The Fair Maid of Perth

“That’s one of them Scotch stories” would have been the response of one of my work colleagues in the 1980’s had I told him what I had planned for the weekend.   Then the questions and probably some innuendo would have ensued.   Sir Walter Scott did indeed write ‘The Fair Maid of Perth’ and a great story of medieval galantry it was for those who care to read it.   I have not, though I have read his excellent novel Ivanhoe – these are free on Kindle but just bear in mind that the translation into electronic English sometimes leaves a bit to be desired!    I personally prefer the works of Robert Louis Stevenson – Kidnapped, Treasure Island and all that…

So – The Fair Maid of Perth… It was a railtour in 1986.   Railtours within the UK used to be very common in the 1970’s and 80’s.   Indeed they’re still very popular today.   British Rail kicked off Merrymaker excursions in the 1970’s which offered a day out by rail with a fixed fare and no knowing what the destination was going to be – common ones were Cleethorpes and Skegness.   They were popular with enthusiasts as well as the general public.   I can remember one ill-fated run to Skegness where on returning to the train in a heatwave (probably 1976) it was a struggle to get the doors to open because they had swollen in the heat.   Then the booked locomotive couldn’t start because it was suffering from heat stroke (actually they couldn’t get the brakes off) so a Class 47 (2,750hp) loco was replaced by a lowly Class 31 (1,470hp) for the run home to St.Pancras.   Time was lost hand over fist and additionally the loco was struggling to get the brakes to work on all the coaches resulting in a shuttling action every time the driver tried slowing – it was noticable that he was braking very early – but then the old 31’s weren’t expected to be hauling 12 coach trains when they were built!   To cap the day off we reached Leicester to find that there was a major signal issue south of Bedford because a Class 45 running light out of St.Pancras had tripped over its ballet shoes and sliced through the signalling cables just outside the station.   Every train was running with an Inspector as a Pilotman from St Albans southwards.   We finally struggled into St. Pancras in the small hours.   British Rail, to their credit, on presentation of a valid ticket ensured that we all got a cab home at their expense 🙂

Railtours grew in popularity and complexity – and the target audience divided.  Now some tours were purely aimed at the general public and others were for enthusiasts only.   Those aimed at enthusiasts were usually booked for rare motive power – perhaps the Class 84 electric which was very rare on passenger services even in the 1960’s.  Or they were aimed at running on freight only lines for those enthusiasts who collect network mileage.   I can recall the Walsall Concerto tour of 1987 – there’s nothing like a good pun is there 😉 – run by the Southern Electric Group it traversed much of the West Midlands often picking up freight only lines as well as giving Class 50 haulage for much of the journey.   Note that – two target audiences… Network grabbers and Class 50 fans.   But by comparison with The Fair Maid of Perth tour of the previous year it was a small operation.

A tour company that sprung up in the early 1980’s was Hertfordshire Railtours.   They soon got a reputation for delivering on their promises.   It was they who offered The Fair Maid of Perth railtour.   It was an ambitious programme.   Leave King’s Cross and travel via leeds and the Settle & Carlisle route to Carstairs.  From there the train would wander around the south side of Glasgow to Gourock  before retracing its steps and then diving across to Falkirk and finally Perth.   From Perth the return home was via Newcastle to King’s Cross.   This was not a one-day undertaking – the train left King’s Cross at 07:35 09th August 1986 and returned at 10:59 on the 10th!   For haulage enthusiasts it was a must.   The itinery for this mammoth tour can be read at the Six Bells Junction website.   Although the Class 47’s that were supplied at each end were left to the railway’s descretion, the booked motive power in the form of D200 and a pair of Class 27’s turned up and a class 37 was thrown in too!   To cap it all, the weather throughout was glorious 🙂   Anyway, here are a few photos from a grand day (and a bit) out…



  1. I would absolutely love to take a rail tour, Martin. This must have been a true delight–a great opportunity. The photos are great. And I hope Epi is doing much better. I hope 2014 is a good year for your whole family. 🙂

    • Hi Debra – Thanks for your loving thoughts 🙂 Awaiting doctors and appointments in the ‘modern’ national health system 😦

      Railtours are a very British thing – we are a small island so they’re relatively easy to fit in a day or weekend. I dread to think how long would be needed for a tour on the old Southern Pacific! I also think British rail enthusiasm is different in some ways to that of the good ol boys in the US of A. It would be great to compare notes some time 🙂

  2. I wonder who were the two costumed charmers? They look like Alice in Wonderland and, who knows? perhaps even a kinder gentler Red Queen!
    I hope your own Queen is coming along well, and your small Knave of Hearts.

    • They are indeed Alice and The Queen of Hearts. They are a bit of a mystery as I think they travelled with us on the train and some other people think they were locals to Hellifield who turned out to greet the special. The connection is with Lewis Carroll who lived in the area 🙂

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