With all the events next year linked to the 50th anniversary of the end of Southern Steam, it is sometimes forgotten that much was also going on in the whole of the year running up to July 1967. Saturday October 15th 2016 is one such date as it marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most memorable trips on the SWML. Waterloo - Salisbury - Westbury - Exeter - Waterloo in a running time inside even time for the whole day! The day was set up to be one where the Southern's finest - i.e. the Merchant Navy Class - could show everyone what was possible. So the charter was planned for a light load of 8 for 280 tons gross with the honours for the day shared between Merchants 23 and 26. Holland Afrika Line handled everything east of Salisbury and Lamport and Holt Line dealt with the rest. ACE timings had been promised and this was in an environment where the network was dogged with permanent way restrictions and the potential for resignalling glitches, so the day was by no means a sinecure. We set off from Waterloo at 0910 with the inimitable Bert Hooker at the controls. A textbook 17 minutes out to Hampton Court Junction and a maximum of 83 at Byfleet before the first tsr approaching Woking. So we were three late across the junction after having come down to 15 but we then swept effortlessly up to MP 31, passing it at 71. There was further fast running in the mid eighties before another tsr at Hook and that meant we were over four late on old ACE timings by the time we sped under Battledown Flyover. However, even though we were on a rising grade the train was now really motoring. Those of you who have a copy of British Pacific Locomotives will know that the Appendix contains a remarkable run with 35029 that took the ACE to Salisbury in 73½ minutes including running from Worting to Salisbury in 27 min against the booked 30. Well, on that day in 1966 we did the same 33+ miles in 25! We first hit 90 just after Overton and apart from a momentary dip of 89 on Enham Bank next fell below 90 on the climb through Grateley. 95 over Hurstbourne viaduct, 102 just before Andover with 100 through the station, 80 over Grateley and 98 down Porton bank. We drew up in Salisbury in 79½ minutes or 71 net on a demanding 78 minute schedule. This was the entrée to quite a day of high speed. Even the run across to Westbury was quick and we gained nearly four minutes on the schedule including a tsr. Merchant 26 then backed onto the train with what the Western Region laughably called a fast schedule of 91 minutes to St David's for the 78 miles. There was clearly no intention of keeping to this schedule and Driver Parsons had us four early through Castle Cary. This became 7 minutes by Taunton and we breezed up Whiteball passing Wellington at the same speed of 66 that we had gone through Taunton. Drifting over the top at 55 we then had two tsrs on the descent to St David's where we were held outside the station after 80 minutes but were still early. Then a short shove up to Central where we had an hour layover for the loco to be serviced before setting off for home. Booked time, non stop, from Exeter to Salisbury was 95 minutes for the 88 miles. We did it in 83 or 81 net if you allow for the signal check at Sidmouth Junction. 80+ wherever we could but it's the summit speeds that were impressive - e.g. Honiton - 50, MP 133¼ - 69, MP 126¼ - 77, MP 107½ - 68, Semley - 58 (but we were rather early by then!) It only remained for Driver Kelly and Merchant 23 to take us home, again on an ACE schedule, on a busy Saturday, scheduled to arrive in Waterloo at 1720. There were also three tsrs - at Allington, Hook and Berrylands, so this was going to be tricky. With this challenging task in mind we left four early and despite the punishing tsr at Allington had only dropped half a minute on schedule by Worting thanks to some speediness through Andover (86) and beyond. Enham was topped at 73 and we were into the eighties again before easing slightly (75) for Worting and Basingstoke. The severe tsr (12) at Hook made any record speeds at Fleet impossible but I have to say that I was unprepared for us accelerating away towards MP31, cresting the top at 83 and then touching 91 in the Brookwood area before a more deferential 84 through Woking where we were still two and a half minutes behind schedule although close to booked time because of our early start. Woking to Hampton Court Junction (HCJ) was covered at an average of 85 mph and we passed the box in half a minute inside the booked time of 63 minutes, despite the two previous checks. But then there was the final tsr and a severe signal check outside of Earlsfield presumably because we were now up the tail of the service that was going to precede us into Waterloo. Nevertheless, we came to a stand at Platform 13 half a minute early in real time and in 83¾ minutes (i.e. even time) or 73½ net. An impressive performance given that we had taken no less than 21 minutes in from HCJ. A little self indulgent, perhaps, to re-live that magical day but hopefully it sets the scene for possibly something just a little special at the main event next year. However, everyone's expectations will have to drop somewhat lower than what we had on that memorable day 50 years ago!