Within minutes of receiving email notification about the HST farewell special, I had booked a place in Standard Class, a third of the price of First Class. All seats were rapidly booked.
Started the day with my first journey to London since 11th March 2020. Spent a few minutes on a nostalgic tour of St Pancras, before joining the queue for the special. A smartly-dressed young lady, burdened with large shopping bags and a huge bouquet of flowers, stood before me. Very doubtful that she was a tour participant, so I gently asked whether she was on the trip. Only then did she gratefully discover that she was in the wrong queue!
With a tight turnround of the incoming 1B23, due 10.10 and on time, participants were requested to board quickly and not to take photos before departure at 10.21. At least four of my PTG Tours regulars were encountered. Seat allocation fully respected social distancing, with only window seats being occupied. This gave plenty of space to store my documentation on the aisle seat.
Timekeeping was exemplary in both directions, with arrivals at Leicester and St Pancras both being a minute early. I took timings throughout, but have only produced performance logs for the journeys south of Corby. Beyond, there are some severe permanent speed restrictions and an undemanding schedule. Although I have witnessed countless HST's racing through my home station Flitwick, being aboard one is rarity. A delight on this occasion to pass through at the 125 mph line speed.
After crossing from the Down Fast to the Down Slow at Kettering South Junction, the brief WTT service stop at Kettering was not taken. Corby was passed on the platform-less Down line. Beyond Corby I was armed with three pre-1965 Bartholomew's half-inch maps, which show the expansive rail infrastructure existing in earlier times. The earthworks of long-closed lines are still discernible. particularly the complex north of Harringworth Viaduct. Many of my fellow passengers were oblivious of this historic environment, pre-occupied with their smartphones.
A fifteen-minute turnround at Leicester gave rise to some quick photo opportunities. In both directions the reversible Up & Down Slow was traversed south of Syston. On the return journey, a ninety-seconds signal stop took place approaching Corby. This was caused by the late-running 12.04 St Pancras to Corby entering the reversing siding. Discovered later that this Meridian was 17-minutes late departing St Pancras, then omitted its booked stops at Luton, Bedford and Wellingborough, arriving 5" late at Corby. Nevertheless, Corby was passed on time.
On the Up Slow south of Kettering, crossing to the Up Fast at Wellingborough South Junction. A good gallop then followed as far as Luton, with close to 125 mph upgrade from Bedford to Ampthill Tunnel. South of Harpenden, the special was slotted behind a preceding southbound Thameslink, the latter with stops at St Albans and West Hampstead. Luckily the Thameslink was behaving to WTT, with the timings for the HST special not offering a high-speed run-in to St Pancras.
Some final photos, before the HST left on the booked 14.34 to Nottingham, after a sixteen-minute turnround.
From my perspective the day passed with perfection. The joint organisation by East Midlands Trains, the Branch Line Society and the 125 Group cannot be faulted. A delightful touch was the serving of a commemorative small tart during the return journey. I still cannot summon up its destructive consumption!
Definitely, a day to remember.