Fifty Years of Trainspotting

My friend Alan Hornall from platform 4 at Reading Station used to say ” Once a trainspotter always a trainspotter” and although I dislike these kind of snappy convenience phrases, I think he might have been right. You just can’t shake it off.

Whenever I glimpse a thundering locomotive it causes my head to turn whether I want it to or not, and yes, I always see if I can get the number. Extraordinary I know, but having spent thousands of hours watching trains and recording their identification when I was a little lad , it’s ingrained in my DNA.

I’m not quite sure why being a trainspotter is supposed to be so embarrassing. Our black plastic shoes we used to wear were cutting edge at the time because plastic had only just been developed, and I’m pretty sure we invented the lunch box. There was no better sight than parkas and ankle-swingers flapping and billowing in the draught created by a passing train…..they were like sails in an autumn breeze. There was no greater camaraderie than a cluster of eager spotters huddled at the end of a platform, straining eyes to be the first to spot the rare loco appear through the heat haze, and diesel fumes, when it first came into view around the corner past the gasworks.

Just to prove my credentials, here’s my Loco Log Books ( and a trainspotting platform ticket) dating back to 1967:P1190151

Even though I used to be more of a diesel locomotive enthusiast, the Flying Scotsman coming to Devon and Cornwall was a temptation I could not resist. Of course I had to observe it from the comfort of a kayak seat and established that the sheltered waters of the Teign estuary would suit the bill nicely in terms of a steady platform for photography and nice long view.

As usual I arrived far too early but while twiddling my thumbs waiting on the water  I was treated to a couple of diesel locos, one of which was probably as old as I was. It was just like old times. Amazing, as I thought that this type had been scrapped ages ago. I’m sure they struggle to pass emissions tests.

class 37
Ancient Class 37 loco
Class 47
Marginally less ancient Class 47 loco

A couple of minutes before the ‘Scotsman’ appeared, one of its (relatively) modern counterparts, the (iconic) 125, swept past.


The shore  was dotted with very excited ‘Scotsman’ watchers. A photographer within talking distance of me had driven all the way down from Yorkshire to see it. He was thrilled when the sun emerged from behind a cloud just before the train was due as the light would have been absolutely perfect, but unfortunately the sunlight had disappeared again when the smoke of the engines appeared above the distant houses of Teignmouth.

There was a prolonged, and much louder than I had expected, cheer from the scattered throng as the two steam engines appeared beside the water….The Flying Scotsman backed up by a ‘Black Five’ locomotive. Wow! What a sight!


A couple of days later the Scotsman ventured across the Royal Albert Bridge into Cornwall for the first time EVER.

On the Cornish shore Mr Brunel seemed to be standing  (despite being cast of bronze) very tall and proud  in anticipation of this legendary locomotive about to cross his 159 year old bridge  for the very first time. And the number of people who had turned out to watch would have given him goose bumps.

The Best of British: Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Unfortunately for those observing from kayaks (er….it was actually only me) it was an appallingly cold day with savage northerly wind and rain and the only way I could get a steady platform for photography was by reversing my kayak up onto a mud bank.

Despite this, the Scotsman announced its arrival into Cornwall with gusto.


The steam engines are now gone so it’s back to a bit of wildlife watching in the wilderness, at least until the China Clay train rumbles into the docks at Fowey when I happen to be passing:



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