Our revolutionary activity was to abandon the million or so things that we “should” have been doing at home, jump into the car and drive down the A60 to Loughborough to visit the Great Central Railway.
We arrived a few minutes after the start of the steam service, having missed the train hauled by “Lord Nelson”, but in time to see the Heritage DMU that always starts the GCR timetable move out of the platform to its siding. This gave us plenty of time to walk along the beautifully restored station, to visit the gift shop and the Emporium, the very well-stocked second hand shop as well as popping into the station buffet for a cup of tea.
However, I had already taken a walk as far as I could along the platform to see the locomotive that was on the front of our train. It was the Great Western Railway’s legendary “City of Truro”. Although I had lived in Swindon as a child, and have read countless words about this engine, I don’t think I had ever seen it myself. I was not disappointed with the beautifully turned out machine that was to pull our train and was providing steam to heat the train to slightly warmer than comfortable for us.
“City of Truro” was not positioned to allow me to get a photograph at Loughborough, especially as the railway’s own operating volunteers were crowded around the end of the platform, leaving little room for a passing anorak. But it didn’t matter, I knew that I would be able to get a picture later in the day.
Right on time, at 11:15, with us safely in our seats, a high pitched whistle sounded and the train started to move smoothly. We were sitting well towards the rear of the 6 or seven coach train that was predominantly reserved for diners so heard little of the locomotive working. Although this train, and every train that we travelled on or saw during our visit was very well patronised, we never had any difficulty finding seats that were clean and comfortable in carriages that obviously have as much care lavished on them by the GCR staff and volunteers as the steam locomotives.
The journey to Leicester North, with brief stops at Quorn and Woodhouse and Rothley stations was smooth and uneventful. At one point, Sue commented on the brevity of the GCR’s intermendiate station stops saying that she really liked the way that the trains stopped for just a couple of minutes and that at each station, quite a lot of people got on and off the train. When she added, “It isjust like being on a ‘real’ train”, I knew just what she meant.
On arrival at Leicester North, I leaped from the train and made my way down the platform to get my first proper look at at a legend. City of Truro did not disappoint in any way. I also appreciated the way that the couple of dozen photographers gathered around to picture the loco moved back to allow each of us to get clear shots. This was something of a theme throughout the day, although the really serious railway photographers, the ones that bring serious tripods, cameras with six inch long lenses and some professional looking video cameras, don’t tend to join the scrums on the stations, but avail themselves of the GCR’s brilliant lineside pass scheme.
The railway operates a permit system that allows photographers to be on the lineside with a photocard permit and a specially branded high visibility jacket. From the numbers of photographers on the lineside, this great idea must bring in some much-needed revenue for the GCR.
Having grabbed some photographs and made my way back to Sue on the train, it wasn’t long before we set off back towards Loughborough. This time we were much closer to the locomotive and could hear the characteristic chuff as it hauled us up the slopes along the route. Our speed, of course, was far more sedate that “City Of Truro’s” record breaking run when she became the first man-made machine ever to travel at 100 miles per hour.
We had decided to change trains at Quorn and Woodhouse to join the southbound train that would be pulled by LMS liveried locomotive, Leander. We were, by no means the only ones to make this change. It was clear from overheard conversations that many people had already done the same change from the first train pulled by “Lord Nelson” onto “City of Truro’s” train and again to “Leander’s”. We were more than satisfied with our two different locomotives, although we could have stayed until “Lord Nelson” was again rostered for a train later in the day, we were happy to see it running light on Driver Experience duties.
We were also looking forward to having something to eat on the Great Central’s famous griddle car train, which we had just joined. Sue quickly joined the queue at the counter and put in our orders for the Great Central All Day Breakfast. We were told that we would half-an-hour’s wait for our meals, although I am sure that they arrived more quickly that this. The generous breakfasts were pretty good, although our eggs were somewhat overcooked. Well they were cremated really! However, this was a minor irritation on an otherwise brilliant day out and in any case, I am no food critic, I just eat what I am given.
I did have time to leave the train again when we reached Leicester North to get a few photographs of “Leander”.
I also came close to making a big mistake, forgetting that station stops on the GCR are very brief, and also that it is a double track railway and that trains do not always pass in stations. I hopped out at Rothley station to grab a picture of “Lord Nelson”, only to be told that it had already gone through the station and that we had passed it. I dived back onto the train just as the stationmaster was shutting the doors for our departure.
On our return journey, “Lord Nelson”, in its Full Southern Railway livery was in Rothley station as we pulled on and I was able to grab my long-awaited photograph.
I wonder how often it is possible to see three steam locomotives in the colourful pre-nationalisation liveries of three different companies working together to provide a single railway service. It must be fairly rare.
On arrival back at Loughborough, we decided to end our most enjoyable visit to the Great Central and make our way back to Nottingham via the Nottingham Heritage Centre at Ruddington. We had spotted their sign on the main road advertising train services every Sunday and Bank Holiday Monday on the way down to Loughborough. So with it being early afternoon, were looking forward to another journey on a line that we have not visited for several years. Imagine, our disappointment to discover that they were not running, but had been running during that morning. We seem to be ill-fated with this railway as the last time we intended to visit Ruddington, we discovered that they were running a Diesel Gala and that the admission price was, frankly over the top.
Talking of fares, I must give enormous credit to the Great Central Railway for running what was effectively a major steam gala, but charging no more than their normal ticket prices, which for Sue and I as working volunteers at Peak Rail and holders of a Heritage Railway Association Inter-Rail pass, was completely free. No wonder the GCR remains one of my favourite railway experiences.