Freedom of Scotland - A Personal Account

by Michael Wright

Part One - Over Beattock with a 'roarer', and a morning arrival in Edinburgh.

Part Two - Edinburgh to Dundee with a Class 27.

Part Three - The infamous 1710 Perth Arbroath - a class 37 on load one!

Part Four - Overnight via Aberdeen - Mk1's and steam heat in abundance.

Part Five - A night on the Highland Main Line.

Part Six - Seventeen Year Later.


I was an avid Class 40 fan in the early 80's (I still am!), but I also had a soft spot for the 'wee injuns' as the Scots would put it (Classes 24/25/26/27). I lived in Lancashire at the time so Class 25's were a common sight and haulage possibliities were available without having to look too hard.

At this time, ScotRail (as the British Rail Scottish Region had branded itself under Chris Green) adopted a policy of replacing DMU's with loco and stock on some of the longer routes within Scotland. Services such as Edinburgh - Dundee and Aberdeen - Inverness reverted to short rakes of stock (often Steam Heat MK 1's) hauled by Type 2/3/4's. These services presented a 'target rich environment' for the haulage fan.

My memories of these times are hazy, as I had made the decision to stop recording my moves. I felt that it was clouding my enjoyment of the hobby, and my reasons for haulage bashing was simply to enjoy the haulage behind a wide range of motive power, without worrying about whether I would 'clear it for a thou' or not. I do however, remember the start of my first Freedom, in 1983.

The first Northbound West Coast Overnight train at that time was 1S06, which left Preston at 0018. This train ran to Stranraer, but I decided to leap at Carlisle at it was extremely busy with people heading for the ferry. I had in fact made an itinerary, as I was a novice to the Scottish haulage scene and wanted to travel over as much of the network as possible during my two weeks. I needed to be in Edinburgh early that Saturday morning as the first Dundee was supposedly a booked 26 working.

Upon arrival at Carlisle, the first thing every basher did was to check 'The Blackboard'. This was displayed in the window of the TOPS office, and recorded the progress of every service (passenger and freight). This was for the benefit of train crews, but bashers obviously found this a useful source of information.

My intended train was 1S23, the 1935 Fridays only Paignton - Glasgow (portion to Edinburgh). This was a solid Roarer (Class 81/85) turn and a rake of MK 1's. This wasn't due in for a wee while so there was enough time to visit the Mess Room on Platform 1. There was a water boiler in there and if you asked nicely, the BR staff were happy to let you fill your flask with hot water for coffee and tea.

1S23 rolled in with a loudly roaring class 81 on the front. It was also apparent that the train had been marshalled in reverse order, with the Edinburgh portion at the FRONT. (Maybe due to being routed into Birmingham differently to normal). The front coach was a MK1 BSK (compartments and corridor) and the front compo was EMPTY! What a start to the Rover! I settled down in the compo, removed the light bulbs from the fittings (for replacement at the end of the journey), opened the window to its fullest extent and turned the heating up to full.

There's nothing quite like a night time headlong rush over Beattock in a MK1 coach behind a Roarer, as those of you who have savoured the experience would know. All too soon though, the train reduces speed and we pull into a deserted Carstairs Station.

The shunters at Carstairs were masters of their art; they spent the entire day joining and splitting trains, attaching and detaching locos; endless brake tests, clanking buckeyes and 'right aways' while trying not to hold up any of the non-stopping services which thundered past. (The modern day Carstairs is a desolate place with little reminder of previous times).

Even with the extra complication of splitting the train in reverse formation, it wasn't long before we were on our way again, this time behind a Class 47/7 for the short hop to Edinburgh.

The line from Carstairs to Edinburgh has little in the way of landmarks, especially as the darkness was giving way to a cold grey dawn. Once Midcalder junction was passed, the unforgettable approach to the Capital begins; a view over the spoil heaps of the West Lothian Oilfield, to the far distant Forth, and the mountains beyond; the reduction in power of the loco up front as the train gently coasts down from Cobbinshaw; the grey suburbs of Sighthill and Wester Hailes crowd around the train as the noise of wheel on jointed rail echoes around the deserted streets; past the Lorimer & Clarke Brewery (now Caledonian) and the grind of the vacuum brakes as the train slows for the curve around through Haymarket. The smell of the breweries gives way to the damp mustiness of Haymarket Tunnel as the train glides through the empty station. Out again into the grey morning and Princes Street Gardens surround us; a brief signal check before we trundle under the Mound and into the Sunken Cathedral that is Edinburgh Waverley.

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I staggered off the Edinburgh portion of 1S23 at Edinburgh Waverley shortly after 5am. Even in the height of summer, the place was freezing. I was glad of the hot water I'd brought with me from the Carlisle Mess Room, and one cup of coffee had me feeling much refreshed.

The first Dundee service on a Saturday was booked for a class 26, but it was a class 27 which propelled the rake of steaming MK1's into platform 17. I took my seat at the front of the train, and was glad when the heat really started to get going. At 0618, the gently spluttering type 2 was coaxed into action, and the train slowly crept out under the Mound, through Princes Street gardens, and through Haymaket Tunnels, to come to a stand some three minutes later, at Haymarket Station.

Station duties were quickly completed, as there were few passengers at this time of the morning, and we gathered speed past Haymarket Depot, where a smattering of DMU's and a selection of Classes 26,27 and 47 were being prepared for the day.

The train continued along the four track section until Balgreen Road, and we then curved sharply away to the North, past the airport, and over the Forth Bridge. The class 27 reduced power and we gently coast over the bridge on half thrash until the sharp drop down into Inverkeithing.

Along the North shore of the Forth the train was bathed by the first rays of the morning sun, and a dramatic view was had across the Forth to the now distant city of Edinburgh. It is views such as this which, for me, make this stretch of line one of the most beautiful in Britain.

