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Getting there.

If you live in London or the South of England it is around 600 miles to Inverness, since the completion of the M74 and the upgrading of the A9 in the late 1990's this is a drive that you can do in a day. A long day admittedly but you can do it without too much bother.  If you don't fancy a long drive then Several airlines will whisk you from London to Inverness in about an hour and forty minutes. Or at least they would until Covid arrived and the sky fell in.

Around about 1960 things were a little different. I doubt if Inverness even had a civilian airport, and  if it did, air travel was not for the likes of us. Unless you were a business tycoon or a world famous movie star, you got the train or you stayed at home, unless you were daft enough to try the drive.


Motorways had not yet been built, bypasses had not yet passed, so you drove through the centre of every town and city on the way. Britain was just emerging from post-war near bankruptcy, and the "White heat of modern technology" was still a dull glow in the future. Long car journeys were grim!!

Despite this every year our family would set off for the highlands, car. I would have been 3/4 Michael 7/8  I can just about remember the nightmare car journey, all but the kitchen sink packed, Michael and myself crammed into the back along with sailing boats, model aeroplanes, raincoats, welly-boots and all that we could need for a summer holiday in Scotland. Mike and I would be squabbling by the end of the road and asking if we were nearly there yet, before we got to Watford!

When they opened the first bit of the M1, I remember people lining the over-bridges to watch the cars on this wonderful new road !! ( yes they really did do this. ) However the M1 was far too short and leaving early on a Saturday morning, it would be Sunday afternoon when we arrived having spent the night somewhere on the way. An almost 600 mile journey on the roads of the late 1950;s/ early 1960's with two small children, what a prospect.  Even then, 15 years post-war Northern Scotland was still a remote far off place.  Wonderful once you got there but getting there !

Then Motor-rail arrived, and totally changed everything. The journey went from nightmare to adventure.  I remember it so well, so hard to believe that it was 60 years ago.  The getting ready must have been just as bad for Mum & Dad, well for Mum anyway. Through the retrospectoscope this much is obvious, but at the time was not my problem.


On the day of departure we would drive to the special station somewhere near Olympia in London in the early evening, then stand and watch fascinated as the car was taken and driven from a special loading dock into the back of the car transporter coaches , then from coach to coach along the train.  These were closed in coaches at the sides but you could watch your car going from coach to coach.

We would then be taken to our cabins, usually at the other end of a very long train. Mum & Dad would be in one, Mike and I next door, and guess what, Mike always insisted on having the top bunk !!  Further up the train would be a couple of ordinary coaches with seats and tables and a buffet car for drinks sweets and presumably booze, for those old enough to be allowed it. 

Mum would have brought a picnic for our supper and we would tuck into this whilst they finished loading and slowly set off heading out of London.  I don't remember what the schedule was but as the youngest I would get packed off to bed before we had gone all that far. How times have changed, back then me age 5 in bed at one end of a train, with Mum, Dad  & Mike in the Day-Coach at the other end of a very long  train did not seem to be any problem, and I was not abducted, or fiddled with by any train staff or passengers !!


To a small boy, having a proper  bedroom on a train was seriously exciting stuff and I am not sure that all that much sleeping happened but come morning, we always seemed to wake up crossing the Grampian Mountains through the Drumochter pass.  Some time during the night the train must have been shunted around as going round a bend, when the back of the train could be seen, the car containing coaches were gone !! Eek, panic panic! In fact they had gone on ahead and were unloaded and waiting for us when we got to Inverness.


Presumably the train would have been split to get it over the Pass. All together it must have been a hugely heavy train and getting that up the 1700 feet to the top of Drumochter would have been a definite no for any engines that BR would have had at the time.  Even without the car section, a second engine was needed for the climb.


Once through the hills it was a bit over an hour to Inverness, the seating coaches and buffet where we had had our supper the previous evening, served up bacon sandwiches and hot drinks, whilst we sat and watched the last 60 miles or so roll by. On arrival we all bundled off the train into the car for about an hour's drive to Boat of Garten and Nannies house at Chapelton.  Not only was there no ghastly car journey but you got an extra 4 days holiday, this presumably made it worth what must have been a substantial cost.

I have to own up to a slightly biased view. The thrill and excitement of overnight sleeper-trains is something that I have no intention of even beginning to grow out of ! Even now nothing gets my interest more than the prospect of setting off, usually on my own, a day or two in advance of the rest of the family and making my way across Europe to meet up with them in Italy, Greece or wherever we are going.


Sitting having a beer in Paris' Gare de Lyon, whilst the lackeys prepare my first class cabin to Venice, and prepare my amazing dinner, is my idea of heaven, keep your fancy airport lounges !!

Sorry, I digress this is irrelevant, the journey became part of the excitement of the holiday and somehow softened the blow of going back to London.

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