In 2004, the National Railway Museum saved the Flying Scotsman locomotive for the nation and the following summer, they ran a number of services to the east coast from York, under the banner of the ‘Scarborough Spa Express’.
We live in Nidderdale. It’s about as far from the sea as you can get, so a trip to the beach is always a special event and so, on an August morning, with the weather looking promising, our tribe joined hundreds of other travellers who’d seized the opportunity to experience this unique event. I’m not a train-spotter – and was born after the end of steam, but it was no secret that I was every bit as excited as my 9- and 4-year-old sons’, as the iconic green engine came into view around the curve of platform 9 at York station. At the height of Harry Potter’s fame, the maroon coaches being pulled made the train look like the Hogwarts Express. This only increased the sense of delirium on the platform.
With a whistle from the engine, we edged over the Ouse, before gaining speed as our seaside special steamed towards the east coast. We tucked-in to on-board hampers, as Kirkham Abbey sped by. Oliver’s Mount soon appeared and our expedition slowed for Scarborough. You could measure the excitement in buckets, as day-trippers disembarked amongst the steam from a thirsty Scotsman.
A day in Scarborough (the greatest resort in the country)? What to do? From my own childhood, I’d been amazed when I first took the lift from St Nicholas Cliff to South Bay – so that had to be the thing. Could it be possible to top a trip on the Scotsman? I didn’t think so, but as we squeezed through the Victorian turnstiles and into the lift car, with its polished wooden interior, we were all amazed to look out across an azure sea, framed by the castle to the north – and the Spa and the south. This view is so special to many of us and the only thing that could possibly improve it, would be an Aircraft Carrier at Anchor in the bay – and that’s just what we had. HMS Invincible, on her way to take part in the Tall Ships Race, had called at Scarborough. On one of those rare days when I couldn’t put a foot wrong, I didn’t rush to explain that our luck so far, hadn’t been down to my careful planning.
A walk along the beach, a donkey ride (for the smaller members of the team) and then a tray of shellfish from one of the harbour-side stalls, completed the first half of the day. “What’s next Dad”? I was thinking fast, when from the harbour – a salt-weathered sailor, called out from a bright orange, rigid-inflatable craft, promoting his high-speed trips around the carrier in the bay. “We’re doing that”. Seconds later, gripping the handles of the seats in front, our captain pushed home the throttles and we sped in an impressive arc around HMS Invincible. A ship of that size from the waterline is impressive for anyone, but for kids’ who’ve already journeyed on a steam train and a cliff lift, they now – possibly for the last time – were convinced their father was borderline Super Hero.
In 2005, the outdoor waterpark with its giant slides at North Bay was still in operation and after trying on comedy wigs in a seafront shop, we boarded an open-top bus for a trip along Marine Drive – and following a couple of hours swimming and sliding – haddock and chips beckoned.
Back to the harbour and the best fish and chips, from a small cafe that proudly displayed antique crockery from the White Star Line. Back up the lift and tired legs carried us to the waiting Flying Scotsman, who had turned to face York and was ready for the return. Admiring the engine from the platform, on a day that could not have been bettered, eyes widened in disbelief when the driver – who had become a bit of a celebrity – invited us onto the footplate.
At last collapsing onto the sprung seats of the old BR coach, we left Scarborough and chased the setting sun, after a ‘mini holiday’ that we still talk about to this day.
Dalesman Magazine – July 2018