On come the brakes as we coast past the aluminium works at Burnisland; down to a crawl as we squeal through the deserted station on a tight bend, and gently accelerating once more as we pass the large green expanse of parkland which fronts the town.

Kinghorn approaches, but once again we pass without stopping, and the train now heads briefly inland, until the Firth of Forth is once again visible beyond the exchange sidings of Seafield Colliery (a housing development has eradicated all trace of this once huge mine). Again the brakes are applied, and we reduce speed past the football ground of Raith Rovers, to arrive at the modern-style station of Kirkcaldy.

Station duties are completed and once again the rasping type 2 is powered up to move the train away up the gradient, past the industrial relics of the linoleum factories, past the suburbs of Dysart and Sinclairtown, and out into the country once more.

The next stop was Markinch, where, if you were lucky, you could spot a Class 08 shunter in the small yard, which tripped wagons to and from the paper mill at Auchmuty. The goods shed housed 'Union of South Africa' for a while.

On to Ladybank, where the route to Perth via Newburgh diverged to the left, while our train went right. Through the 'Garden of Fife' and the rarely used Springfield station and into the stone built curving station that is Cupar.

Leuchars is next, where the sidings often held tank wagons which conveyed aviation fuel to the air base, and then down to Wormit, and the Tay Bridge. Another slow trundle across a huge estuary took us through the platforms of the long-closed Dundee Esplanade station, and down the slope below ground level, into a bay platform of Dundee Tay Bridge Station.

Once the train had arrived, and the passengers had disembarked, the Dundee station pilot was quickly attached to the rear of the stock, and the loco was shunt-released, ready to form the next service back to Edinburgh.

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If you spent your day in the southern half of Scotland, one of the trains you HAD to cover was the 1710 Perth-Arbroath, and its return working, the 1850 Arbroath-Dundee. Of all the returns to Loco-and-Stock the ScotRail performed, this was the most outrageous. The loco could be any spare type 2 or type 3 hanging about in Perth that afternoon, and the stock also seemed to be anything they had lying about at the back of Perth Carriage Shed. The normal load was 2 coaches, but the working I remember most was 37253 (vo ED) plus ONE BSO! Talk about acceleration!

We had visited a chippy in Perth prior to boarding the 1710 that night, and we could hear the syphon gently ticking over across in the Dundee platforms. When we saw it was load one, we just about fell over! We knew we would be in for some fun, and we were not disappointed.

The departure from Perth towards Dundee takes you out above the rooftops of the city centre, on a stretch of single line. Then it's out over the Tay and a gentle curve to the right, under the Friarton Bridge and then storm away towards Dundee.

The syphon needed little effort to move the BSO along the North Bank of the Tay, passing the traffic on the A85 (it's now the A90) with car drivers staring at the flailing arms and bellowing maniacs on board. I guess the commuters on the train were a bit nonplussed as well!

A brief stop at Errol (now closed) was followed by another burst of power and a resumption of speed. Invergowrie was next, and quite a few people alighted here, before another quick storm along the river, past the airport, and down the hill into Dundee Tay Bridge Station. Here is where the train got busy, and it was really quite a crush, as there was only half a coach of seating. Most of the bashers were settled in the brake portion of the coach where they didn't disturb the 'normals', and vice-versa.

With a quick burst of power, 37253 trundled down the platform and into the depths of Dock Street Tunnel. It's straight out of here onto a 1-in-50 incline, and the noise from the type 3 in the brick-lined cutting was hellfire! We gathered speed past Camperdown Yard and on to our next stop at Broughty Ferry. From here until Arbroath, it is a case of: Storm away at a rate which threw you off your feet; coast along and hit the brakes to stop at the platform; repeat.

Some of the stations, like Golf Street, are so small that even the single coach only just fitted on the platform. Others, like Carnoustie, are reminders of grander days in the past. Most of the journey between Dundee and Arbroath is among the sand dunes, golf courses and rifle ranges that populate this part of Scotland. The blustery wind brought the syphon thrash through the wide-open windows, the breeze and noise making you feel as if you were almost in a coal truck!

Eventually the train came to a halt at the run-round point of Arbroath. Everybody had to get off, although more than half of those disembarking imediately went over to the other platform to join the train on its return working.

Another half hour of thrash-brake-thrash-brake brought us back to Dundee, where we were greeted with the sight and sound of a class 27 on the 1920 Dundee - Queen St. It was steaming, which was a welcome sight, as we were all freezing from having every window open on a no-heat train! We took the train to Queen Street, before heading out to Motherwell for the 2050 Carlisle Perth.

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We had arrived in Glasgow off the 1920 ex Dundee with a steaming Class 27. Our next move was to set ourselves up for the most popular overnight move at the time, which featured loads of vb/sh Mk 1 stock for a comfortable night's sleep.

The first train of the overnight move was 1S81, the 2050 Carlisle-Perth. This was one of those trains that tended to be run for operating convenience, rather than for passenger revenue, but for the bashing fraternity, it was a gem!

It left Carlisle from one of those bay platforms at the north end of the station, used during the day by the GSW services, and used at night for the sleepers. 1S81 was composed of one mk1 SK, and a load of parcels vans. It was hauled by a class 81-86 from Carlisle to Mossend, where some boilered loco took the train forward to Perth.

We had only arrived in Glasgow at about 9pm so getting the train from Carlisle was out of the question. A hasty consultation of timetables revealed an EMU move to Motherwell was just about do-able, so we sprinted across to Central and piled into the unit in a sweaty, breathless heap.

By the time we had arrived at Motherwell we had regained our breath, and the carriage was strangely empty, save for ourselves (probably the BO!). We got off the train to find that 1S81 was more-or-less on time, so no chance of a pub move.

