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.


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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