Forgotten journeys: A look at Britain’s lost railway network

THEY are ghostly streaks across the landscape, with only the occasional forlorn remains of bridges and platforms to show for their past use.

However, a new book on Britain’s lost railways illustrates how routes that have now all but disappeared were once the focus of their communities, providing the gateway for most passengers and virtually all goods alike.

The popular memory of some branch lines may be of little-used single-carriage steam trains puffing through the countryside. However, a new book by Antiques Roadshow expert Paul Atterbury shows these tentacles of the railway network, which spread across Scotland, once effectively powered the nation by bringing the coal – and pretty much everything else – to homes and businesses. Atterbury’s Lost Railway Journeys, which contains many previously unpublished photographs, also highlights the fact that the death knell for many lines came long before the infamous Beeching report of 1963, with up to 3,000 miles closed across Britain between the 1920s and the 1950s.

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Atterbury says the difference with Beeching – which axed another 10,000 miles, including the Scottish routes in his book – is that the scale of closures prompted a public backlash when previous shutdowns had passed without opposition.

But the author says the end of the line for these routes did not just affect the car-less, with a major increase in lorries on inadequate rural roads.

Paul Atterbury’s Lost Railway Journeys is published by David & Charles on 28 October, £15.99.

Castle Douglas to Kirkcudbright

• THE Glasgow Boys were among painters who helped Kirkcudbright become known as the “Artists’ Town”, and they would have been regular travellers on the branch line from Castle Douglas. Edward Hornel, a member of the group of colourists, spent most of his life in the Solway town, whose main access - along with that for many settlements across Scotland - was by rail. Several other Glasgow Boys also settled there or were frequent visitors, drawn by the “soft colours of the landscape”, while the town also attracted much tourist traffic by rail. The ten-mile line was one of several offshoots from the former Dumfries-Stranraer route, and opened in 1864, three years after being approved.

Reflecting the extent of past railway operations, Kirkcudbright even boasted direct services to London, albeit with the carriages being coupled to others from elsewhere en route. Paul Atterbury relates that the 371-mile journey in the 1920s took between ten and 12 hours - three times as long as the fastest trips from Dumfries today. The line also became important in transporting fish to the south from Kirkcudbright’s fleet.

However, its dwindling income saw it become a victim of the Beeching cuts, and it closed in 1965. Atterbury said the route could still be followed and easily identified from adjacent roads, with a short stretch south of Castle Douglas an official footpath.

Roxburgh to Jedburgh

• WHILE the planned re-opening of the Waverley line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank has made it the pre-eminent former Borders railway, Paul Atterbury’s book focuses on a lesser known route which was an earlier casualty of the Beeching report.

The seven-mile branch, opened in 1856, ran from the St Boswells-Coldstream line at Roxburgh to Jedburgh.

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It operated for just over a century until flooding in 1948 seriously damaged the track, ending passenger services.

Basic repairs enabled freight trains, which were governed by lower safety standards, to continue until 1964.

The line, which ran along the banks of the Teviot and Jed Water, was heavily used by Jedburgh’s textile mills.

Trains provided the main means of reaching Jedburgh for passengers and goods alike.

Atterbury said: “Rail was not just the preferable way to travel, it was often the only practical means. People can be misled by the entertaining experience of heritage railways, because this was daily life for people.”

The line is now part of the Border Abbeys Way, with remnants including the platforms at Jedfoot station and some abandoned telegraph poles and the level crossing gates nearby.

An industrial park now occupies the site of Jedburgh station and goods yard.

Killin Junction-Loch Tay

• THE development of railways helped fuel a tourist boom across rural Scotland in the latter 19th century.

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One such tourist-focused branch line transported visitors to the village of Killin and the steamers which plied Loch Tay, on the western border of Perthshire. Attractions included the Falls of Dochart in Killin - which were visible and audible from the train - and spectacular views of mountains such as Ben Lawers. Opened in 1886, the five-mile line followed the River Dochart to link a junction on the Dunblane-Oban main line with the west end of Loch Tay. The line was truncated to Killin when steamers ended at around the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939.

The rest of the route closed in 1965 and Killin station has since disappeared, along with most of the line through the village.

However, the remainder is now a footpath and cycle route, which “climbs gently through surrounding forests to Killin Junction”.

Paul Atterbury writes: “Here, isolated in the silence of the forest, the two lines, both now footpaths, converge by the surviving platform.

“Beyond are the remains of derelict railway cottages, the only clue to the busy past of this delightful and secret place.”

Dunblane to Crianlarich

• A ROCKFALL in Glen Ogle, north of Lochearnhead, in 1965, brought a premature end to the Dunblane-Crianlarich line, which had been earmarked for closure under the Beeching cuts. It brought the axe forward by a month but the blockage was not cleared until the section between Callander and Killin Junction became part of the national cycle network more than 30 years later. Cyclists and walkers can now traverse the glen using its dramatic stone viaducts, well clear of the busy A85 road. These contrast with the rest of the route through the glen, which was cut into the rocky hillside, and were also unusual in running parallel to the slope. The line reached north to Callander in 1858, and was then extended north in short bursts, first to Killin Junction in 1886, because its developers were always short of money. It was built as far as Crianlarich in 1873 and finally to Oban in 1880. The section west of Crianlarich remains open. Other remaining structures on the route include much of Balquidder station, complete with a white-tiled passage between platforms, classical-style stonework and decorative ironwork.


• ROYALTY extended the life of this railway which was used by monarchs from Victoria to the present Queen to reach Balmoral.

It initially ran west as far as Banchory in 1853 and Aboyne six years later before reaching its terminus in Ballater in 1866.

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Plans to extend the route to Braemar were never realised, partly because of concerns over the privacy of the royal family on the Balmoral estate.

The 43-mile line, which follows the River Dee, had a total of 26 stations, including one called Aboyne Curling Pond Platform.

Special trains ran until the 1930s, carrying Royal dispatches to Aberdeen to catch the London train.

After the railways were nationalised in the 1940s, attempts were made to cut the operating costs, such as with the use of battery-powered trains in the late 1950s. However, despite continued Royal use, it succumbed to economics and was closed as part of the Beeching axe in 1966.

A one-mile section at Crathes was reopened by the Royal Deeside Railway two years ago, which plans to extend it by a further mile to Banchory.

Trains operated by the group include the original two-carriage battery railcar, known as The Sputnik.

Paul Atterbury said the line - unlike others in his book - should be a candidate for full re-opening.

He said: “It serves several major towns and a large chunk of north-east Scotland.”