At about 22:20, the unforgettable sound of a roarer gently approached from the south, and, sure enough, 81012 rolled into the platform with its rake of assorted vans in tow. The SK was quite full already, so we settled down in the corridor for the short hop to Mossend.

Mossend Yard was always busy; 08's were marshalling freights bound for the WCML, and there were plenty of electric locos about ready for their overnight runs over the border with sleepers, freightliners, speedlinks etc. There was no sign of any diesel locomotive for 1S81 for ten minutes or so, until a familiar 'bimperty-bimperty' heralded the arrival of 26038 at the head of the train. The loco stopped some twelve feet from the front of the train; the shunter waved the loco on, and the coach lurched as 26038 made her presence felt on the buffers of our SK. The usual fiddling about with pipework ensued, and then the grateful hiss of steam, and the creaking of radiators along the MK1 corridor told us that 26038's boiler was in fine fettle.

The waving of Bardic lamps on the ballast conveyed the brake test, the secondman dismounts from his steed to phone the power box, and all eyes became fixed on the signal ahead.



Double Yellow - Green.

A look down the outside of the train to the rear van glimpsed the solitary green lamp of the guard; a brief acknowledgement with the horn, and the idling class 26 locomotive is gently coaxed away from the floodlit yard.

Once out of the lights, the sparks from 26038 shoot from the roof as power is steadily increased. As the train gathers speed, the characteristic whine of the traction motors become noticeable; a sure sign of a 'wee injun' in good condition.

Coatbridge Central is deserted; save for the station cat and the Royal Mail staff who have come to service the train. An exchange of mail bags is watched by all, and once again we depart into the darkness, leaving the postal workers to load their pile into their van.

Cumbernauld is similarly quiet, but Larbert sees quite a few bashers who have done the 2238 out of Queen Street, for a chip shop leap, before catching 1S81. A few chips are extracted from those who have boarded and things have only just settled down by the time we reach Stirling.

Once again the main activity around our train is relating to postal business, but the southbound platform is busy with people about to undertake their overnight trip to London. Sure enough, out of the shadows lumbers 47464, with the 1930 from Inverness, her hard work over Slochd and Drumochter complete, and the gentle run to Mossend ahead, before taking over the Inverness portion of 1S07, to arrive back in the Highland Capital at Breakfast time.

The 1930 had gone over to Mk3 sleepers, and they made hardly a sound as they came to a gentle halt in the adjoining road. The whine of the aircon made a contrast with our spluttering beastie up the front, and I'm willing to bet that quite a few occupants' slumbers were disturbed by 26038 that night!

I was time for 26038 to earn her keep; Dunblane Bank lay ahead. Luckily for her it was non-stop Perth now, so it was full power right through Dunblane and on up; past Blackford and Auchterarder, with few lights showing in darkened windows, on past Glen Devon, with the moon showing through a gap in the clouds. Perth approaches now; and so does midnight. The new day is greeted with 26038 working hard as she approaches the welcoming lights of Hilton Junction Box. The driver sights the tiny green light shining from the semaphores before the tunnel, and reduces power to a canter as we enter.


We all jumped. Another 47/4, this time on the 2030 Inverness - Euston roared past us in the tunnel, as it lifted its heavy train away from Perth. We emerged from the tunnel coughing from the fumes, and were glad to see 1M16's tail lamp disappear into the tunnel, and onward to London.

You had to be ready to run at Perth; seats on the 0105 were like gold dust, especially if the oil workers were on their way back to the rigs. The consist of 1A03 was similar to that of 1S81; a couple of passenger coaches at best, followed by a rake of parcels vans.

The 0105 was the exception to Perth's departure pattern, as it was the only Aberdeen service to leave from the main station. To find the train you had to go the South-facing bays at the West Side of the Station. There you would find your class 26 or 27 locomotive at the buffers, with the train behind it. When departure time arrived, the train would reverse out of the bay, onto the Down Main, and then set off for Dundee through the East Side of Perth Station without stopping.

We were lucky; the train was half full; and there was enough space to take up four seats each. It was possible to get quite comfortable in a 4-seat bay of a Mk 1 TSO. The technique was to remove the Mk3 First Class head cushion you had 'borrowed' for the week (we used to leave them on the last train of the week so that they could be re-used) and place it on the arm rest nearest to the window. Lie down sideways so that your back lies along the back of the seats, and your bottom is against the arm rest nearest the corridor, and rest your legs across on the other seats. You spent the night wedged in an 'L' shape, but it WAS quite comfortable.

I think I must have been asleep by the time we crossed the Tay, on the way out of Perth, and I remember briefly being disturbed by a slamming door at Dundee; some postal worker obviously finding it funny to make as much noise as he could......

Next thing I remember, I'm being woken up by the other members of our party, as we have arrived at Aberdeen.

Now I've visited Aberdeen on may occasions since my bashing days, but I've never managed to shake off the unpleasant memories of that station at 3:30 in the morning. That bleary eyed stagger along the platform (it was ALWAYS FREEZING) and the hope that you could complete the next move in the 'overnight'.

Once again it was the familiar rake of parcels vans, with a couple of passenger coaches on the front, and a type 2 gently simmering away. The only difference was, this was 4N06. For those that are not familiar with British Rail reporting numbers, the '4' denotes a parcels train. Yep, this one wasn't in the timetable, and didn't officially exist. The guard had every right not to allow us to board the train, but, to my knowledge, I don't think anybody had ever been refused permission to travel. (The use of this train by bashers later became known to the higher echelons of BR, who decided to reclassify the train as a class 1 passenger train, but there was always some an extra 'buzz' about being able to travel on a parcels train.)

Although the train was not supposed to carry passengers, the stock was always steamed as it was diagrammed to work the 0719 Elgin - Inverness. It was also corridor stock, and it was EMPTY! This was every bashers' ultimate dream - a MK1 compo to yourself, and BUCKETLOADS of steam heat!

