An old friend

When I was a kid, steam engines ruled the rails – roaring down the line to London trailing clouds of smoke and cinders over their train of carriages. I loved those massive monsters. When I grew up I wanted to be an engine driver. Yes, I know, that’s a cliché ... but I did ... really.

One glorious day my Mum took me up to London by train. As we walked to the exit at Kings Cross Station we passed one of the fastest engines on the line - the sleek, streamlined ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’.

I stopped beside the gently hissing engine, the heat shimmering off it, and gazed up in awe. A coal-grimed man leaned out of the driver’s cab.

“Wanna come up, Sonny?” he asked.

I was dumbstruck. He was speaking to me. My mum lifted me up to the footplate and the driver showed me around. I peeped into the red-hot, roaring firebox, tapped the dials, twiddled a brake-wheel. He even let me sit in his seat and toot the whistle ... making everyone on the platform jump.

I’ve never forgotten it.

Last summer I was walking on the Yorkshire Moors, beside a railway line, when I heard a familiar whistle. I stopped ... turned, and around the corner came an old friend. Sir Nigel Gresley.


Now for the true story.

The whole first bit about my childhood experience is gospel. I have no idea what I did on the trip to London with my mum, but the details of my encounter with the Sir Nigel Gresley are etched indelibly into my memory.

The second part of the story is a little more complicated.

Last summer I took a ride on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, a steam preservation society. To my amazement I discovered this railway was now the home of the Sir Nigel Gresley. I asked an official about the engine, and my luck was in. He told me that it would be pulling a train the very next day.

I immediately got out an Ordnance Survey map, scanned the route of the line and found an interesting-looking footpath that ran alongside. That afternoon we walked the length of footpath, my long-suffering family and I, looking for suitable vantage points.

The best one was high on a hillside, looking down on to where the railway line came around a curve and up a gradient.

I was up there early next morning, ready and waiting, with my tripod, cable release, and long lens on to compress the perspective a bit.

My only regret was that it was a warm summer’s morning. Had it been colder there would have been a very photogenic cloud of smoke as Sir Nigel Gresley chuffed up the slope.

But it was good to see an old friend again.

1 comment:

Rick Arkwright said...

Thanks for the memories! I used to see the Sir Nigel Gresley in my train-spotting days beside the LNER. Didn't know the old engine was still going. How marvellous.

I always imagined that Sir Nigel Gresley (the man) was some fat, top-hatted, self-important railway bigwig who had the engine named after him. But I've just checked. In fact he was the designer of these magnificent machines. A very talented man. How appropriate that the engine that has been preserved bears his name.