Michael Portillo continues his journey from London to Edinburgh at a leisurely pace up the East Coast Main Line, testing a state-of-the-art train on the way.
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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.
At a time when railways were new,
Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.
I'm using a Bradshaw's guide to understand how trains transformed Britain,
its landscape, its industry, society and leisure time.
As I crisscross the country, 150 years later,
it helps me to discover the Britain of today.
My journey towards Edinburgh chugging along the route of the
Flying Scotsman has brought me to County Durham,
where I'll look at the rolling stock of today and reflect on a Victorian
author's view of Wonderland.
I'll smoke out a fishy story in Northumberland,
before crossing the border into Scotland to enjoy nature conservancy.
This trip has taken me up the East Coast Main Line from London's
King's Cross, through the counties of Hertfordshire,
Bedfordshire and on via Cambridgeshire to the market town of Newark.
I visited the former port of Stockton,
and I'm heading to the coastal towns of Alnmouth and Dunbar before
finishing at Edinburgh.
This leg starts in north-east England, calling at Darlington,
before moving on to the harbour town of Alnmouth.
I'll end across the Scottish border in Dunbar.
On this journey I step through the looking glass...
Michael, are you all right?
..prove there's no smoke without fire when it comes to Northumbrian delicacies...
Right, quite enough of that, I think!
..and rock the boat over Scottish waters.
My thoughts on the coracle?
Possibly the most impractical thing I've ever set eyes on.
My first stop will be Newton Aycliffe,
a new town founded in 1947 but Bradshaw's remarks,
"Passing Aycliffe we reach Shildon, at which place the Stockton and
"Darlington Company have their locomotive works."
In railway terms, we are on ancient hallowed ground,
because the first trains ran between Stockton and Darlington in 1825.
On the 27th September of that year, the world's first steam train to run
on a public railway made its maiden journey.
George Stephenson himself drove Locomotion No 1 and people
travelled miles to witness the momentous occasion.
Having witnessed the birth of public railways,
this area now has a part in their future.
Two centuries on, Hitachi chose to open a state-of-the-art train factory here.
Plant manager, Darren Cumner, is showing me around.
Darren, this is absolutely spectacular.
Obviously, completely brand-new and masses of exciting railway activity
going on. When did you join the project?
So, I joined May 2012.
It was a green field at that stage.
It really was a green field, just sort of cows in the field.
We are here in one of the most modern railway facilities in the world,
but we're also close to the origin of steam-powered railways.
Do you have any sense of that railway history?
Yes, we're close to where the birthplace of the railways was.
Our test track actually runs by the side of that.
In Victorian times, the area was a hive of railway activity.
In their heyday, locomotive works in Shildon and Darlington employed
thousands of workers building locomotives,
carriages and wagons for a burgeoning market.
The last railway wagon works closed in 1983.
By then, road haulage had overtaken rail freight,
and the industry was in decline.
Railway technology has advanced dramatically since the 19th century.
These trains are shipped as shells from Japan and are fitted out by the
workforce in Newton Aycliffe.
They then undergo rigorous testing,
both on and off track before joining the fleet.
So what are the types of train that you're making here?
So, on the left-hand side here is the 8200.
This is for the Edinburgh to Glasgow improvement programme,
so it's our commuter train.
And on the right-hand side is Intercity Express programme
and these are high-speed trains which are going to run on the
East Coast Main Line and Great Western Main Line.
There are presently 600 employees and the plan is for the workforce to
grow by another 300, mainly local people.
I can count the number of people who are not from the north-east on one hand.
We wanted an employee that could work as a team and we've been very,
very fortunate that people have got a lot of transferable skills and
we're delighted with the workforce we have.
-Nicky Bones is one such employee.
-Nice to meet you.
-Good to see you.
-What is this contraption here?
-This is the traverser.
So we use this to transfer the train from one production line to another,
and when the car is finished, to deliver down the track to the test house.
Thank you very much.
-Two doors down.
-Shall I do that?
To the left.
I have sometimes driven a train before but never sideways.
Once the train has been assembled, it will be able to carry over 600
passengers, and travel up to 140mph.
But before being put to use,
it needs to pass the all-important test drive.
Michael Tait is at the controls.
Very good to see you. And you're going to drive us what kind of distance?
About a kilometre or so down the test track.
Well, an exciting moment for me to be in this brand-new train.
-Shall we get in position and go?
Michael, we are inching our way out of the shed,
will we get up any speed at all?
Yes, we'll take it around 16mph.
And is that enough speed for you to test what you need to?
Yes, we can perform all our tests heading east and west up and down
the test track.
We are running along by the Network Rail track and we've
reached a speed limit of 15mph!
We can go for it.