The train wasn't due out of Aberdeen until 0445, and I was never awake to witness the departures. I can only once remember opening an eye to find that it was daylight, and we were sat in Elgin Goods Yard! On arrival at Elgin, the train is shunted into the Goods Yard to facilitate the unloading of mail, and it only moves back into the main station shortly prior to departure, as the 0719 to Inverness.

The rest of the journey is a total blank to me, as I'm once again dead to the world in my steam heated heaven!

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It was always the overnight trains that made a lasting impression with me. The brief awakening in a Mk1 compartment, caused by the lurch as the vacuum brakes locked, and jolted the train to a stand; the bleary-eyed search for a station sign to indicate our progress through the night; the chattering of the Post Office staff interspersed with the dull thump as another mail bag hits the deck of the BG; and finally the coach-shaking crash as the last door is closed.

All sounds are extinguished, save for the idling locomotive and the gentle hiss of steam heat. Somewhere out of sight a mail trolley rumbles along the platform with its cargo of mail bags as the guard gives a brief whistle to indicate the 'right away'. The engine pitch of the loco increases and the train gently moves away once more. Once away from the lights of the station, sleep returns easily.

There were quite a few different overnight moves you could make, depending on where you were starting from, and where you wanted to be. The most popular overnight (1S81/1A03/4N06 mentioned earlier) had the one major drawback in that it only arrived in Inverness after 08:00, which was useless if you wanted to head for the far North, or Kyle. These trains departed from Inverness at 06:35 and 06:55 respectively, and the only way to get to these workings from an overnight was to go over the Highland Main Line. By now (1984) the overnight workings between Inverness, Glasgow and Edinburgh had gone over to MK2's (at least they weren't the air con 2e's/2f's), with MK3 sleepers, so unless you were exhausted, you didn't get much sleep in that fluorescent nightmare.

Then, ScotRail had a stroke of genius; loadings on the 'Overnight' of both passengers and mail had reached the level where a relief working could be justified, and a rake of steam heat Mk1's was pressed into service. This new working ran ahead of the air braked service, and ran limited stop between Perth and Inverness, but the southbound working conveyed mail traffic only.

The Northbound train ran as two separate portions (2330 ex Glasgow Queen Street and 2306 ex Edinburgh) to Perth, where they were combined and went forward at 0110 to Inverness; the Highland Capital being reached at 0450.

On this particular day, we had spent the day covering the 'Dundees' and had accumulated a raft of Class 27 mileage. We had decided to take a break in Edinburgh, and had retired to that splendid hostelry known as 'The Malt Shovel' to sample a drop of ale. Following a first rate session, we descended on a nearby chip shop, and headed for the train with an array of 'suppers' (mine was smoked sausage!) with the obligatory "salt 'n' sauce".

It had been a warm sunny day, but it had turned quite chilly by the time we arrived at Waverley (about 2250) so we were glad to see the rear end of the 2306 already sat in platform 17. A gentle white plume was eminating from the steam pipe of the rearmost van, which held the prospect of steam-heated slumbers to come. A brisk walk to the head of the train revealed 47118 ready to face the overnight trip to Inverness.

It was standard practice that overnight services are second class only, although the consist may include first class accommodation. This rake of Mk1's was graced by a superb example of a Mk1 FK, complete with the thick orange/tan cushions and orange curtains. The 'normals' tended to avoid the declassified seating, not realising that they could use the first class without penalty. For the bashers, however, this was too good an opportunity to turn down, so we quickly made ourselves at home in the last totally empty compartment. The four of us each took a corner and we started on the 'suppers'.

Exactly on time, the whistle of the platform supervisor commanded the attention of all, and with the signal bathing the end of the platform in an unearthly green light, 47118 is eased out of Waverley's huge train shed, and through the station throat into the Mound tunnel. The rumble of Commonwealth bogies briefly echoes back from the brick lining, and we are out in the open once more, and passing through the blackened Princes Street Gardens. We zig-zag over the junction from the Fife to the Glasgow line, and catch a glimpse of brightly-lit Princes Street high above through the trees, with its throngs of pub-goers, before we are once more encased in tunnel.

The brakes are gently applied and we come to a stand at Haymarket's platform 4. A few late night travellers board the train and with a brief acknowledgment with the horn, 47118 gently moves the train away once more. The lights of Haymarket depot cast the long shadows of idling DMU's onto the side of our train as we gather speed.

We had just passed Murrayfield Rugby stadium when the door to the compartment suddenly slid back, and the guard poked his head through, ticket snips in hand. One sniff told him all he needed to know.

"Hmmm... you lads on rail rovers, eh? I can tell by the smell!" and he disappeared!

After making a mental note to get a shower at Inverness, we settled down, amidst periods of childish giggling, for the long overnight journey ahead. The whine of 47118's traction motors echoes back from Sighthill's darkened tower blocks, before leaving the suburbs behind. I drifted off to sleep with the train's gentle motion, passing solitary farmouses, deserted roads and quiet villages.....

I remember nothing until awakening with one of the experiences described above. I stuck my head through the curtains and blinked in the bright lights of Perth Station. With a yawn, I stood up and pulled apart the two sliding windows and poked my head through. With a freshness that took your breath away, I was suddenly wide awake. The crisp night air was like being slapped on the cheeks. I took a couple of deep breaths, inhaling the mixture of clear air and steam which was drifting up past our window. On the currents of air was the unmistakable sound of a Sulzer type 2 gently idling away behind the station buildings. I thought about leaving our warm compartment to see which Class 26 or 27 was working the 0105 to Aberdeen that night, but I resisted the temptation.

