I’VE had a thing about the trains that ease out of Edinburgh Waverley bound for London ever since I was a wee laddie. The romance of this 392-mile route fired a passion in me and I’m not alone.

The UK’s most famous train, the Flying Scotsman, is not just a loco, but also the name of a route between the English and Scottish capitals, draped in rail heritage. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the famous locomotive and the founding of LNER, but the story goes back even further; a story you can follow today on your own rail adventure.

I’m starting to write this article aboard the 08.30 LNER southbound – I’ve just realised a lifelong dream and ridden in the driver’s cab between Edinburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed – a real joy. Today’s driver, Mark, seemed to be enjoying the journey almost as much as me: “It’s a proper pleasure to drive this route.

“The coastal scenery is the highlight, at its best on the stretch between Dunbar and Berwick-upon Tweed, on to Alnmouth.”

Also in the cab with us was driver team manager Andrew, who chimed in: “It’s a lovely railway line with real heritage. And the swish Azuma trains we operate these days are great for both passengers and our drivers, a real improvement on the old diesel rolling stock.”

The National: The LNER passing through Newcastle on the iconic Flying Scotsman route The LNER passing through Newcastle on the iconic Flying Scotsman route (Image: NQ)

The first Edinburgh-London trains ran in 1862 when the service was known as the “Special Scotch Express”, with a train leaving both London King’s Cross and Edinburgh Waverley at 10am in both directions. It was a route run then by the North British Railway, the North Eastern Railway and the Great Northern Railway, who came together and renamed it the Flying Scotsman.

In the 1860s, the journey time was a whopping 10 hours or more – this included the treat of a stop for lunch around halfway in York. The “Race to the North” saw two hours shaved off the journey time. Other improvements included plush dining cars and the welcome arrival of heating.

In 1923, rail industry rationalisation created the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER) to run services on the East Coast Main Line, which the state-owned company that runs the line is known as again today, tying back into the rich history.

To commemorate the 1923 company renaming, an A1 Class locomotive – the first built by the famous Doncaster Works for LNER – was christened the Flying Scotsman too. It was proudly displayed at the 1924 British Empire Exhibition.

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A technological breakthrough in coal consumption meant that on May 1, 1928, for the first time, a service was run non-stop between the capitals. By the outbreak of the Second World War, the journey time had been shaved down to just over seven hours and onboard luxuries included a barber’s.

This year, to mark the anniversary, the grand old Flying Scotsman loco is touring the UK in a swirl of steam-fuelled grandeur.

Privatisation in 1996 brought fresh challenges for the East Coast Mainline. And opportunities, with a renewed celebration of the heritage. From 1996-2007, Great North Eastern Railway didn’t just give its Flying Scotsman service the title, but hailed all its cross-border services as the “The Route of the Flying Scotsman”.

Part of its deep blue livery and fancy restaurant glamour was lost when National Express East Coast took over the service until 2009, East Coast continuing to 2015, and on to Virgin Trains East Coast up until the summer of 2018.

The current operator, London North Eastern Railway (www.lner.co.uk), has brought back a sense of romance, a proper first class, decent food and its slick Azuma Class 800 trains – deployed in August 2019.

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These Azuma trains emit 97% less carbon per passenger than a flight. The Flying Scotsman brand is now a fast daily service in one direction that eases out of Edinburgh at 05:40, arriving in London exactly four hours later, with only one quick stop at Newcastle.

There are lots of things I admire about LNER. One of them is that to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 6, 2020, they renamed the service the Flying Scotswoman for a month, and for the big day itself, it was staffed entirely by women, and welcomed women from a sweep of organisations across the rail industry.

LNER offers by far the greatest journey choice of the operators on the route of the Flying Scotsman. Young upstart Lumo (www.lumo.co.uk) has helped shake things up since it launched their Edinburgh-London services in 2021. Its one-class train can be keenly priced, with LNER reacting with its own more flexible reduced-cost ticketing, which means it’s a good time to book either. The other choice is travelling overnight from Edinburgh to London on the Caledonian Sleeper (www.sleeper.scot), with berths as well as seats.

I’m finishing this article now at the only place to stay after you step off at Kings Cross Station – the Great Northern Hotel (www.gnhlondon.com), which has been welcoming rail passengers since the 19th century.

Accessed straight from the station, this Grade II-listed old dame harks back to the grand old age of railway travel. Period posters help rev up the smoothly luxurious vibe, with the new Rails Restaurant the grandest dining room by far at King’s Cross, a fitting place to raise a toast to the continuing romance of the Flying Scotsman.