This train will undergo testing over thousands of hours,
before being released to the mainline.
I'm leaving the test tracks to resume my journey on the public railway.
Next stop, Darlington.
-Michael Portillo has joined us for the ride
He's still working his way through Bradshaw's Guide
We're going to be on the BBC
So I hope you're not somewhere you shouldn't be!
Graham Palmer is the rhyming conductor.
-Nice to see you.
-Thank you for the rhymes.
You're responsible for poetry in all your announcements, are you?
Guilty as charged, yes!
-How long have you been doing that?
-Back in December 2014,
we were asked to deliver a season's greeting.
Be an angel this Christmas and be pleasant and nice
To your fellow passengers and rail staff alike
So I made up a rhyme till the end of the year
The passengers loved it, they'd clap and they'd cheer
Then after that, they asked, we like it in rhyme
We'd like you to do it all of the time
But the best thing about working the train as I do
Is when a customer says, "Nice journey, thank you!"
So do you always speak in rhyme or do you actually speak in prose as well?
Well, I do speak in prose as well.
It would be so easy to say I'm a poet and I didn't know it.
I say things in rhyme all the time,
but I assure you, I do speak in prose as well, Michael!
-And the passengers do love it?
-They do, they really enjoy it.
One of our drivers said, "I bet you can't make a rhyme for each station."
I love a challenge so now I've got at least one rhyme for each station.
What was the most difficult station to make a rhyme out of?
Newton Aycliffe is difficult for a rhyme, actually.
Your next station's Newton Aycliffe, that's your next call
So please take your luggage and children and all.
I just throw a few things in.
It doesn't actually need to rhyme with the actual station.
Well, thank you, Graham.
-You've cheered my journey up and I'm sure you've cheered many travellers' journeys.
-Thank you, Michael.
Enjoy the rest of your journey in our beautiful part of the world.
-Thank you for travelling Northern rail,
have a safe onward journey and join us again.
I need to alight at Darlington to reach my next destination,
Located a few miles away, its bridge over the River Tees marks
the boundary between North Yorkshire and County Durham.
"Croft-on-Tees, with an old church," says Bradshaw's,
"is a fashionable place, much frequented by invalids on account of its mineral waters."
Here, a young man spent his formative years.
His bubbling imagination produced tales that were surreal,
which for 150 years have entertained and terrified children in equal
measure. I should know, I was one of them.
That young man was Charles Dodgson,
who became better known under the pen name Lewis Carroll.
Historian Chris Lloyd takes me through the looking glass.
Chris, it is a stunning rectory.
What's the connection with Lewis Carroll?
Well, he moved here in 1843 when his father became rector of Croft,
so this became their family home.
He was 11 years old, a shy, stammering boy.
Croft, at that time, was actually quite a prosperous place,
partly because of the railway, because just a couple of years earlier,
the first section of the East Coast Main Line had opened.
And was the boy interested in the railway?
I think he was almost obsessed by it, actually.
You are suddenly thrust amongst it,
this great powerful steam-snorting technology.
He loved it. In fact, in the garden here,
he had his own little toy railway that he set up.
It was a wheelbarrow with a big barrow on it and a couple of trucks
behind it and him and his brothers and sisters used to play here.
They had stations and refreshment rooms and they had timetables.
They had a timetable, did they?
The timetable was very important in the whole proceedings.
In fact, Bradshaw was very, very important in this whole thing,
because in 1855, he wrote a three-act mock operatic parody
of your book, of Bradshaw.
-Yes. He called it, La Guida Di Bragia.
And the book itself actually appeared in there as a book with
arms and legs trying to restore law and order to the mayhem.
Where was this stuff coming from? He had such a vivid imagination.
He had a vivid imagination but he was bringing in all the things that
were around him as well, to make it really realistic.
Of course, in Bradshaw's day, everybody would be wandering around
looking at their old-fashioned pocket watches going,
"Oh, no, tyranny of time, I'm late, I'm late, I'm late,"
which is what the White Rabbit of course does in Alice In Wonderland.
St Peter's Church stands just across from the rectory garden and
Lewis Carroll knew it well.
There are all sorts of strange stories in the stonework.
Take this, for example, a 13th century carving, but have a look there.
A wonderful cat face.
Now, Michael, have a place at the altar and say your prayers.
-The faces change.
Imagine you're an 11-year-old boy so you're much smaller and go and
see what it's doing now.
It's the most curious thing, as you said.
You've just got a grin and not a cat at all.
It is the Cheshire Cat.
Carroll was also inspired by a local Saxon legend.
It was said that the region had once been in the grip of a fearsome
dragon who ruthlessly burnt its enemies.
