In The Beginning
The editor has asked me, as a founding member, to record some of my early impressions of FoFNL for this, the fiftieth issue of the magazine. As I no longer have my written notes from those days most of what follows will be from memory, although I have also made reference to the early editions of the newsletter.
It was in early 1994 that Frank Roach posted a short letter in the Inverness Courier in which he suggested that if the Far North Line were to survive, a support group needed to be formed, in much the same way as the Friends of the Settle and Carlisle Line had successfully been, and would anyone who was interested please telephone him.
As a lifelong railway enthusiast this appealed to me, and so after some thought I decided to ring Frank to register my interest. The outcome was that, a few weeks later, a meeting was convened, at Rogart Station, to discuss the best way forward. About seven or eight of us managed to cram into Frank's sitting room, and various ideas were tossed to and fro for a couple of hours.
Arising from this initial meeting, Frank came to see me about a week later and asked if I would be prepared to act as Treasurer/Membership Secretary while he would act as Secretary. I was quite happy to fulfil this dual role and we were thus able to start a membership base formed from interested groups and individuals. It was also realised that a simple brochure would be required to send to new members and it was left to me to design this, with a schematic map and a brief description of the history of the line. This latter still appears on the FoFNL website, I notice.
It was apparent to me, even at this early stage, that Frank, although quietly spoken, had tremendous drive and enthusiasm and was clearly undaunted by the task that lay ahead of us, and it was no surprise therefore, that he made an early approach to The Rt. Hon Robert MacLennan MP and invited him to become the first President of FoFNL.
Next, a committee had to be formed. I am not sure how we went about this but suffice it to say, several early FoFNL members were obvious choices and the original committee consisted of the following. Harry Miller [Tain], Frank Spaven [Inverness], John Moore [Fortrose], John Melling [Inverness], Frank Roach, and myself - these being to the best of my recollection but if I have missed anyone, then I apologise. At that time, my wife and I owned a large guest house in the centre of Inverness, and, having a large residents' lounge available, it was decided that committee meetings would be held there, for the time being at least.
I suppose that all this would have happened by the Autumn of 1994, so it can be seen that a fair bit of ground had been covered in just a few months. Certainly, Frank managed to publish the first newsletter in September 1994, with others following in December 1994 and March 1995.
The first AGM was held on 12th November 1994 when eleven members were present, with eight apologies received. Various matters were discussed and one of the key issues that emerged was the possibility of staging a conference as soon as possible to highlight the potential of the Far North Line and to acquaint individuals and groups with FoFNL and its stated aims. In particular it was decided to attract the interest of the various tourism bodies such as HIE, RACE, and CASE, together with District Councils, Community Councils, Chambers of Commerce, Business, ScotRail, Railtrack, the RMT Union, Scottish Natural Heritage, and other environmental and community groups.
After some intense organisation, principally by Frank, the Station Hotel in Inverness was booked for Thursday, 26th October 1995 and invitations sent out in June to as many organisations as possible, including all those mentioned above. The cost, including lunch, was £45 per head, with concessions at £25. Advertised speakers were Robert MacLennan MP, Donald MacPherson [Area Manager, ScotRail], John Holwell [Transrail], and Dr Paul Salveson [Transnet]. As Treasurer, it fell to me to collect these fees, and I seem to remember that many were quite late in being forthcoming.
The conference was generally felt to be most worthwhile and this was summed up by Donald MacPherson, ScotRail Area Manager [North], when he wrote to FoFNL as follows: 'Just a short note to thank you for the excellent conference in Inverness last Thursday. The quality and variety of the speakers was excellent and it was extremely encouraging to see all the major bodies committed to working together to improve railway services in the Highlands.'
In retrospect, the conference must be seen as pivotal, both for FoFNL, and for the Far North Line itself. Much good work has been achieved since, with several of our more ambitious aims being realised. Other pressures led to me rescinding the office of Treasurer/Membership Secretary, while Frank's appointment within the railway industry necessarily led to his resigning his position. I am sure that I speak for both of us when I say how grateful we are to all those of you who have so effectively carried forward the work initiated by us in 1994.
In conclusion, the question must be asked; 'Would FoFNL have been formed if someone had not had the foresight to encourage its establishment sixteen years ago?' Well, yes. Probably someone else would have come up with the idea somewhere along the line [excuse the metaphor], but, make no mistake about it, FoFNL is where it is today thanks to the flair, the vision, and the commitment of one man - Frank Roach.