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Flying Scotsman, the world’s most famous railway locomotive, steams into Kent for rare visit to county

Built in 1923 for the London and North Eastern Railway, Flying Scotsman has become a byword for the golden age of steam on the railways of Britain.

This afternoon the famous locomotive toured Kent on a rare visit to the county, making the penultimate trip before coming off the tracks for an overhaul prior to her centenary year. Reporter Rhys Griffiths was among those on board...

Reporter Rhys Griffiths onboard Flying Scotsman
Reporter Rhys Griffiths onboard Flying Scotsman

There is definitely a cloak-and-dagger feel to this much-anticipated event, times and locations passed secretly lest the arrival of our ageing star should trigger a wave of eager fans, desperate to secure a selfie with this glamorous icon.

And although she may be pushing 100, the moment she sweeps into your presence it is obvious why so many are instantly star-struck by the merest glimpse. They truly do not make them like this any more.

Flying Scotsman, perhaps the most famous steam locomotive the world has ever known, remains box office to this day.

Today more than 450 railway enthusiasts have paid up to £189 per person for the chance to ride on board a rail tour of Kent hauled by the locomotive on its first ever visit to the county.

They set off from London Victoria this morning, and I would join the train at Canterbury West as it set off for a circular tour of the coastal line through Dover and Folkestone, returning to the cathedral city via Kent's historic railway engineering hub at Ashford.

Passengers on Flying Scotsman's tour of Kent
Passengers on Flying Scotsman's tour of Kent

Arriving into Canterbury on a rather more bog standard Southeastern train, we were greeted by packed platforms. "I never knew Margate was so popular," quipped a passenger, as we stepped off the high-speed train bound for Thanet.

Crowds had flocked to the West station just to catch a glimpse of the famous engine.

Before departing for its round trip across east Kent, the loco needed watering in the sidings alongside the Good Shed restaurant and market.

All around people of all ages jostled for a look at the magnificent engine, snapping pictures and grabbing selfies.

Due to earlier issues leaving London, our departure time slips by and the crowds and marshals stewarding them are starting to grow a little restless.

The Flying Scotsman arrives at Canterbury West station

Unseasonal spring sunshine means those waiting on the platform opposite need to be brought water while we wait, but I'm sure they prefer the sun to the chill and the rain more usual for this time of year.

Then, to everyone's delight, our train backs into platform two, and it's all aboard.

Crowds of passengers for the circular afternoon tea trip surge towards the carriages, eager to take their seats on the vintage carriages being hauled by Flying Scotsman today.

Among the day's guests is one woman with a rather unique connection to the famous locomotive up front.

Valerie White who was evacuated by Flying Scotsman
Valerie White who was evacuated by Flying Scotsman

"I was evacuated to York as a baby and as far as I know it was on the Flying Scotsman," 80-year-old Valerie White said.

Just a toddler when she was sent north from London during the Second World War, her family were treating her to a trip with the Scotsman all these years later.

"This is nostalgic moment," she said. "It's lovely, especially when you get a whiff of the smoke."

Today's rail tour was organised by The Steam Dreams Rail Co. which began taking passengers on day trips in 1999 and now organises steam-hauled trips to more than 25 destinations across the UK.

Founder Marcus Robertson, who was on board for today's journey, explained that unlike any other engine, Flying Scotsman brings out the crowds desperate to see a piece of British railway history.

Marcus Robertson, founder of The Steam Dreams business
Marcus Robertson, founder of The Steam Dreams business

"The Flying Scotsman going anywhere is an amazing thing, which you can see from the number of people that come out," he said.

"But for Kent it's particularly special because when the railways down here were designed they weren't big enough for the locomotives the size of Flying Scotsman.

"Network Rail now have this amazing gauging software which tells you which engines can fit through various places, bridges, platforms, that we didn't think they probably could.

"So Flying Scotsman is now for the first time in its history allowed to come down to Kent.

"All steam engines are fantastic to watch and listen to, but Flying Scotsman has an identity beyond that as the celebrity, the first hundred mile-per-hour engine that has somehow become an image of Britain."

From my seat at a linen-clothed table, enjoying a delightful afternoon tea, the ability of this locomotive to capture people's hearts is evident in the number of people who have come out to see her pass by.

Stations, bridges, fields, even a school playground – everywhere we pass we see people waving, taking pictures, marvelling at this icon of the steam age.

Arriving back into Canterbury, disembarking the train, I feel privileged to have experienced this piece of railway history.

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