I sat down just as a gentle lurch conveyed the joining of the Glasgow portion. A few minutes later, the type 2's idling became more strident as the 0105 departed for the North East. The sound had hardly abated when, with the gentlest of efforts, 47118 lifted the newly-lengthened train away on the rest of its journey.

Out over the station approach we glided, past the enormous expanse of flat land that was Perth Yard; the floodlights picking out the sad sight of the bogie-less body of 40173 in the distance, propped up on piles of sleepers and never to run again; it's last job as a boiler-training unit ended, and now only the target of vandals. A silent sad acknowledgement is given before we are plunged into the darkness once more. I settle down once more to the whine of the Sulzer power up the front and drift off to sleep....

It was 47118 that woke me some time later. The normal Sulzer Type 4 whine had given way to an ear-splitting crescendo of white noise. The driver was asking everything of 2,580 horses, and they were obliging to some fine order. I stood up and peered out through the window of our compartment.

We were down to little more than walking pace, climbing up a ferocious incline along the side of a wooded valley. At the bottom, a fast-running stream tumbled over the rocks, and above us on the other side, the massive engineering works which carry the A9 through the highlands was visible. It was daylight, so I glanced at my watch. It was 4am, which would put us somewhere North of Aviemore. This had to be the climb up to Slochd Summit, which is several miles of 1 in 60. Sure enough, the distant signal for the summit loop came into view as we emerged from the valley into the open, desolate landscape, with views through the morning mist across to the Cairngorms; still snow-capped in June, and embedded in a purple haze. All this stunning beauty was being screamed at by poor 47118, whose brave struggle to the top was continuing.

A solitary lorry on the A9 passed 47118, whose turbocharger had started popping with the demand that was being asked of it; the gunshot-like sounds disturbing grouse from the heather. Not a moment too soon, we reached the summit loop, and power was gratefully removed from the Sulzer workhorse at the front. We cantered over the top and started to gain speed by coasting down the 1 in 60 on the other side. The timings for the overnight services were very slack to allow for the slow climbing of the hills; we were allowed 59 minutes for the 34.5 miles from Aviemore to Inverness. We were therefore still on time as the driver gently checks our speed, and we cross over the line from Aberdeen, into a cold, crisp, clear Inverness. Down to a crawl past the Signal Box protecting the junction; past the Class 27 waiting to depart with the morning trip working to Burghhead; past the diesel depot and into the station with the gentlest of stops.

90 minutes to kill before the first Far North train of the day.

"Now.. what about that shower?"

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(This article was originally posted to the uk.railways newsgroup on July 15th 2000. I had completely forgotten I had written it until I came across it whilst conducting research for Hellfire. It was originally titled as Part Six of my Freedom of Scotland Memories, so here it is.)

I largely gave up bashing after the demise of the Class 40's. I do still go on the odd railtour though, especially if the tour is something out of the ordinary. Such a tour was "The West Highlander" which took a pair of Class 31's on a mammoth journey from Wigan to Oban and back on 24th June 2000.

"But that's not a Freedom of Scotland Memory" I hear you say. Quite true, but this tour did much to remind me of what it was like on the West Highland Line in the early 1980's; when the arrival at each passing loop meant an exchange of tokens ("real" ones!), a brief word with the Stationmaster/Signalman, and (if we were being held to cross another train) the disembarkation to await the arrival of the balancing working.

You could often hear the inbound train long before it arrived, as it pounded up the gradients, and squealed around the twisting curves that are a feature of this line. A single mournful horn sounds across ancient forests, across bleak moors and over dark lochs to herald the impending arrival. A mental check of loco diagrams and gen tries to second-guess the locomotive's identity. The signalman disappears into his miniature signal cabin on the platform, and busies himself amongst the tiny lever frame. The clunk of mechanical pointwork and the twang of signal wire signifies the train being accepted into the station. Not much longer until we discover which Class 27 or 37 (depending on the year) is working the inbound train, and we have to decide on whether to continue with the train we had arrived on, or to retrace our route with the new arrival..

All this was a long way from my mind at 0415 on 24th June 2000. It was nearly twenty years before that such early risings were commonplace on Summer Saturdays in the early 1980's. You had to be at the station well before the first daytime train, in order to arm yourself with the gen that was percolating from the TOPS office, and start to assemble your moves for the day. (In order to get all three pairs of Class 25's on the Aberystwyth turns, you had to be on the 0409 from Preston!)

Nowadays, a Renault Laguna has taken the place of the dawn pushbike ride to the station, and a Four-Pound car park ticket is bought instead of the Six Pence Platform Ticket. My original intention was to take the car from Linlithgow to Lockerbie, the last pick up point for the tour, but on hearing that the 31's were to work throughout (the original plan was to drag them with a 92 to Mossend), that move was rejected in favour of a bed at my parent's house, and joining the tour at Preston.

Platform 6 was very busy with other people intending to join the tour, so I went to one of my old haunts, the Quick Snack on Platforms 3/4. It was closed! (When it opened in the 1980's, you could get a half-decent cup of coffee at any time of the night). This was only the first disappointing comparison of the day. Ahh well.. Back to Platform 6 and see if any of my old acquaintances are about for the tour. One thing hadn't changed though, 1M16, the 2030 Inverness - Euston was showing a 60 minute delay on the TV Monitors!

I was deep in nostalgic conversation and renwing old friendships when 31601 and 31602 brought their mixed bag of Mk1's, Mk2's and an ex Manchester Pullman Coach (thrown in for good measure) into the platform. Everybody joined the train with a minimum of fuss (probably realising that being late at Craigendoran Junction could mean huge delays by the time you got back to civilisation). Very quickly, we started to move, but as we were at the back, in Coach A, the noise of the locos was hard to detect.

