In the morning the sky remained stubbornly steely grey and there was a steady pitter-patter of rain against the window and I instantly remembered another reason why I don’t really like going away in England – the weather is just so unreliable!
This presented us with a dilemma. Our original plan was to drive north to Thirsk and visit nearby Rieveaux Abbey and then drive home on a scenic route through the East Riding but the weather was just so gloomy that this didn’t seem sensible so we debated our options and decided to go to York and the National Railway Museum and after an excellent ‘full English’ breakfast we paid up, said our goodbyes and moved on.
It isn’t very far from Harrogate to York and Kim must have been working on her timing because as we approached the outskirts of the city she proposed that perhaps I would prefer to go and see the National Railway Museum by myself while she went shopping instead. I was quite unable to understand why anyone would prefer shopping to steam engines but I agreed of course and we set about finding a convenient car park.
And here is another reason I don’t like visiting English tourist cities – £7 to park the car for three hours, which is absolutely scandalously excessive and would probably even have had the York highwayman Dick Turpin blushing with embarrassment. So, car parked, wallet emptied, Kim made for the shops and I went in the opposite direction towards the Railway Station.
There was a long queue at the museum entrance which struck me as strange as there is free admission (it is aligned to the Science Museum in London)* but the reason was simple – there was a registration desk where visitors expecting a freebie were being shamed into making a contribution. Apparently the Museum is at risk because of under-funding so, here’s an idea, just abandon the stupid free admission to museums policy and charge people to go inside and the funding crisis is solved. (I should be a politician or a policy-maker, I’d get things sorted out)!
I had wanted to go the National Railway Museum for a long time and I was not disappointed. I started in the smaller of the two halls where there was a collection of Royal trains and carriages before going outside to the open air part of the museum where there was the chance to take a short steam engine ride. There was a price to pay so I naturally declined!
After that I went to the grand hall where there is a collection of some of the UK’s iconic steam engines including my personal favourite, the garter blue LNER Mallard (Class A4 4-6-2 Pacific steam locomotive built at Doncaster, England in 1938) gleaming to almost impossible perfection along the entire length of its fashion-model, streamlined body – it must take several hours every evening to get the fingerprints of the admiring visitors removed!
The Mallard is the current record holder of the world speed record for a steam locomotive which it achieved in 1938 by reaching a speed of 126 mph (203 kmh) in Lincolnshire between Grantham and Peterborough. It is difficult to imagine what this must have felt like as the one hundred and seventy tonne engine and tender dragged its coaches at top speed over railway lines that were designed for much lower speeds, the noise and the shaking must have been unimaginable. To see what it might have been like I paid £4 to take a ride in a simulator which tried to recreate the record breaking attempt.
In the 1930s some people were obsessed with speed and breaking records. In the same year that Mallard broke the steam powered record a man called Rudolf Caracciola drove a Mercedes-Benz W125 Rekordwagen at a speed of 268 mph (433 kmh) on a German Autobahn which is a record that still stands as the fastest ever officially timed speed on a public road.
In February 1938 Squadron Leader J.W. Gillan flew an RAF Hawker Hurricane fighter plane from Edinburgh to London in forty-eight minutes and achieved a record land plane speed of 409 mph (660 kmh). I expect that he was in a bit of a rush to get back to the officer’s mess before closing time!
Also in 1938 Sir Malcolm Campbell broke the water speed record in Bluebird K3 when he achieved a speed of 141 mph (227 kmh) on Lake Maggoire in Switzerland. In the following year he broke the record again in K4 on Lake Coniston in the Lake District in England.
Time was passing by now and it looked as though I might have to attempt a speed record of my own if I was to see all of the exhibits in the Museum before returning to the car park for the agreed rendezvous time with Kim but in this task I failed because there was just too much to see in the memorabilia section of the Museum so I left thinking that one day soon I may have to return.
The journey home was simply awful. It rained continuously and there were hold ups, road works and diversions for what seemed like the entire drive and I found myself sympathising with motorists trying to get in and out of Gibraltar when the Spanish border police start playing up. To be honest I was glad to get home and the difficult driving experience just added one more good reason why I will not be going away again in the UK any time soon.
* Other Free Admission Museums in the UK:
- Imperial War Museum, London
- Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
- National Coal Mining Museum for England, Wakefield
- National Football Museum, Preston
- National Maritime Museum, London
- National Museums Liverpool
- Science Museum, London
- Natural History Museum, London
- National History Museum, Tring, Hertfordshire
- People’s History Museum, Manchester
- Royal Armouries, Leeds
- Victoria & Albert, London