Published: 31st March 2014
The Railway Touring Company (RTC) and Steam Dreams (SD) are long established steam charter train promoters and both are offering a grand nine-day steam hauled tour of the UK this Spring. First off is the RTC with their Great Britain Seven travelling holiday which will use around ten different locomotives in their round Britain holiday.
This departs on April 26 from London Victoria and reaches Truro in Cornwall that evening. Passengers will travel a scenic way via Salisbury to Exeter and along the newly re-opened Dawlish Sea Wall and into Cornwall via the Brunel Bridge at Plymouth.
The exact locomotives to be used may vary due to availability, for example, BR ‘Britannia’ No. 70000 Britannia is under repair but SR ’West Country’ No. 34046 Braunton and maybe a ‘Black 5’ No. 44932 or a GWR ‘Castle’ No. 5029 Nunney Castle will also be used.
The second day brings steam to Falmouth for the first time in several years and will take passengers to Bristol for the next overnight stop. Day three takes passengers via The Marches line which straddles the Welsh border probably being hauled by another ‘BR Britannia’, No. 70013 Oliver Cromwell running via Abergavenny, Shrewsbury and Chester before reaching Grange-over-Sands on the edge of the Lake District for the next overnight stay.
There is the stunning Cumbrian coast scenery to look forward to on Day four when the train travels via Barrow, Millom and Workington to Carlisle for a break. Then it’s off into Scotland with Edinburgh as the end destination. Appropriately, LMS ‘Royal Scot’ No. 46115 Scots Guardsman will be marching into the Scottish Capital on this leg.
Passengers can opt for a day away from trains on Day 5 or they can travel to Stranraer behind a pair of LMS Black 5s Nos. 44871 and No. 45407 on a long but very scenic journey. The train will bring a steam service to the recently reopened line via Bathgate and Airdrie so will bring out the sightseers on this part of the route.
Passengers have to make more choices from May 1 when the train splits into two. One portion travels to Inverness via the Forth Bridge and Aberdeen along the North Sea behind locally owned LNER class A4 ‘Pacific’ No. 60009 Union of South Africa to Aberdeen. From there to Inverness via Nairn the train will use another engine, as yet unspecified.
The second train will be hauled by one of the LMS ‘Black 5s’ and a LNER ‘K1’ No. 62005 to Fort William via Crianlarich and the wild deep Monessie Gorge.
Passengers on May 2 will travel between the two Scottish Highland cities of Inverness and Fort William on a circular ride via Skye and the Kyle of Lochalsh and a ferry to and from Mallaig.
Both services return to Edinburgh from their respective Highland locations using the same engines before the last day when the whole train runs from Edinburgh to Kings Cross behind the A4 from Edinburgh as far as York. After a break, the train carries on to London using the ex-LMSR ‘Duchess’ No.46233 Duchess of Sutherland.
The Steam Dreams ‘Highlands and Islands Explorer’ nine day tour commences on May 9 and also departs from London. It uses the ex-LMSR ‘Duchess’ No.46233 Duchess of Sutherland between London Victoria and Crewe where the pair of LMS ‘Black 5s take over. The pair will take the train onto the Settle and Carlisle line to Appleby for the first overnight stop.
Day two takes the train from Appleby to Inverness through spectacular mountain scenery most of the day using the same pair of engines. As with the RTC tour, Steam Dreams takes passengers on a day trip to the Kyle of Lochalsh on May 11 before visiting Dunrobin Castle the next day on a day trip.
Steam Dreams then offer passengers a pair of options where they can select a ‘Highlands’ or an ‘Islands’ option which variously offer excursions to Skye and The Hebrides or to National Trust properties such as Dunrobin Castle or the World Heritage site of St Kilda. Depending on the choice made sees passengers travelling between Inverness and Fort William via Oban and Mallaig and a ferry.
Again, the scenery is stunning and the long daylight hours will be well used and if the visit to Callanish is in good weather, you cannot go wrong!
The final two days are used to travel from Fort William to Durham for the final overnight stop and on to London using the ‘A4’, No. 60009.
On the face of it, the two tours are similar at nine days behind a steam engine and running from London to the Highlands, but the RTC tour also visits Cornwall while SD is really a Scottish tour with off-train visits arranged. One word of warning though should be issued! Be prepared to put on weight as the on-board service is excellent and opportunities to exercise limited.
These tours are not cheap but feedback from passengers who have travelled on previous tours of the UK bt steam say that the memories linger well after the actual holiday. Prices start from around £1500 and depending on your selection of itinerary and hotel accommodation, can cost up to £3000 per person.