I’ve written here before about my joy at moving to Scotland, and my grand romance with Edinburgh isn’t over, but I have let my heart stray. Now I’m in love with a railway line.
My business and family lives have me shuttling between London and Edinburgh several times a month on what must be one of the world’s greatest train journeys. It’s given me an idea for a book.
For the East Coast line is an historian’s delight – especially if you sit on the right hand side of the carriage on the way up to Scotland, or the left-hand side on the way down south. The route takes you past breathtaking sights, loaded with history. My fantasy book traces that line, telling the stories of many of the places you pass.
There are all the obvious ones: the big cathedrals at Peterborough, York (above),
and Durham (below) - and even Lincoln when there’s a problem and the train gets diverted.
There are the magnificent bridges at Newcastle, the wild sea coast looking out to Holy island, and the beautiful man-made taming of that coast at Berwick-upon-Tweed (still at war with Russia, some say, thanks to a cock-up of treaty drafting in 1856).
Along parts of the journey, the train runs parallel to the A1, which is itself the successor to the ancient road that joined south and north from the earliest times. The settlements whose stations fly by so fast that it’s hard to read the names on the signs are the old stabling and coaching centres of centuries ago: Grantham (home town of Isaac Newton and Margaret Thatcher – now apparently raped by the identikit warehouses of the retail trade); Darlington (which still sings of a past of prosperity and industry); ancient Dunbar, Prestonpans, and many more.
If you’re a regular on the line, you can afford to look out of the other window at the crucial moments. While everyone else is gasping over the sea view at Berwick, you can catch the majestic Tweed carrying the weight of Borders history through rolling hills. From the high track above Durham there’s an unmatched panorama of Victorian domestic and industrial building, and a steep, straight road that looks like a ski jump in the winter. At the other end of the route, just outside King’s Cross, there’s Alexandra Palace, high on a hill: birthplace of television news, and the site of a dramatic fire in 1980. And all that is a just a hint of the gems along the way.
Just imagine being able to make the journey with a book that told you about some of the great events, from invention and industry to battles and bombings, that have taken place just beyond the carriage window. I would love to write it. Any takers?