An excited seven-year-old American girl’s dreams of travelling on Scotland’s Harry Potter steam train almost hit the buffers after her dad mixed up a postcode … and drove 150 miles the wrong way to Carnforth.
They should have ended up at Fort William in the shadow of Ben Nevis, Britain’s highest mountain, to catch the Jacobite Express along the picturesque West Highland line.
So when Phoenix Askevich, daughter Libby and family friend Tom Carder arrived at Carnforth clutching their first-class tickets for that morning’s train at the town’s station, a puzzled porter scratched his head before telling them: “Sorry guys, you’re going to have to write this one off.
“Not only are you at the wrong station, but you’re in the wrong blooming country. Fort William is about 250 miles away in Scotland – and your train leaves in less than an hour.
“Even Harry Potter’s magic broomstick couldn’t get you to Platform Nine and Three Quarters in such a short time!”
Phoenix, 48, from Austin, Texas, said: “Our hearts sank. It was only then I realised I’d keyed train operator West Coast Railways’ postcode instead of the station’s into my SatNav before we set off from Edinburgh at six o’clock that morning.
“We thought our holiday was ruined. Libby is a great Harry Potter and travelling on the same train over the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct that featured in the films was to be the highlight of her visit to Britain.
“She had never seen a real steam train before, let alone ridden on one, so as a special treat I paid more than £150 for first class tickets for the three of us to experience the Jacobite Express.”
But Libby still managed to have a magical day out after a phone call to West Coast Railways’ nearby head office.
First the three Americans were shown round Carnforth’s restored station where the classic 1940s movie Brief Encounter was filmed and posed under the iconic clock where stars Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson shared an illicit kiss.
Then they were given a behind-the-scenes tour of the nearby train depot where WCR maintain and repair their fleet of historic steam and diesel locomotives.
Finally they were presented with replacement tickets for the following day’s Jacobite Express … along with a free night’s stay at a slap-up hotel in Fort William.
Systems engineer Phoenix said: “It turned out marvellous – everybody was absolutely wonderful. West Coast Railways went out of their way to make sure we were well looked after. And riding on the Harry Potter train was just as magical as we had imagined.
“Travelling over that magnificent viaduct with an old steam locomotive puffing away and blowing its whistle was truly spell-binding.
“Even better, a TV crew from Channel 4 were filming on the train and they took some footage of Libby. So now she can tell her friends back home how she went to Britain and became a movie star!”
West Coast Railway boss Pat Marshall said: “We were happy to go the extra mile so as not to disappoint Phoenix’s daughter, whose dream was to ride the Jacobite over the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.
“After all, because of her dad’s postcode boob, they’d already gone many extra miles!
“As a grandmother to small children myself I knew how important it was to make Libby’s wish come true. So I was delighted to wave my own magic wand and ensure this lovely family had a really wizard day out.”