This day, 150 years ago, was a significant one for the highlands and the western isles. It marked the opening of the first railway to reach the Atlantic north of Helensburgh. To understand how significant this was, take a look at a map and and see what proportion of the country this represents – its almost a third of the country.
The line at the time was called the Dingwall and Skye Railway but nowadays we know it a little better as the line to Kyle of Lochalsh. Given it is the primary inspiration for my layouts, I think this anniversary needs to be marked with a blog post!
The original name of the line gives away the objective of the promoters – to bring communication to the western side of Scotland, in particular the islands such as the Isle of Skye. Given that even in the 19th century the centre of the country was very sparsely inhabited, the population was concentrated on the coastal fringes and on the islands. Prior to the arrival of the railway, to ship goods or travel to the islands from the lowlands would take days. These poor communications inhibited the development of these parts and the arrive of the railway was a major spur to the prosperity of the region.
Despite the value to the region, the line was not constructed with the support of the government, instead it come about entirely with private finance. Given the sparseness of population, this was a brave venture and the promoters did not have sufficient money to reach their ultimate destination – the Atlantic seaboard. Instead they only just managed to reach a long finger of a sea-loch, Loch Carron. This was only intended to be a temporary solution to allow some income to be generated before the final push for the eventual terminus to be made. As with the best of plans, it too a long time for this ambition to be realised as the line to the present terminus at Kyle of Lochalsh did not come to be for a further 27 years.
The line started from the route up the east cost of the northern part of Scotland from Ross & Cromarty’s county town, Dingwall. It was intended to run through a fairly significant spa town, Strathpeffer, but this plan was foiled by an obstinate landowner. Perversely, therefore, the line bypassed the most significant town on the route, which hardly helped its finances! Whilst the line then travelled through sparse countryside with few centres of population, there were a series of roadheads where glens branch off. A feature of the line until the 1980s were buses coming to meet each train to provide links to the other parts of the west.
The line is a remarkable survivor as it was chalked up for closure on several occasions. Its most significant saviour was the oil industry in the mid 1970s, when the country’s biggest dry dock was built not far away at Loch Kishorn and the prospect of increased traffic persuaded the government to refuse a closure request. This prompted the railway to make efficiency savings; for example the line was the first example to use a radio signalling system 40 years ago.
The line survives to today in its extended form to Kyle of Lochalsh and (touch wood) seems to be safe for a long term future. Ok, it has a lot less charm as a railway than it used to but the scenery is still second to none and you still have the romance of heading to the wild west of Scotland – it justifies being seen as one of the worlds great railway journeys! If you have never done it, then it really needs to make your bucket list!
If you want to enjoy the charm of the line in the era that Porthcullin is set, this is a link to a fabulous video created by Ross & Cromarty council in 1972. This was deliberately rose tinted as it was a promotional tool to seek to convince the then government not to allow its closure – indeed, it was shown to parliament at the time and may even have had a hand in the saving of the line. After all, you don’t just arrive at magic, it has to be conjured…….
As an alternative, if you do want to find out more about the line there are a number of good books on the line; including one by my father I mentioned here.
Part of the concept of the back-story for Glenmutchkin is that it is at the end of a long line so that locos need to be serviced and it was also at the foot of a steep gradient, so trains need to be banked out of the station. All this is creates a lot of thirsty locomotives that would have needed servicing and attention – so it will have a busy motive power depot.
The Highland Railway’s water tanks tended to be of a similar style with a tank made of sectional components and rounded head, base and corners. There is nothing available from any of the manufacturers so it was obvious these need to be scratchbuilt.
There remains one tank of this type still in situ, at Altnabreac which I will describe in the next post. In addition to this, there are drawings from Eddie Bellis of the Kyle’s water tower and also of Garve by Henry Orbach. I have elected to build a pair – one of Kyle and one of Altnabreac (the latter being the smaller).
Kyle’s water tank from the early post steam era. Photograph with permission from Armstrong Railway Photographic Trust, JM Boyes collection.
Starting with the tanks, I laminated a series of strips of plasticard to the right height and then used a belt sander to put the chamfer on these before then making them up into a box.
