Death in the Far North
Living in Birmingham in 1960, north of Inverness was almost a foreign land, certainly the locomotives were as rare to see as if they were in a foreign land. Inverness and to the east had previously been visited in February 1956 when I photographed Highland 'Small Ben' 54398 'Ben Alder stored in Boat of Garten locomotive depot with deep snow outside. I was grateful to the District Nurse who gave me a lift through the snow from Aviemore.
In June this year I received a copy of your May 2002 Newsletter from someone who lives near Lairg who remembered my railway interest from our respective teenage days in Birmingham. The article on the re-opening of Beauly station together with a 1960 timetable made me research my notebooks and bring back memories which may be of interest to some of your members, many of whom were probably not born in 1960. How many people reading this article were on the last train from Wick to call at Beauly, there was the Sunday service from Lairg to Inverness on the 12th June 1960 which would have been the very last train, and also on the last train from Dornoch 11th June?
To time a Scottish railway tour including the lines north of Inverness, with the opportunity to travel on the Dornoch branch on its last day, meant working out a complicated itinerary and then applying for annual holiday entitlement to coincide with the dates chosen.
Having arrived at Mallaig behind K4 61784 piloting K1 62052 hauling 10 coaches, I travelled on the afternoon boat to Kyle of Lochalsh, where I found B & B at 12/6d (62½p) with Mrs Stewart in Station Drive, to be ready for an early departure on the Highland line on the morning of 10th June. In the evening the depot contained 44719, 44783, 45496 & 55227. An early start had me at the station to see 44719 with 10 coaches and a 4 wheel van (not a mere 2 car 158) waiting with the 06.20 to Inverness. Although timetables were then still expressed as am and pm, I had for some years been using the 24 hour clock. My records are in minutes and seconds. The maximum speed, in mph achieved from the previous station is shown after the times. In brackets is the printed timetable time.
Kyle of Lochalsh (6.20) 0620.00,
Durinish (6.32) 30.05-30.22 37mph,
Plockton (6.38) 34.14-37.36 38mph,
Duncraig (6.40) did not stop,
Strome Ferry (6.50) 47.38-53.57 40mph,
Attadale (7.08) 0706.50-07.18 31mph,
Strathcarron (7.18) 13.25-21.04 40mph,
Achnashellach (7.35) 32.28-38.45 37mph,
Glencarron Platform (7.40) passed 47.03 44mph slowed to 26mph,
Achnasheen (8.10) 0801.43-0813.33 52mph where we stopped for breakfast refreshments at the station buffet,
Achanalt (8.30) 26.18-43.37 47mph where we passed 45319 - on a freight if I remember correctly,
Lochluichart (8.43) 51.32-51.50 53mph,
Garve (9.07) 0904.43-0910.35 28mph where we passed 45453,
Achterneed (9.26) 26.21-27.12 48/21/43mph,
Dingwall (9.30) 35.32 52mph.
At Dingwall was 45479 with the 6.25 from Helmsdale to Inverness to which was attached the through coach/es from Kyle. I did not record the number of coaches transferred. On the two road locomotive depot south of the station and west of the line were Caledonian classes 439 0-4-4T 55199 and 72 4-4-0 54487.
The 11.29 to Wick, 10.40 from Inverness, arrived with 7 coaches behind 45477 25 minutes late, lateness is not a new phenomenon, and left at 1156.58. I was heading for Wick and the journey timings follow.
Foulis passed at 1202.08 58mph,
Evanton (11.40) 1205.13pm-1205.40pm 64mph,
Alness (11.47) 11.40-13.35 60mph Invergordon (11.54) 18.23-20.43 57mph,
Delny passed at 26.11 62mph,
Kildary (12.05) 28.26-29.53 -,
Nigg passed at 32.43 65mph,
Fearn (12.13) 34.34-35.47 -,
Tain (12.20-12.26) 42.36-52.14 56mph.
