At last the day had come when a Gresley A4 would swoosh across the North East of England at over 90 mph. Or had it? After two postponements in the summer due to fire risk, surely nothing else could go wrong? Leaf fall over, a bit early for snow ... but we reckoned without one of the worst gales in years.
So it was a wild wet windy morning at York as we gathered and waited for news. No 4464 Bittern was in steam on the NRM and our train (from Bristol) had arrived. But then in the wildest part of the gale, all the signals north of York went out, and our driver was trapped in a unit in the middle of it.
When we did get going, nearly an hour late, it was confirmed that there was a precautionary 50 mph speed limit, so there was nothing more than the pure pleasure of steam haulage to report about the northbound run, apart from a stop where a tree branch had settled on the overhead wire. At Newcastle I had only a few seconds for photos before the A4 pulled its stock away to Heaton.
Just before our due time for return, Bittern brought in our train and it was confirmed that the speed limit had been lifted and we could do what we had all come to do. The screengrabs from my iPad's MemoryMap program recall some of the highlights - look for the faint captions above the figures to see what they mean.
We got away smartly and were still in suburban Gateshead wen we reached 60, well before Tyne Yard and the Angel of the North. We then took it steady for a bit, only reaching 70 just before Durham. Then we let rip down to the Wear Bridge, although our 90-authorised stretch had not yet begun. Past Ferryhill in the high 70s, from Aycliffe they could really let her run. She was up to 88 at Brafferton and 90 on the outskirts of Darlington, and still she pressed on past the station on the fast line, giving onlookers a fine show as she briefly touched 94 mph.
On we ran in the high eighties across the Vale of York, slowing briefly for a bridge at Northallerton but reaching 90 again before Thirsk and maintaining this right through to Tollerton, where we started to slow just a little. We carried on briskly through the outskirts of York, to come to a stand in Platform 11 just 66 minutes and 20 seconds after we had left, a start to stop average of over 72 mph.
It was not surprising that hundreds of ecstatic punters gathered round the loco to applaud this splendid achievement, and to express their appreciation to all those who worked so hard to make it possible. Definitely the best steam run of my life - thank you all, you know who you are.
© Peter Hewitt's Transport Pictures