Behind the Firth of Tay

Posted by Ben Angus On July 16, 2010 Comments Off on Behind the Firth of Tay


“Dillicar troughs provided steam locomotives with an opportunity to replenish their water tanks without stopping. This was achieved by lowering a scoop into the trough situated between the rails. The train depicted is a northbound Anglo-Scottish express hauled by Britannia Pacific No. 70052 “Firth of Tay”. It is shown passing through Lune Gorge, Westmorland, in the early 1960s, though sadly the landscape has now been transformed with the advent of the M6 motorway. Barry Graham Price lives and works in Wolverhampton, where he was born in 1938, and specialises in railway, aviation and maritime subjects.”

There are undoubtedly many reasons why people collect specific models. In my own case it is normally to remember a point in time when being close to ‘the real thing’ was so important and meant so much to me.

Those of us who model railways have the added advantage of actually running our prized items, something that is not possible if you only collect pictures or dolls house items! That essential third dimension of movement makes all the difference. When it can be matched up to an actual performance then that is really something more than simple nostalgia.

When I was made aware that Hornby were about to release R2564 BR 4-6-2 “Firth of Tay” Britannia Class 7MT, it reminded me of a journey I made behind this locomotive in 1960 for most of the way between Edinburgh and Carlisle. The following is my record of the day.

My own favourite ‘Britannia’ from youthful train-spotting days around Glasgow was “Firth of Clyde” and couldn’t resist purchasing the Hornby model when it became available for my collection.

Monday 11 July 1960

70052 ‘Firth of Tay’
Edinburgh (Princes St)
Carstairs (dep)
Pittinain Troughs
Gretna Junction


Carstairs class 4 2-6-4T 42216 departed on time from Princes Street Station. Edinburgh lay under dull and dreary weather in its best “Auld Reekie” mood. Soon a steady 35 mph was maintained between Merchiston and Midcalder, arriving at Carstairs on time.

Standard ‘Britannia’ pacific locomotive 70052 ‘Firth of Tay’ departed from Carstairs southwards some seven minutes late. Apparently the delay at the station had been due to a coach inspection by the guard and two other station staff.

Soon we were thundering over Pittinain troughs and achieved a maximum speed of 60 mph between Carstairs and Thankerton. Tinto hill (2335 feet) near Symington was barely visible in the inclement gloom. The whole environment was sadly uninviting

Little time had been made between Crawford and Elvanfoot. From Crawford to the border there were many signs of the modernisation being carried out towards the electrification of the “West Coast” line. This was particularly so after Beattock where work was in hand with the widening of track bases and heightening of bridges.

New concrete always has that initial fresh and gleaming appearance. Contractors lorries, tractors and equipment were strewn along the embankment and at the edges of the adjacent A74 (T) road. Hundreds of pipe casings lay down the side of the tracks for a good distance from Elvanfoot.

Ironically on the steep bank between Elvanfoot and Beattock the train steadily increased speed to reach a maximum of 70 mph once over the summit, now only fifty miles to Carlisle. Hart Fell (2651 feet) could barely be seen on the left across the plains from Beattock, arriving at that station some six minutes late.

By the time we reached Lockerbie, the clouds started to break up and soon the morning became brighter. Average speed between Beattock and Lockerbie was 70 mph and at Dalwoodie 70052 achieved 75 mph! For all that, the six minutes late tag had not been cut back.

The railway between Beattock and Ecclefechan takes advantage of Annandale – an almost flat belt of fields and trees tapering from a mile wide at Beattock to four miles wide at Ecclefechan – for gently curving track and high speed purposes. Annandale is shouldered at these boundaries by low lying hills. Indeed, not far north from Beattock in the heart of the Moffat Hills, is the source of the River Annan.

Glasgow and South Western metals merged with us at Gretna Junction before rushing into England over the River Stark, with the bridge displaying two emblems, respectively for Scotland and England. The girder bridge over the River Esk was being reconstructed necessitating very low speeds over the metalwork. At Rockcliffe a flyover was being built adjacent to the new marshalling yards at Kingmoor still under development.

Kingmoor sheds were passed at Etterbridge Junction, before entering Citadel Station very slowly at 10.02 am – still that dreaded six minutes late!

By Iain Lamb

Comments are closed.