At Tain was 54488 simmering in the yard of the locomotive shed south of the station which probably would work the 3.45pm to Inverness. As we were late, we waited for the 08.35 Wick-Inverness to arrive behind 45483 before continuing our journey north still 26 minutes late.
Edderton (12.36) 1302.11-1303.08 55mph,
Bonar Bridge (12.58) 14.14-15.50 57mph,
Culrain (1.06pm) 21.42-22.08 54mph,
Invershin (1.09) 24.20-24.43 19mph,
Lairg (1.24) 35.52-39.11 53mph,
Rogart (1.43) 56.38-57.12 53mph,
The Mound (1.51) 1402.58-1403.50 62mph where GWR pannier 1649 was waiting at the lower level branch platform with the 1405 branch train to Dornoch,
Golspie (1.59) 10.14-11.32 52mph,
Dunrobin (2.05) passed at 15.57 37mph,
Brora (2.15) 22.43-25.55 49/pws 36/48mph,
Loth (2.25) 33.57-34.04 -,
Helmsdale (2.35-2.47) 42.08-54.54 -.
Here there was 1646, the other GWR pannier for the Dornoch branch and Caledonian 4-4-0 54495 on the locomotive depot adjacent to the northbound platform. The Restaurant Buffet coach and another coach were detached reducing the train to 5 coaches. Station time was only just exceeded and with the lighter load 45477 rapidly resumed its journey.
Salzcraggie Platform was passed at 1500.07 52mph,
Kildonan (3.02) 08.32-09.022 54/51/53mph,
Borrobol Platform was passed at 15.58 36/55mph,
Kinbrace (3.19) 20.33-21.01 56mph,
Forsinard (3.33) 31.58-32.25 52mph,
Altnabreac (3.49) 45.16-45.37 48mph,
Scotscalder (4.02) 58.23-59.34 50mph,
Halkirk (4.07) 1604.17-1606.28 48mph,
and Georgemas Junction (4.12-4.18) 09.58-15.53 --.
Here two coaches were detached to be taken to Thurso by Caledonian 0-6-0 57585, and 44924 was waiting for us with the 3.35pm Wick to Inverness.
We left early for Bower (4.23) 21.07-21.36 46mph,
Watten (4.30) 27.26-27.32 55mph,
Bibster (4.35) 31.28 51mph and finally into Wick (4.44) at 38.19 - 6 minutes early on a schedule 6 minutes over 6 hours from Inverness. The 2002 timetable is an improvement of 2 hours 14 minutes including calling at Thurso to reduce rolling stock and staff demands. The locomotive depot beyond the busy sidings contained 40150, the usual Thurso branch locomotive, 54491 and 45361 as I went in search of a bus to Thurso. Because of the construction of the Dounreay Power Station, accommodation was not easy to find but eventually I found B & B with Mrs Sutherland at 26 Royal Terrace for 15/- (75p) which I noted as being 'good' but not central for the station. 57585 had to return to Georgemas Junction from Thurso to collect the coaches off the 4.15 from Inverness after which it retired to the locomotive depot for the night.
A not too early start on the 11th June heralded the special day of last trains. Leaving Thurso on the 8.40 to Inverness with two coaches hauled by 57585, the journey south follows. Thurso (8.40) 0842.03, Hoy was passed without stopping and arrived at Georgemas Junction (9.02-9.12) 0857.15 36mph. Here the two Thurso coaches were added to the five from Wick behind 45477 and the journey south resumed at 0910.12. Halkirk (9.16) 13.18-14.02 51mph, Scotscalder (9.22) 19.32-20.13 47mph, Altnabrac (9.38) 34.25-35.03 54mph, Forsinard (9.53) 47.50-51.10 56mph, Kinbrace (10.07) 1003.56-1006.17 54mph, Borrobol Platform (10.11) 12.10-12.32 57mph, Kildonan (10.19) 18.47-20.12 53mph, Salzcraggie platform (10.28) passed at 28.55 54mph, Helmsdale (10.33-10.37) 33.55-49.48 -. Here 54495 added the restaurant car bringing the load up to 8 coaches. The 6.40 from Inverness must have been running late behind 44704 as our departure was delayed until the northbound train had cleared the single line section and had entered Helmsdale. Our journey continued with Loth (10.47) 1059.35-1100.02 44mph, Brora (11.05) 08.03-10.18 50mph, Dunrobin (11.15) passed at 21.41 22mph, Golspie (11.21) 24.41-27.09 49mph and into The Mound (11.32) at 33.25 52mph where 1649 was waiting with the 11.55 to Dornoch.