As with most of my stone buildings, I use Wills random stone plastic sheets; now available from Peco. On far too many occasions I see this used with panels butted against each other; either on corners or even worse on the flat. Unless the stones are toothed into each other, this screams as being incorrect even to a layman. Therefore, it is best to form corners either from a sheet cut vertically and then chamfer the inside faces so that the coursing is retained for its full length even on the cut face.
This means that courses line up from side to front without any silly jumps, as can be seen below. This technique can not be used in all examples and sometimes it is necessary to actually tooth panels into each other by cutting corresponding dog teeth into adjacent panels.
I find that the mortar courses on Wills sheets are a bit too deep and because lots of others use it its pattern is a little too obvious; so it looses its realism (or maybe I am just so sad that I can tell a material by its stone coursing!!). I get over this by part filling the mortar courses with a plastic filler – which is basically dissolved plastic in a solvent carrier (lovely and smely!). This tends to distort the sheets as it is only applied to one side so I first laminate the sheet to some thick (1.5 or 2mm plasticard). Due to the volumes of solvent to be sloshed around in constructing buildings in this manner, it is important to allow for the solvent to escape – regretfully I have a number of coach roofs which many years later have mushy sections where the solvent has been trapped and has distorted the plastic in its efforts to cut through it and escape! I thus drill regular holes or slots in the backing plasticard, which you can see here:
Whilst the desire to mask the coursing pattern on the Wills sheet might seem a fair amount of bother given the need to reinforce the walls with an inner laimanate, I think the effect is worth the effort. A blast of grey primer shows that the coursing and texture of the stone is retained but equaly it does not look like everyone else’s!
The use of the laminations does give the advantage that slots for window frames and doors can be created. These allow an etching to be slid in, either from below or behind. They can be slid out again for painting and make this aspect a breeze to do.
And this is where they have got to; the guts of both done but with a chunk of detailing and some basework still to be done.
But lets sign this post off with a fine HC Casserley picture of a Superheated Goods using the MPD as a headshunt in the early 1950s. This photograph is used with permission and is now part of Ernie Brack’s collection. He has a substantial on line collection of photographs (including the JM Boyes collection) with a good proportion of them being of the Highland’s system – you can loose many an hour in his flickr site – this being a link to his Dingwall & Skye album.
The Dingwall & Skye Railway – A Pictorial Record of the line to Kyle of Lochalsh.
For those of you that are aware of my main exhibition layout you will be aware that it is based very firmly on the Dingwall & Skye Railway, which is the name of the line we now call either the Kyle line or occassionally the line to Skye.
I have to confess that the layout is heavily influenced by my memories of family holidays to the line in the early 1970s – we were dragged up there by my father and I at least (it all appears to be lost on my brother!) picked up a bug for the railways west of Inverness. This bug seemed to have been passed to me by my father and he was in turn infected in the late 1950s when he first made his visits to the area.
Based on his love of the line to Kyle of Lochalsh, my father’s latest book is upon the line. It does not seek to be a strict history of the line (Rails to Kyle of Lochalsh does this) but is instead a review of the line on a station by station basis. It is full of photographs (literally hundreds of them) and also a substantial number of drawings of the engineering and architectural infrastructure apparent on the line as well as around it. This covers station buildings, water tanks, bridges, sheds, signals, water columns, water tanks, cattle docks and indeed many other aspects of the line. There are historical reviews of aspects of the operation of the line, the exploration of alternative schemes that did not come to pass and some of the quirky storys of the past.
It is thus for those that like a coffee table picture book, a historical review of the highland railway, those that are interesting in modelling tbe line and those that simply are caught up in the nostalgia of the “line to Skye”…..
The Dingwall & Skye Railway – a pictorial record of the line to Kyle of Lochalsh, by Peter Tatlow ISBN 978 1906 537463 @ £27.95 by Crecy Publishing Ltd. For those of you who are members of the Highland Railway Society, you will find that your membership entitles you to a significant discount if you buy from the society. Thus if you are waivering about joining the society, you will be do well to do so if only to buy this book!