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The Far North – Let it Snow!

With portions of the country suffering from a bit too much of the white stuff of late and with some trains embedded in both snow and mud blockages, I thought it might be fun to look back at the problems that snow caused one part of the Highland Railway’s system in the past.

Even though it was not as high as many other parts of the Highland’s system, its northerly position and exposure to winds makes the Far North line prone to drifting snow; especially where the line rises across the flow country between Forsinard and Scotscalder.  This has long been a sore to the Highland Railway and there are a number of fine photographs of snow ploughs in action.  Here are a few of them.

Believed to be near Scotscalder Station; what looks like a Barney in the rear and a Medium Goods to the middle – there is a further loco lost behind the plume of snow!  Photo courtesy of the GNSRA.

From GNSR with permission to use (2)

Potentially the same train with a pair of Medium Goods and a Barney look to have a lot of trouble with a significant drift at the County March Summit (a bit to the south of Altnabreac).  You can see plenty of evidence that the ploughs could not clear the line on their own in the top photograph – note the sides to the “cutting” have lots of shovel sized depressions.

1998-8760_20a from NRM

And proof that a lot of digging was required!  Both photographs are the NRM’s.

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1998-8760_20

Snow is still a big problem in these lines; in the mid 1970’s a full train was stuck for a couple of days and needed to be supplied from the air (if anyone has any pictures of this I could use, could you let me know?).

The picture below was taken in 2010 where some DRS class 37’s had obviously been hard at work.  Photo from Outpost North RSPB.

From Outpost North RSPB

And after the exertions of clearing the line, this Barney looks as if it needs some attention if only to remove the snow.  Remember, this will have been in steam yet is still has snow on its boiler!  Photo of a Barney at Helmsdale from the HRS.

HRS Barney with Large Plough

All of the ploughs shown in the HR era are of the medium size.  There was a bigger one which begs the question of what size drifts were these used on?!?!?

 

 

 

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The Far North Line

In my last visit to the Highlands, I took my father up to almost the extremity or our island to Thurso.  The purpose of doing so was to mooch around portions of the Highland Railway north of Dingwall but also to drop in on Richard Doake.  Richard is a fellow follower of the Highland Railway and has a rather nice layout depicting a pair of the Far North line’s more interesting stations; Helmsdale and Thurso.

Although Richard has sought to use a large degree of ready to run stock, most of the infrastructure on his model has been scrachbuilt so that it captures the Highland flavour.  This includes signal boxes, goods sheds, water tanks and the like – the combined effect works as this is one of the most authentic feeling Highland layouts I have seen.

Richard high level Thurso

An overall view of the main part of Thurso.

Richard Black 5 at Thurso

The train shed is a reduced liength version of the real thing (which is still there for those that don’t know).  This view would have been a daily occurance in the late 1950s as a hiker concludes its long journey from Inverness with the Thurso portion of a Far North train.

Richard Thurso cabin

The signal cabin at the station throat.

Wee Ben at Thurso

A small ben, Ben Wyvis, does some shunting in Thurso’s yard.  This has been converted from a Hornby T9 with a replacement tender.  The wheels are in reality 6 inchs to big and the boiler is consequently too high, but I bet the Highland fans that read this didn’t notice until I told you?

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Brn Wyvis’ sister, Ben Clebrig acting as station pilot at Thurso.

Richard Helmsdale Black 5

The other station is Helmsdale and here we have the Hiker once again returning south. passing a typical Highland goods shed.

Black 5 Helmsdale

Richard Helmsdale shed

A Pickersgill on shed at Helmsdale, along with a pannier.  A pair of panniers were regularly found at Helmsdale in 1962 as they worked the Dornoch branch at this time following the failure of the last operational Highland locomotives, some small tanks.

Richard Passenger Tank Helmsdale

And here is an example of this tank – aptly named Passenger tanks as they specialised on lightly loaded trains on the short branchlines the Highland had a number of in their region.

Richard Clan off to the sunset

Like on the Kyle line, van traffic was a big feature of the line and here we see a clan pull out northwards with a train of vans and non-passenger stock.  The eagle eyed will notice that the clan is in BR livery where in reality they did not last long enough to carry this.  Richard is quire relaxed about this as it enables him to include locos he fancies!

Black 5 heading south

And a similar working heading south with the almost enivitable (for the real thing) black 5.

So thank you Richard for entertaining us and also for the use of your photographs – rather better than my own!

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