mph some 28 minutes late.
Speed rose to 67 at Shaftholme Junction and 72 at Moss before we had another stop of 18 minutes at Balne because of trespasser concern. We were back up to 69 by the junctions at Hambleton but were then mostly in the 60s, with 66 at Colton Junction before slowing for York, reached 53 minutes late.
It had been a fine run in fine conditions, with an engine in fine form, with all linesides and stations packed with onlookers. There followed a belated but celebratory return to the yard at the NRM, where after the customary speeches and Scottish piper, those present could get up close and personal with their engine, now to take pride of place in its permanent home.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures