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A fabulous steam train ride from Edinburgh to the Borders

Written by Fiona

September 14 2016

Our world is filled with things that are faster, sleeker and more efficient – yet sometimes it’s a delight to take a few steps back in time to when things were slower, more labour intensive and run by coal.

On Sunday, my steps took me back to 1927 when steam locomotives were the new and trendy way to travel Scotland.

Although I was about to ride the newly opened Borders Railway train line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, in the Scottish Borders, my mode of transport was to be a wonderfully old-fashioned LMS (London, Midland and Scottish) Royal Scot Class 6100 steam train.

My friend, Becca, who may well have had the widest grin of everyone on the train, came with me. She has a love of steam trains like no one else I know and made the perfect companion for the return journey on a beautifully sunny late summer’s evening.

First impressions at Waverley station

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I have no idea how many trains I have boarded at the large Edinburgh station and I am normally keen to be impressed by how modern the train looks. If I book first class I want efficient wi-fi and a quiet carriage.

When I arrived at Platform 1 on Sunday for the steam train I was delighted by the vintage look and feel. The manual doors of the old-fashioned carriages were opened by beautifully dressed conductors. Inside (we were fortunate to be in first class), the decor and furnishings were wonderfully refurbished and delightfully plush.

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The usual 21st century silence of people on mobile phones and utilising wi-fi was replaced with a hubbub of chatter and banter.

Becca and I took our window places, sitting back into plump armchair style seats. We looked across at each other, giggled and raised our glasses of Prosecco (somehow, out of nowhere, these had arrived at our table).

Becca's big smile!

Becca’s big smile!

Old versus new style trains

The train line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank opened late last year. It has been in the planning for at least a decade and I’m sure the people of the Borders are delighted that they now have a high-speed link to the capital city.

It takes 55 minutes to do the full journey with frequent departures and eight stops along the way.

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However, in a stroke of marketing genius, ScotRail decided to take passengers back to the golden age of travel with a timetable of steam train journeys in August and September. On Saturdays and Sundays, you can book a morning or evening return trip, choosing between 1st class with a gourmet meal or 2nd class.

The final trips take place on September 25, 2016, but they will be back in the summer of 2017. Keep an eye on ScotRail steam Train Trips

The train is pulled by the Royal Scot and takes 90 minutes. It stops at only Galashiels and Tweedbank, before returning some two hours later. Check out things to do in Galashiels.

During this waiting time you have the opportunity to sign up for a variety of short excursions, including tours of Abbotsford House, Sir Walter Scott’s Courtrooom, scenic bus trips or a restaurant meal.

Alternatively, as we did, you can enjoy a walk in nearby countryside and along the picturesque River Tweed,

The steam train journey

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Becca and I absolutely loved the trip. During the outward journey we were served a three-course meal and enjoyed another (paid for) glass of wine. The waiters and waitresses were clearly enjoying their jobs, too, and they were very smiley and chatty.

The train conductor also offered a short history lesson about the train and warned us not to put our heads or camera equipment out of the windows. Apparently, it’s a dangerous thing to do!

Becca and I took the opportunity to chat non-stop. We had not seen each other for a few months and so we talked about all kinds of things, from the train journey to old times, new times, life, family and work. I pity the couple sat next to us who could do little but listen into our excitable and sometimes silly conversation.

And as we chatted, we looked out of the window as the countryside sped by. I have done this many times before on train journeys but there was something quite different about the views as we were pulled by a steam train.

It seems that the general public thought so too for there were dozens of bystanders and train spotters lining roads and paths next to the train line. As they waved at us I felt like we were part of a costume drama film set.

Arriving at Tweedbank

Becca and I were the first to jump off the train, head to the front and go up into the steam train locomotive itself. It was incredibly hot with a blazing coal-fired engine (apparently it takes around two tonnes of coal to do the journey) and we asked numerous questions (journo style) of the drivers.

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One of the drivers, Tony.

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I wanted to know what all the dials did and how the drivers had become involved in the project.

Tony and Jim are modern train drivers for ScotRail but they had volunteered to become drivers of the Royal Scot. They seemed as delighted as we were about the old-fashioned style trips and were happy to answer the questions of many passengers.

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As we stepped down from the engine, a kindly gentleman offered his hand to make it easier to reach the station platform. Why have these sort of niceties almost disappeared in the 21st century?

A walk at Tweedbank

With aid of an information panel near Tweedbank Station, indicating the route of a walk and cycle way, and my OS map app, Becca and I plotted a walk along the River Tweed. We were fortunate with the weather and enjoyed the gorgeous Borders scenery as we walked – and talked some more – and a setting sun.

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We were cautious not to miss the return train but we still enjoyed a good stroll of around an hour. It’s easily possible to find more walks in this paths around Galashiels leaflet.

Back at the station we were able to compare and contrast a 21st century ScotRail train on the opposite platform with our vintage train.

The return journey to Edinburgh

As if the three course meal of salmon mousse, roast lamb and dessert had not been enough on the outward journey, the jolly train stewards offered to serve us cheese and biscuits then coffee or tea and chocolates.

Becca and I seemed unable to refuse and so we sat back for the return trip looking out the windows as the sun finally melted on to the horizon. Apparently the steam locomotive remains at the back of the carriages for the return trip and a more modern engine takes over to pull the train back to Edinburgh.

It was a quicker journey for sure but it didn’t detract at all from the overall experience. During more than five ours of travel and walking the smiles had rarely left our faces and we alighted at Waverley till giddy with the vintage experience.

ScotRail steam train: The details

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There are two trips on a Saturday and Sunday leaving at 9.45am and 16.45pm.

The Premier dining 1st class experience costs £130 each. It includes a glass of prosecco or orange juice and a full gourmet meal during the journey.

Note that premier dining is at tables of four and you may be seated with other passengers. You can reserve a two-seat table for a £20 supplement, subject to availability.

Standard class is £55 (adult), £40 (child 0-16), £150 (family: 2 adults, 2 children). Refreshments aren’t included, but you can buy snacks and drinks from the on-board buffet.

See ScotRail Steam Train trips.

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  • I was invited by ScotRail to join the train with a guest.
Written by Fiona September 14 2016 Please support this website Buy me a glass of wine

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