A Right Royal Opening

The Borders Railway, the longest serving monarch, and East End criminal royalty.  There’s a savoury and unsavoury combination for Simon Walton.

Wrong kind of fog on the helipad.  There have been plenty of anecdotal reasons for rail delays, but this is surely a first.  “My lords ladies and gentlemen,” says the guard on this rather special special.  “Our departure has been delayed by a late arriving passenger.” Cue much amusement, as we all know the identity of the tardy traveller.  Well, when you’re in your eighty-ninth year, maybe you should be given a little leeway – especially if you’re on your way from Balmoral to Edinburgh and the weather has closed in to a proverbial pea-souper on Royal Deeside.   Never mind the minimal installed capacity of the Borders Railway, if the Queen is late, her train waits.

Borders3The rest of us have been within a pean of punctuality, ever since the letter dropped through the letterbox.  I say dropped.  It actually thumped.  Such is the weight of stock used on the invitation to join the Queen on the Royal Train, on her day of days, when her reign eclipsed Victoria’s longevity, and there was the small matter of reintroducing rail services to Midlothian and the Borders after a 46 year hiatus.

Whether a royalist or a republican, unionist or a nationalist, this is a bit of an occasion, and being chairman of the Campaign for Borders Rail has  given me a reason to be on board.  An honour to the office, not the individual – I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.

At least, that was the plan.

The night before had been an introduction to a different sort of royalty.  The right royal renegades from the other end of London.  Those naughty naughty Kray twins from the East End.  The Queen wasn’t present at the preview of Legend.  Maybe the fog had closed in already, precluding departure from Balmoral.  It was the Omni on Leith Street after all, not the Regal.

One may have been impressed by Tom Hardy’s portrayal of both Ronnie and Reggie Kray, but Her Majesty may not have been so enamoured of the decidedly earthy use of the Queen’s English.  The unflinching dialogue as graphic as any of the violence in this stylised version of sixties gang crime. Suffice to say, the Krays came to their version of the throne of crime a decade after Elizabeth rose to her more honourable one, and she’s still there, decades after the villainous pair were detained at her pleasure.  Their life, punctuated by brutality, was as far removed from normality as any of us would care to imagine.  On the other hand, and at the other end of the spectrum from day to day life for most of us, the experience of travelling on the Royal Train is an altogether more enjoyable departure from daily routine.  Fortunately, one wasn’t invited to meet the Krays, but one was scheduled to meet the Monarch.

The Campaign for Borders Rail has been lobbying to bring the tracks back to the Borders for over fifteen years.  As the current chairman, I was invited to attended the royal opening at Tweedbank, near Galashiels.  It wasn’t an opportunity to be missed.

Anyone who doubted the popularity of the Borders Railway need only have tuned into the world news channels, covering the progress of the steam-hauled train, as it effortlessly tackled the gradients and sinuous curves of the line through Midlothian and the Borders.  The thousands who lined the route – especially at Newtongrange and Galashiels – proved that there is an appetite for the construction yet to be satisfied.  Then there were the even greater numbers at Tweedbank, where the five hundred passengers disembarked into a welcoming throng of some ten thousand Borderers, every other one waving a flag of the Union or the Saltire.

The Queen busied her royal self in meeting as many of them as possible.  I was meant to be among them, but, somehow, things never seem to go entirely according to plan where I’m concerned.  A minor hiccough in the organisation cost me my moment with the monarch.  A misdirection had me strut away from the receiving line, and – well – the chance passed.  I hope it didn’t spoil Her Majesty’s day.

Borders4The ultimate aim is to see something akin to what was the Waverley Route reinstated all the way to Hawick and Carlisle.  It’s taken fifteen years to get as far as Galashiels.  Let’s hope it doesn’t take as long to get all the way.  When that does happen, maybe the Royal Train will be back.  I don’t know if I’ll be on it.  I don’t know if it will be waiting for Elizabeth – or maybe Charles or William, but if I should be lucky enough to get a second chance at the second Royal Opening, and don’t get sidelined a second time, maybe the reigning monarch will enquire: “Wasn’t one meant to meet you back in Tweedbank?

Whether you are born to rule or not, you can find out more about the Campaign for Borders Rail, and join the cross-border cause  at www.campaignforbordersrail.org

Header photograph shows: John Mitchell (Scottish Borders Council) – Lisa Beattie (Midlothian Council) – Simon Walton (Campaign for Borders Rail) accompanied 60009 Union of South Africa at Tweedbank for the Royal Opening on 9 September.




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