We glided out of the station, and past Ladywell stabling point. It used to be here that the Class 40's would sit, teasing the bashers until it either delighted with a trip to Blackpool, Liverpool, Manchester or Barrow; or disappointed, by scuttling away light engine. The sidings have been mostly relaid, to allow for the construction of the new road that now forms the main route out to the Southwest from Preston. The power box sidings, which used to hold masses of DMU's for the Colne and Ormskirk runs, were empty and overgrown. Similary, the Deepdale branch, which used to see a daily coal train from Warrington, was barely visible amongst the weeds, which were growing waist-high. The steeple of St Walburgh's Church, which has guarded Fylde Junction since before time, was still there, looking as impressive as ever.

Gathering speed now, across the Prestonian outskirts, which were being illuminated by a watery grey dawn. Time now to head along to the buffet car and have that cup of coffee, which was denied to me on the platform. The journey through the train took me through a BFK (Corridor Brake First) which had been converted into a rather rough and ready bar. A stillage had been erected out of scaffolding, and several welcoming casks of ale stood in readiness for the day ahead. I made a mental note to make several visits during the trip!

By the time I regained my seat, the brakes were being applied for our next pick up point, Lancaster. After a brief stop, the brace of 31's was powered up and we eased out of the station and over the Lune Viaduct. Little seemed to have changed at this location since the days of the 40's (I once had 40074 and 40155 on a relief working from here; a lack of electric motive power at Carlisle was the reason for my only pair of 40's on a service train).

We stormed past Carnforth on full power. Steamtown was a sad sight; although some preservation work still takes place here (the rake of stock being used on the tour was maintained here), an air of dereliction surrounded the place, which contrasted with the place in the early 1980's.

On we sped, under the LNWR route across to Settle Junction and ready for the first real test of the day, Shap. Our progress was made more difficult by the pick up at Oxenholme, but we made it over the top at 42mph, on full bore. Even twelve coaches back, the thrash was impressive, and we rushed down to Penrith in fine style. Another sprint to Carlisle ensued, and we came to a stand in Platform 3 shortly before 7am.

Carlisle Station seemed to be in good condition, and again little had changed since my Freedom of Scotland Days. I wonder if the 'Blackboard' and Hellfire water boiler in the Platform 1 Messroom (see FOS Memories part 1) are still there. Probably not much worth writing on the Blackboard these days...

I was pleasantly surprised at the sight of Kingmoor shed. I was expecting to see decay and dereliction but I was so wrong. DRS (Direct Rail Services) had taken over the buildings, and this was now their centre of operations. Some six refurbished Class 20's (20302/304/306/904/905/906) and two Class 37's (37608/610) looking resplendent in their mid blue DRS livery were waiting their next turns of duty, and 20313+20314 were viewed on a nuclear flask train. Even the huge marshalling yard had not entirely vanished, and several Class 66's, and a Class 60 could be seen from the train as we passed. No sign though, of 40001 and 40002, which, with 40122 before it was reinstated, made an impressive, but sad, line up of the first three Class 40's of the original 10 units built as a pilot programme. 40122 is now at the National Railway Museum; 40001 and 40002 are no more.

Now we were in Scotland, it was time to produce the laptop with "Scottish Rover" installed on it. We spent the climb over Beattock chasing type 2's in 1984 until Mr P51, one of the four players, hit the wrong button whilst waiting at Keith in the early morning, and rejected a pair of required Inverness 27's on an Inverness-Aberdeen working. The computer couldn't cope with this logic, and promptly expired!! (I later discovered that the battery was faulty, and wasn't fully charged up, but that didn't stop the ribbing we gave P51 at the time!) We did actually stop playing to bellow at 31601 and 31602 passing the summit at 30mph.

Speed soon picked up again, and it didn't seem long before we swept around the bend through Carstairs Station. I couldn't believe the sight. The solid-looking stone buildings had been totally flattened. A bus stop shelter stood where the small bookstall and ticket office used to be. The sidings where the Class 47's and 26's (if you were lucky) used to sit waiting for their 'portions' to Edinburgh were now home to a few engineers wagons. This station must have seen the most dramatic downturn in service provision of any main line station; the summer 1984 timetable shows about 50 trains per day, with destinations ranging from Aberdeen to Penzance; somehow I don't think the summer 2000 timetable can compete.

Over the top at Lanark Junction, and it's a gentle coast down through Carluke, and the brakes come as we branch right at Law Junction, to take the route round the back of Ravenscraig... or rather, where Ravenscraig WAS! Where huge blast furnaces used to spew molten metal, and trios of Class 37's used to discharge thousands of tons or iron ore and coal; where thousands of men earned their living is now a huge featureless desert, stretching away from the left hand side of the train as far as the eye can see. Conversation in the coach was hushed; the occupants not believing that this expanse of wasteland was once the mighty Ravenscraig Steelworks. Not a single building has been left standing, and even the rubble has been clinically removed from the scene.

It could have been just as bad for Mossend Yard, but luckily, this location has seen quite an upturn in its fortunes since it became a 'Euroterminal'. Direct trains leave here for the Channel Tunnel and destinations in Europe, and there were quite a few EWS and Freightliner electric locos stabled here waiting for their turn to head South.

Just as with 26038 back in the early 1980's (FOS Memories part 4 for more details), our train stops here, although this time it was only for a crew change. The portable RETB (Radio Electronic Token Block) equipment was loaded aboard the locos ready for the West Highland run, and we set off once more.