In Alice Through The Looking Glass,
the Jabberwocky is a story of the dragon who does terrible things and
needs to be slayed.
Here it is, here is the stanza of Anglo-Saxon poetry,
and because it's Through The Looking Glass,
the first stanza was published back to front,
so you need a looking glass to read it.
And in the looking glass I read, "Twas brillig and the slithy toves,
"Did gyre and gimble in the wabe, All mimsy were the borogoves,
"And the mome raths outgrabe."
Outside, hidden away in the bushes,
there is yet another fount of inspiration for Lewis Carroll.
-Well, well, well.
-Yes, it's a well, Michael.
A spa well, actually.
Erm... In Lewis Carroll's day, gullible people from London would
come up on the mainline to the train, to the station near his house,
to come and take these rather foul-scented sulphurous waters.
They believed that it had magical properties, and when they drank
them, they would do magical things to their bodies.
And that, I think, is the real nub of Alice In Wonderland.
Because Alice tumbles down the rabbit hole,
and there she finds a bottle with "Drink me" on it.
And so she drinks the water just like they drank this water,
and it does magical things to her body.
Michael, are you all right?
Ah! I'm late!
I'm late! I've got a train to catch, I'm late! I'm late!
Thank you, no.
Next stop, Alnmouth.
Bradshaw's tells me that the area has grown up under the protection of
the Dukes of Northumberland,
whose noble baronial castle covers a height over the River Aln.
Below those lofty summits for hundreds of years before the invention of
tobacco, the ordinary folk were already smoking.
Alnmouth is a coastal village whose maritime traffic declined with the
advent of the railways. But what the trains took away in sea trade,
they substituted with tourism.
Located on the East Coast Main Line,
Alnmouth became a popular Victorian seaside destination.
Today, tourists also come for the magnificent Alnwick Castle.
A little further north along the coast lies Craster,
a village renowned for a culinary delicacy on which I'm hooked -
Neil Robson is the fourth-generation of this smoking family firm.
Have you any idea, Neil, how long people have been smoking fish?
Oh, well, these smoke houses were built in 1856.
But I mean, the smoking of fish has gone on a lot longer than that.
Vikings smoked fish, Lindisfarne Gospels mentioned the smoking of fish.
What made people first want to smoke fish?
Well, originally it was preserve them.
They would be heavily salted and they would have a lot more smoke on them.
Not really to enhance the flavour like it is now.
People like the smoke flavour.
And then why in Craster?
Craster was quite a big fishing port at one time.
The herring that came past this part of the coastline were probably at
their best. That's how we got our reputation.
There was a good oil content and they were a nice size.
So as the herring came innocently around the coast, you nabbed them.
We did indeed. They'd be brought to shore and we smoked them.
We sent them down to London by train, actually.
My grandfather used to have to go to the local station by about
seven o'clock in the morning to get them down to Billingsgate for the next day market.
But there haven't been any herring landed in Craster for 30, 40 years.
So where did this fellow come from?
That was actually, it started off in the North Sea.
It was caught by a Scottish boat.
But it was actually landed in Norway.
You're a well travelled fish, aren't you?
A well travelled fish, yeah.
You've been in the industry a while.
Do you remember supplying the railways?
I mean, my memory is that no self-respecting gentleman could board the
Flying Scotsman and not order kippers for breakfast.
Well, we probably didn't supply the Flying Scotsman,
but certainly kippers were always an integral part of the breakfast menu
in the old British railway days.
I think they ought to bring them back.
Kippers remain a British favourite,
and the company supplies leading supermarkets across the country.
As a continuing tradition, the smoking of herring requires new
generations of workers to be trained.
And I get hauled in.
This is the first stage of the process, Michael.
We need to split the fish.
So, we need to load the wheel...
-..just by pushing the fish gently into the grips there.
We'll miss every other one.
-Just because you're with your first time on the machine.
Apart from the use of machines to split the herring,
not much has changed in the curing process.
The fish is placed in a solution of water and salt.
Another 20 kilos of fish into the brine.
And then just arrange them so they're flesh down, flatten them out.
Fleshy side down.
That's so they're in contact with the brine.
-There we are!
And hung in smoke houses where a combination of white wood shavings
and oak sawdust is lit to smoulder for hours.
Right, quite enough of that, I think.
The kippers spend up to 16 hours in the smokehouse.
Of course, I have a train to catch,
but fortunately there's a batch ready to eat.
Handsome rack of kippers.
I have appreciated this is a thoroughly manual process.
What's your tip? How long will it be before I don't smell of kipper?
Oh, 48 hours, I would imagine.
A kipper in a bun with a view of Dunstanburgh Castle,
which was built in the 14th century.
They were already smoking herrings by then.
