125th - The Day
The day got off to a start with the following items of publicity:
The morning southbound train collected 2 invited guests from each station and yours truly took the opportunity of taking photographs and doing a little towards publicising the Friends, a role that was then taken up by our Chairman, John Melling for the rest of the day. We are grateful to those of you who joined the Friends or renewed your membership, thank you.
On arrival in Inverness invited guests attended a reception in the Station Hotel where they were joined by ScotRail and Railtrack management, councillors and local guests. After suitable time for refreshments everyone made their way onto the platform for the naming ceremony conducted by Alastair McPherson and Councillor Alison Magee, Lairg, vice-convenor of the Highland Council. In his speech, Mr. McPherson promised faster journey times with at least 15 minutes removed from the journey time when the new air-conditioned trains start running regularly next May. With buses currently taking around 3hrs 30 minutes between Thurso and Inverness the shortened journey time for rail to around 200 minutes will enable the train to compete on end-to-end timings. He stressed that the £2.5 million refurbishment programme will bring new standards of comfort and reliability.
There was entertainment en route and among those on board were Jamie Stone MSP for Caithness, Sutherland and East Ross and Far North development officer Frank Roach who played a major part in the arrangements for the day. Lunch, airline style, was served courtesy of Railtrack.
The next event for the day took place at Dunrobin where the train stopped long enough for the Countess of Sutherland, assisted by John Boyle, ScotRail Public Relations director to unveil the nameboard, re-naming the station 'Dunrobin Castle'. The nameboard is in keeping with the recently restored historic building.
Next 'stop' in the day's events was Helmsdale where the train was greeted by Friend's secretary Keith Tyler who takes up the story; "From 24th - 31st July we marked the 125th Anniversary with a modest display in Timespan Heritage Centre. By courtesy of Tom Coombs and Frank Spaven, to whom hearty thanks are due, this took the form of magnificent models of three gauge 1 Highland Railway locomotives, coaches and wagons from the fine Kennedy Collection. These provided a considerable talking point - not least to one young admirer who announced, "Now that's what I CALL a train!"
"The choice of Helmsdale was very appropriate. The railway reached Gartymore in 1870 and Helmsdale a year later; for 3 years this was the northern terminus, complete with engine shed, repair shop and goods facilities, while work on the final section to Wick and Thurso was constructed.
"We were allowed the use of 'The Helmsdale Room' in Timespan, which by happy coincidence houses three splendid photographs of Helmsdale said to date from 1870, of great interest in themselves and one of them showing the new terminus with a train. (Incidentally, on careful examination we beg leave to suggest these were taken in late April or early May, 1871.) We are most grateful for the co-operation of 'Timespan' in making it possible to mount this display at relatively short notice, and affording us the use of their facilities." In Wick station Jamie Stone MSP unveiled a commemorative plaque to mark the completion of a £1 million refurbishment scheme at Thurso and Wick stations. During his speech he made reference to our past Chairman, Caithnessian Harry Miller, and referred to the railway industry's efforts to secure the line's future. Mr. Stone then took a 'phone call from the Mayor of Penzance, Jackie Aitken 'phoning form Penzance Station at 900 miles the furthest away station which has also been recently regenerated. Passengers in Wick were served a Cornish cream tea whilst a bottle of Caithness whisky, Old Pulteney, had been sent to the Cornish station manager to enable him to join in with the celebrations.
Meanwhile at Thurso Station, John Williamson and Bill Thompson had set up a display of local railway photographs and memorabilia. The return journey was uneventful with the most notable happening being the driver's ability to demonstrate very clearly the ability of the Class 158 units to achieve 200 minutes for the journey time by making up 15 lost minutes in the last stage of the journey.