Coatbridge Freightliner Terminal seems busy, with huge stacks of containers visible, but it seems strange to actually see this location in daylight. Unless you did the 'Clansman', which was a solid Inverness ETH 47 turn (and therefore not worth covering), it was only the overnight trains which went this way. We lurch left, arcing back towards Glasgow, and pass yet another levelled wasteland that used to be a major part of the Scottish steel industry, the Gartcosh Plate Mill. Signal checks keep our speed low through Springburn, and up towards Cowlairs. The left side of the train affords us a view of what was once the famous St Rollox railway works. Most of this site is now used as a scrap yard, but some railway work still continues on a small corner of this once vast site. Cowlairs Carriage Sidings is a sad sight; the rows of coaching stock, which used to site here being serviced before being dropped down into Queen Street Station, are no more. A new chord has been built over most of the site, to allow direct trains to work from Queen Street to Falkirk Grahamston via Cumbernauld. On the opposite side of the train, an equally depressing sight awaits; Eastfield Locomotive Depot is merely a shell; the masses of Class 20/26/27/37/47 locomotives awaiting their next turns of duty are merely a memory; weeds now grow where locos used to run, and the hypnotic throb of idling Sulzer and English Electric power units has given way to the rustling leaves of untended scrub. Once more we nudge left on squealing checkrails, and the sight of the whole depressing area is thankfully left behind.

Spirits start to lift as we near the West Highland Line proper; morning shoppers on suburban platforms stand open-mouthed as we storm through. Westerton and the Milngavie branch are passed in a flash, and busy Dalmuir is soon a memory. The sun comes out as we race along the Clyde shoreline; past Kilpatrick and Bolwling, and through Dumbarton. The thundering 31's, twelve coaches away, echo back from the brick-lined Dalreoch cutting, and we are out in the sunshine once more before we hit Craigendoran, and our first taste of the 'real' West Highland; one and a half miles of 1 in 58! There is no need to stop for a token these days, so at least we get a run at it. With squealing flanges we climb around the back of Helensburgh, and briefly come to a stand at the eponymous Upper Station. There is no passing loop here, but we cannot proceed until we have received the electronic token from the control room. The station seems to be a vast improvement on the last time I was here. It was 1983 (I think!) when we took an EMU to Helensburgh Lower for the walk up the hill so we could have a bit of mileage behind the Class 37 which was working 1M15 (the Ft William - Euston Sleeper) that night. The main reason for the move was to do the train on its new route - via Glasgow Queen Street Low Level, but when we arrived at the station in the gathering dusk, we almost decided not to bother; the old West Highland chalet-type station building was boarded up; broken glass adorned the platform and there was only one light working on the station. The stench of urine was unbearable and we were very relieved when 1M15 arrived on time. Maybe the sunshine helped, but the station was certainly looking a lot better, although they had obviously given up on the station building and removed it in favour of a bus shelter. The platform has been improved with a new covering of pink stone chips, and a large sign proclaiming a welcome to the West Highland Line.

We now have our 'cybertoken' and we head cautiously up the 1 in 67 away from Helensburgh. Intermittent views across the Firth of Clyde are interspersed with dense forest. Sticking your head out of the window is a hazardous task, it's obvious that nothing the width of a Mk1 coach has been down here for some time, and the scratching of branches against the window becomes something we'll get used to by the time we are back at Craigendoran.

Another stop; this time at Garelochhead, where we are booked to cross a southbound working. The guard makes an announcement to the effect that we can get off for a bit, as we are due to wait here for 10 minutes or so. The weather is looking better all the time, so we all head for the door. One small problem though; with two locomotives and twelve coaches (of which we are in the rearmost) there is no chance of us being in the platform. In fact we are not even clearing the trap points at the end of the loop and we are hanging at the top of the short 1 in 60 we have just scaled to get here.

After a bit of a crush, we manage to get off onto the sunny platform. Although the station is now unstaffed, and the station building is locked out of use, everything is neat and tidy, and the paintwork seems quite fresh. The pink chips that lie underfoot are devoid of weeds.

Our unscheduled photostop is proving popular with the occupants of the train, and the North end of the platform is getting quite crowded. I decide to take a walk around the other side of the station building to get back to our coach, and notice a couple of 'normals' who were waiting for the Sprinter to Glasgow. I don't think they were expecting two noisy black diesels pulling twelve coaches full of 'cranks' to invade their peaceful wait. They seemed visibly relieved when 156447 and 156485 arrived to take them away. The arrival of the 156's was the signal for everybody to get back on board, so without further ado, we headed for our seats once more. It was a pleasant surprise to see that the West Highland stations seem to be having money spent on them to keep them looking at their best, and that the unique character of the little platforms is still evident long after the last Station Master locked his waiting room for the last time.

The train starts to move and the sound of the Goyles drifts through the open windows of our coach as the locos are asked to lift the heavy train up six miles of hill averaging 1 in 60. The skill of the drivers on this line was always impressive, with intimate knowledge of both traction and route being an absolute necessity. The combination of the pilotman's local knowledge and the Fragonset driver's Class 31 experience was effective, with time being well kept throughout the tour.

We stormed over the summit in fine style, and I took a hold of my pint (yes; I DID get to the bar!) expecting the brakes to slam on as we tipped over the top onto a 1 in 56 drop and a stop at Glen Douglas. The braking was minimal and as we squealed into the loop, I realised that we weren't going to stop. As we sailed through, I managed to catch the wording on the stop board that now replaces the starting signal, saying that trains in possession of long section tokens may proceed. That was something that never used to exist on the 'old' West Highland. Something that doesn't exist nowadays is the tall signal box that used to stand here between the up and down lines, with a tiny platform on each side of the box for the signalman to stand on while he exchanged the tokens. Only a flattened area of ground gives any clue as to what used to stand there. I have little time to ponder the scene, as we are now rolling down two and a half miles or so of 1 in 57, increasing to 1 in 53 for a further mile. The gradients on this line really are amazing; to get anything flatter than 1 in 100 is an exception!