But my guess is that when all the buildings of the 21st century are
remembered only in history books, they'll be smoking them still.
My train tracks hug the Northumberland coast.
I pursue my journey across the Scottish border.
My next stop will be Dunbar.
The guidebook tells me it's a seaport town situated at the mouth
of the Firth of Forth on a gentle eminence.
The appearance of the country in every direction is striking and
picturesque. Long before my Bradshaw's,
the mind of a young Dunbar boy had been shaped by the place's natural
beauty in a way that would transform a far-off land.
Dunbar can thank its location for some of Scotland's sunniest weather,
but it has also made it a repeated battleground.
Its castle was once one of the most important fortresses in the country,
but by the time of my Bradshaw's, it was already in ruins.
Here lived John Muir,
a man of vision who went on to play a pivotal role in protecting the
natural wonders of the United States.
Jo Moulin is a museum officer at John Muir's birthplace.
So what impact did this beautiful,
craggy environment have on the young Muir?
It certainly gave him his passion for wild places.
Several books of his have been published and there was a wonderful
book called The Story Of My Boyhood And Youth, and the first chapter
of that really sets the scene for his childhood in Dunbar.
And it goes along the lines of, "When I was a boy in Scotland,
"I was fond of everything that was wild,
"and all my life I've been growing fonder and fonder of wild places and
In 1849, John Muir's family moved to a farm in the United States.
It was only a matter of time before he would explore his new country's
He went on an incredible 1,000 mile walk from Indiana to the
Gulf of Mexico, and then from there ended up in California.
And his arrival in California saw him in Yosemite Valley,
and that was really where he was based for a lot of his life.
He travelled to every major continent around the world,
but he devoted a lot of his life and his studies to Yosemite Valley.
During his time in the Yosemite Valley, Muir became
concerned about the effect on the environment of felling the
magnificent giant redwood trees.
He became an ardent defender of the forest.
What did he do with this passion?
He wrote. He wrote a series of newspaper articles,
and those writings rose awareness of the issues and resulted in a letter
from the President of the United States,
from President Theodore Roosevelt, who said,
"I'd like you to take me camping in Yosemite on my own,
"with nobody else around us."
What an extraordinary thing.
President of the United States asks a Scotsman from Dunbar to go camping
with him. What was the result of that?
The result was a bill that was passed in Congress that set in
motions the creation of the US National Park Service.
His legacy lives on.
A new generation of nature lovers is exploring the river in coracles,
a traditional basket-like craft.
These have been made locally for the John Muir awards.
East Lothian junior rangers Rachel and Fraser have invited me to join them...
..provided I can get afloat, of course.
My thoughts on the coracle?
Possibly the most impractical thing I've ever set eyes on.
Almost impossible to paddle.
If you tilt your head, you're likely to capsize.
Like a fairground ride, and therefore, lots of fun.
Rachel, you're a junior ranger. What does that mean?
We help the ranger service do different things.
So we do quite a lot of conservation stuff to do with the plants.
So we cut back different species of gorse at beaches to help different
plants regrow, and do quite a lot of hedge clearing as well.
Ah! And do you enjoy it?
Yeah. I love going to the beaches here, they're so nice.
Tell me honestly, do you think we're going to survive this horrible ride?
I'd say about 50-50.
Although the Industrial Revolution brought pollution to the countryside,
the railways enabled people to visit places of natural beauty.
Whether in John Muir's native Scotland or in the United States,
where he inspired the National Parks.
Even the highly imaginative rail enthusiast, Lewis Carroll, could not
have conceived the sleek high-speed trains of today.
Though I think he would have shared my disappointment that in the
restaurant cars, they are unlikely to be serving Craster kippers.
'Next time, I'll need plenty of brawn...'
-It's quite heavy, isn't it?
-It's very heavy.
'..a strong stomach...'
Here we have a book made from the skin of a murderer.
'..and a musical ear.'
Here goes, everybody.
After his epic trip north on the Flying Scotsman, Michael Portillo continues his journey from London to Edinburgh at a leisurely pace up the East Coast Main Line.
In Newton Aycliffe, he tests a state-of-the-art passenger train on tracks which follow the route taken by George Stephenson's steam engine on its historic journey in 1825. Through the looking glass at Croft-on-Tees he discovers a curious potion at the childhood home of Victorian writer Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, and finds the author was also a fan of Bradshaw.
In the coastal village of Craster, Michael discovers the Victorian smokehouses of a family firm still active today and learns how to smoke a kipper. Crossing the Scottish border he reaches Dunbar, birthplace of a visionary Scot who made his mark on the landscape of America. Michael ends this leg rocking the boat on the River Tyne in a coracle.