Fifty years ago this month saw the end of the romantic age of steam train travel in the UK.
Passengers paid 15 guineas - around £185 in today’s money - to travel on the return service from Liverpool via Manchester to Carlisle in August 1968 and that was that.
British Rail replaced steam power on the tracks with locomotives running on diesel and electric because they could run faster and work longer and were more fuel-efficient.
But steam trains were still operating elsewhere, particularly in parts of eastern Europe, and today Poland is believed to be the only country in Europe which still has regular mainline scheduled steam services.
Melton resident Paul Davies has just returned from a trip to Wolsztyn, in western Poland, where passengers can still travel on steam-powered trains six days a week on two daily return trips.
He is a regular visitor to the country to indulge his passion for steam travel and on this occasion he enjoyed being on the footplate of the engine as the train made a return trip of 72 miles to the town of Leszno with 11 stops each way.
Paul said: “The locomotive has to work hard and run fast to maintain the schedule.
“You learn very quickly that the crew are very skilled in their craft - for instance swinging a shovel full of coal into the right part of the firebox at speed is not that easy, as the coal on the cab floor normally testifies when you have a go.
“The Polish crew are proud of their skill and pride themselves on keeping to the schedule.”
Travelling on the steam trains gives him a unique insight into what it was like for passengers going back to 1830, when the first steam service was operated in the UK by the Liverpool and Manchester Railway.
He said: “Being on the footplate is quite exhilarating as you surge through the countryside watching with the crew for signals, the various warning signs, traffic crossing the track on ungated crossings, and hearing all the whistling.
“You notice the wildlife as well, red kites, buzzards, hawks and deer are frequently seen crossing the track.”
Paul’s love of steam trains began, he said, from when he was a young child and his interest in how they worked led to him joining the Royal Air Force as a mechanical engineer.
“I suppose my interest in railways, especially steam, dates back years to the time when one of my aunts would take me to Melton station in a pushchair when I was around four-years-old to watch the trains go by,” he recalled.
“This interest was nurtured by my father who had been a blacksmith and a fireman on the colliery locomotive where he worked in the village in South Wales where he was born.
“During the early part of my life this interest developed, as did my interest in photography, so I travelled quite a bit in the UK to see, experience and photograph the age of steam.”
His RAF career took over his life until his love of steam travel was rekindled 23 years ago when he saw an advert for a short break trip to Poland in Steam Railway magazine with an opportunity to see how it all worked with the crew on the footplate.
Paul has been a regular visitor ever since and his latest trip was to celebrate 21 years of The Wolsztyn Experience, which is a mutual trust society which was set up and run by British steam train enthusiasts and gives financial support for the continued use of scheduled steam services in Poland.
It runs footplate experience courses in Poland, and has been doing so for the last 21 years, after being founded by Howard Jones, who was awarded an MBE for his negotiations with the Polish authorities which initially led to retaining the last steam commuter services in Europe.
The Locomotive Depot and Museum at Wolsztyn is unique in that it still supplies steam locomotives for scheduled services - about two dozen of them can be seen there, three of which are operational.
Steam enthusiasts in Melton have, of course, been thrilled in recent years with several visits to the town station of the rebuilt Flying Scotsman, a legendary engine which worked the railways from the 1920s until being retired in 1963.
Paul enjoys photographing the new version of the Scotsman whenever it passes through the borough and he will continue to visit Poland to indulge his passion for steam.
He added: “I’ve been many times now to Poland and travelled extensively by rail often with steam-worked specials organised by The Wolsztyn Experience.
“I have been mainly down the west side of the country, from Gdansk, Wroclow, Katowice, Krakow and Zakopane, all because I was interested in steam.
“I still can’t speak much Polish although I can order a beer.”
Go online to www.thewolsztynexperience.org/ to find out more about the steam travel opportunities at Wolsztyn.