The brakes come on again; this time for Arrochar. We are definitely stopping here, and as we carefully roll into the station, I catch sight of something that instantaneously sent me flying back to 1983. In the opposite platform is the unmistakable nose of a Class 37. I was almost grabbing my bag ready to leap across into the expected rake of rail blue and grey MK1's until a second look brings me back to reality. 37503, (looking resplendent in EWS livery - It does actually suit some locos, and it definitely looks better than the large ScotRail effort in the early 1980's) is sitting in the small yard on a rake of empty log wagons.

We set off once more, and after a short time we arrive at Ardlui. Here, the station buildings have had to be demolished due to subsidence, and the platform is now totally bare. With little in the way of passenger comfort and with the token 'exchange' quickly completed, we set out to storm the next eight-mile climb to Crianlarich, with an average gradient of 1 in 65.

I was amazed when we got to Crianlarich; the tearoom was still there! It used to be this remote outpost which bashers would aim for when heading for the West Highland on 1S07, the Euston - Fort William Sleeper. Sure, you could get extra mileage by going a further five miles up the line to Tyndrum Upper, walking to Lower, and waiting for the first train from Oban to take you back south; but the wise move to make was to leap here and give yourself a good hour or so to have the Full Scottish Breakfast in the tearoom. It really set you up for a day's leaping about on the West Highland. I reluctantly decided not to go for the breakfast option today, as it would be a long wait for any decent traction from here!

With another token given up, the 31's branch onto the Oban line, leaving the Fort William route for another day. Once clear of the station, we roll down the hill to pick up the old Oban and Callandar main line. A short climb brings us to the single platform at Tyndrum Lower. This tiny hamlet boasts more stations per head of population than any other in Britain. The figure used to be two stations for fifty-three inhabitants, but it looks as if some serious building work has taken place since the early 1980's; a large holiday resort now stands a short distance from Tyndrum Lower, and there are certainly more houses here than there used to be. A Little Chef competes now with the Post Office/General Store as the place to get something to eat if you decided against the Crianlarich option. I can't imagine doing the leap between 156's though!

Surprisingly enough, we stop at Tyndrum Lower, even though there is no crossing loop here. The RETB is set up in such a way that Crianlarich - Tyndrum Lower is a tokenless section, probably to avoid complications at the juction, so trains must stop at Tyndrum Lower to collect/drop the token for the section to/from Dalmally. Again though, long section tokens are available to minimise unnecessary stops. Tyndrum Lower hasn't changed in over fifteen years; it was a bus stop then, and it's a bus stop now!

Moving again - we take our last glimpse of the Fort William line as we curve away past the foot of Ben Lui and head along Glen Lochy towards Dalmally. The A85 runs alongside the line for much of this part of the route, and it affords many 'bellowing' opportunities, especially as a convoy of road vehicles is racing the train, trying to get ahead for the next lineside photo.

Once through Dalmally, the expanse of Loch Awe stretches away to the left, as far as the eye can see. Our train negotiates the tightrope of land between the loch, and the bulky shoulder of land jutting out from Ben Cruachan. The views along this part of the line are really quite stunning, and the fine weather is a real bonus for those on board.

Eventually we leave Loch Awe behind and cross the Pass of Brander. The walls of the valley are very steep here, and an ingenious set-up of tripwires linked to double-facing semaphore signals still protects the line against rock falls.

The stations on this section of the West Highland are radically different to the chalet style of the Glasgow - Fort William route. Substantial stone station buildings are a feature of the line, which is more Midland Railway in character. I don't actually remember much about the section between Crianlarich and Oban in the early 1980's, but I have visited Taynuilt station since my bashing days, to sample to offerings of the West Highland Brewery, which set up in the station building.

I was heartbroken when we got to Taynuilt; the station was entirely boarded up; the waiting room, which had been converted into a most comfortable and friendly brewery tap, was hidden behind sheets of plywood. Only a faded West Highland Brewery sign betrayed the presence of a sadly failed venture, which produced some hellfire beers.

Away to the right, the dark blue ribbon of Loch Etive becomes visible, between the trees of the Fearnoch Forest. As we round the tight curves through the forest, we get our first glimpse of the Connel Bridge, which used to take the Ballachulish Branch over Loch Etive and the Falls of Lora. There is nothing superlative about this structure, but I think it is the most beautiful looking railway bridge in the country, Forth Bridge included. Back in the 1980's, it was also the first sign that we were nearly at journey's end; only the small matter of getting over the headland at the end of Loch Etive before we arrived at Oban. This 'small matter' however, was three miles of 1 in 50 climb, followed by three miles of 1 in 50 descent to the buffer stops!

On full power, the 31's storm over the top, followed by a timid descent. Once more the squealing bogies remind us of the tortuous curves as we head round the back of McCaig's folly, and down into the port of Oban. Gently we ease into the platform and come to a stand with the slightest of jolts. Time to beat the crowds to the Oban Inn for a spot of lunch.

Although we were near enough on time arriving in Oban, (4 minutes late after over 300 miles isn't bad!) our time in the town was limited to 100 minutes, due to needing to be back past Lockerbie before they shut the line for engineering work. Personally, I wouldn't have minded staying longer, and being forced to go back via Dumfries, but beggars can't be choosers!

By 1435 everybody was back on board. We were now in the front coach for the three-mile climb of 1 in 50! Very gingerly the driver eases back on the power handle and the idling note of his pair of charges rises just a touch in response. Very gently the twelve-coach train starts away from the station, and under the stone road bridge which passes over the station throat. Now the driver piles on the power, and the thrash reaches a deafening crescendo. On this 1 in 50 climb, the line curves through 180 degrees, and the speed limit is restricted to 30 mph. Not that the train was going to get over 30mph anyway!

We breasted the summit on full power, and swiftly accelerated away down towards Connel, and the long journey back to the North West of England. Once more, after the briefest of reminders, Oban is left with only the fading memories of mk1's and the sound of idling locomotives carrying across the harbour.

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