Almost the end of the line

I’ve been waiting until I had enough time to do it justice to write more about the journey from Inverness to Thurso. I don’t know if that’s the case even now, but I can’t see any end in sight to the madness of these two weeks so I want to do it now before I forget things.

Waiting-room at Dalwhinnie
Waiting-room at Dalwhinnie

As you travel north, there are some fairly eccentric stations. The waiting-room depicted here is at a station on the Perth to Inverness stretch, but there is a similar one at Helmsdale, only it’s constructed from wood and metal instead of brick, and has windows, which seems like a distinct advantage.

Dunrobin Castle station
Dunrobin Castle station

Further north from Dalwhinnie, past Inverness, there is a special station for Dunrobin Castle, a former residence of the Dukes of Sutherland now open to the public and to private companies for archery and (I expect) other dangerous pastimes. The scenery is coastal in this area and there are long sandy beaches and long, perhaps equally sandy, golf courses. I believe it was on one of these courses that my mother once won a competition, got drunk on cider at the prize-giving ceremony and couldn’t stop laughing for days.

View up to the station in Helmsdale
View up to the station in Helmsdale

I got off the train for a few hours at Helmsdale to try and follow up a family history lead, as my great-great-great-great-grandfather was from this area. I didn’t find out anything definite – more background research will be needed – but it was great to see the place and look at the Timespan museum and archives.

Helmsdale station and signal box
Helmsdale station and signal box

Helsmdale is the point where the line turns inwards and runs almost across the top of Scotland. This was the most fascinating part of the journey for me as the scenery changed again – I believe this is called the ‘flow country’ – and there is lots of peat, some hills that look deceptively gentle compared with these a bit further south, and herds of deer that run from the train. There are also plenty of quirky little request stop stations where there is hardly even a platform, just a grassy bank. Our train didn’t stop very often at these, but I think the train service must still be a lifeline in these remote places.

Because the scenery was so wonderful and I started to look out for more deer after spotting the first small herd, I managed not to take any photographs on this part of the journey. Oh well, I will just have to go back and do it all again!

New favourite route?

The whole rail route from Edinburgh to Thurso must be one of the most scenic in the country, something I realised once I got over my panic about the southward creep of Gaelic. I’ve travelled the section from Edinburgh to Pitlochry so often that I suppose I’ve become almost immune to the wonders of the Forth Bridge, the charms of the Fife coast (not all routes go this way) and the gradual replacement of Lowland with Highland scenery.
The stations from Perth to Inverness tend to be very well kept – especially Pitlochry, with its multiplicity of floral features – and even the forests look as if they had been manicured, perhaps by the Forestry Commission.

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I’ve tried here to capture the look of Aviemore station with its smart colour scheme and twiddly wrought-iron accessories. There is much more to it!
As I write this I am travelling back through this part of the Highlands, and I can see that the scenery, as well as changing with each mile along the way, looks different each time you travel. So when we headed north through Drumochter on Wednesday it was gloomy and forbidding. Now, on a bright Saturday morning, there are pockets of early morning mist in the dips, but the hills are lit by sunlight and you can see all the patches of heather and tufts of grass and protruding rocks in quite a bit of detail, even from the train windows.
The stretch of line north of Inverness was completely new to me but it was the best part, with the huge skies of Sutherland above us and the passing scenery opening out as we reached the coast and then changing again as we climbed from Helmsdale to cross the top of the Scottish mainland, scaring away herds of deer as we went.
There will be more pictures later! Here’s one for now.

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Cloud formations out in the North Sea, near Brora

Back in the land of the Gael

Of course you’re theoretically in Gael-land as you wait for the train at Haymarket station in Edinburgh these days, as I may have mentioned before on this very blog.
However, I am now venturing further into Gaeldom than I’ve done for years – almost as far as the land of the Viking, in fact. One thing I’m glad to report is that there are still trains in operation past Inverness. At one time – probably during the evil reign of Empress Thatcher who hated trains, perhaps because she had once been frightened by one as a child in Grantham – there was talk of no more trains north of Edinburgh, although of course that would have been heresy if it meant the Forth Bridge was redundant.
I’ve sensibly split my journey to Thurso into three parts – two on the way back.
So far so good – we’ve got as far as Pitlochry, one of my favourite places, and somewhere I will be visiting properly one day soon. I tried to take a picture as we hurtled through the pass of Killiecrankie but it was too blurry – better just to gaze at the view down to the river. Instead I’ve captured a couple of stations.

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