For this last day of service the usual train of one coach was strengthened to 3 coaches and was well filled behind 1649. At Dornoch the station was thronged with people waiting for the last return journey. It was tight fit for all with many remaining on the platform as the 1.00pm left behind 1649, this time with a 4 wheel van added to the three coaches to clear passenger train vehicles from Dornoch, calling at the intermediate platforms to The Mound and then the finale of 1649, running round its train ready for the last train at 2.05 back to Dornoch. 45361 paused at The Mound with the 10.40 Inverness to Wick and departed with a considerable exchange of whistles. Back at Dornoch the last farewells were said to the crew and the crowd slowly dispersed, not to travel again by train to The Mound. I obtained a lift back to The Mound to enable me continue my journey south.
44704 seen earlier in the day had travelled to Wick and returned on the 3.35pm to Inverness, the last southbound train to run the length of the line and to call at Bilster, Watten, Bower, Halkirk, Loth, The Mound, Edderton, Nigg, Kildary, Delny, Evanton. Foulis had closed with 12.05 Tain-Inverness earlier in the day. Clunes, Lentran and Bunchrew all closed earlier in the day with the 3.45 Tain-Inverness. Conon, Muir of Ord, Beauly, closed on Sunday 12th June with the passing of the 11.55 Tain-Inverness.
Loaded with 8 coaches and a van the last southbound train from The Mound left at (6.29pm) 1829.45,
Rogart (6.36) 35.43-36.38 51mph,
Lairg (7.00) 1854.38-1900.53 49mph where 45453 was passed on the 4.15pm Inverness-Wick,
Invershin (7.11) 09.48-10.23 51mph,
Culrain (7.14) 12.03-12.25 23mph,
Bonar Bridge (7.22) 17.40-23.37 54mph,
Edderton (7.36) 35.02-35.23 52mph,
Tain (7.46-7.50) 43.02-51.39 60mph,
Fearn (7.56) 58.01-58.27 48mph,
Nigg (8.00) 2001.26-2001.50 47mph,
Kildary (8.06) 07.15- 07.29 43mph,
Delny (8.10)11.14-11.35 46mph,
Invergordon (8.17) 17.10-20.14 56mph,
Alness (8.27) 25.35-26.10 56mph,
Evanton (8.34) 31.58-32.56 55mph,
Foulis passed at 36.43 55mph,
Dingwall (8.45-8.48) 41.43-47.08 57mph,
Conon (8.53) 51.56-52.21 48mph,
Muir of Ord (9.00) 2058.51-2059.38 40mph,
Beauly (9.06) 2104.16-2105.05 53mph where we passed 54493 with the 8.45 Inverness-Tain,
then fast to Inverness passing Clunes 09.18 51mph,
Lentran 11.11 58mph,
Bunchrew 13.28 52mph and arriving Inverness (9.27) 28.58.
On Inverness locomotive depot it was appropriate to find the Jones Highland Goods 4-6-0 103 withdrawn 1934 and reinstated restored for special use in 1959, together with a mix of steam and diesel locomotives. I retired to the MacDougall's Hotel in Church Street for B & B at 21/- which brought to end my first visit to the Far North Lines exactly 42 years ago to the day as I write this article.