It was the 9 January this year, in Bury, that I first saw an example of a phenomena I’d almost forgotten. It was a cold damp day and the enthusiastic crowds were sprinkled with a lot of media types doing what they do with cameras and microphones. I heard an excited young female reporter say to camera ‘we’ve all got Scotsman fever here’.
This reporter had never encountered any steam locomotive before, but the fame of this one had got her in the car, to go and see what all the fuss was about. She was not a railway enthusiast, and definitely not of the kind that is so often mislabelled by a lazy media – a ‘trainspotter’. However the sheer presence of this great hissing beast bowled her over, and this before the nameplate or paint scheme had been applied.
It was the same in Carlisle on the 6 February. The loaded test run had seen people stood in driving sleet for hours to watch the train hauled by 60103 go by. A reporter had showed up because she wondered ‘what all the fuss was about’ and was swiftly seduced by the locomotive’s presence and the excitement of a large crowd wanting to get close to this living icon of the steam age.
Then came the 25th February – “like being in a royal wedding” was how one participant put it. The entire 188 miles of track from London to York had had people stood by it, ready to catch a glimpse of ‘Flying Scotsman’ and totally ignoring the service train of the same name which passed the other way.
Spin forward to this week (12 – 19th March) and the North Yorkshire Moors Railway had its chance to generate ‘Scotsman’ fever. With three trains a day hauled by the locomotive (all of which sold out within a couple of hours) it was always going to be busy. The hundreds of cars parked on a moorland road leading into Goathland must have come as a bit of surprise to the postman who regularly drove that way. Further down the hill which ‘Scotsman’ had to climb, farmers could have charged for those who had strayed off the footpath to take a picture. This wasn’t a school holiday so it made you wonder just how many people had taken early retirement. Perhaps some had arranged a meeting ‘in North Yorkshire’ without being too specific as to exactly where they were? ‘Scotsman Fever’ is clearly infectious.
Next week – starting on the 25th March – it will be the National Railway Museum’s turn. This time visitors will have the chance to (as the Americans put it) get ‘Up, close and personal’ to this national icon. Flying Scotsman will be parked at its home base alongside other icons of the east coast main line. There will be access to the footplate, and those of 3 other locomotives from the train service after which ‘Flying Scotsman’ is named. There will also be a chance to see inside carriages typical of the train, and a chance to visit an exhibition that examines the ‘star’ quality of the locomotive.
Perhaps anyone with ‘Scotsman fever’ will be able cured but all this close proximity, in the way that in medieval times it was said the King could cure, just by laying his hands on the afflicted. However, given the experience of the last couple of months, I wouldn’t bet on it. It seems ‘Scotsman Fever’ – a very British phenomena (whoever heard of a steam locomotive as a national icon outside of the UK? – is here to stay.
Flying Scotsman will be back at the National Railway Museum from 25 March-8 May, centre stage in our Stunts, Speed and Style lineup. Grab your chance to cab Scotsman in addition to GNR Stirling Single, 990 Henry Oakley and 55002 Kings’ Own Yorkshire Light Infrantry – all mainstays of the East Coast mainline in their time.