A 1932 Perspective of The Far North Line
Under the pen-name "Voyageur" four roundabout railway routes were described in the Railway Magazine for April 1932: the late Furness Railway from Carnforth to Silecroft around Morecambe Bay; the route from Cardiff to Taunton around the Bristol Channel; the route from Liverpool to the popular resorts of North Wales; and our own Far North Line.
Another route of an extremely roundabout character is the Highland main line of the L.M.S. north of Inverness, and here, again, coastal configuration is mainly, though not exclusively, the cause.
The direction of Wick from Inverness is a little north of north-east. Yet from Inverness the start is due west for 9 miles, ere the northward bend is made round the innermost extremity of the Moray Firth to reach Dingwall. After this the proper northeastward course is pursued almost to Tain, closely adjacent to the Cromarty Firth for some distance. But now a right-angled bend is made, and for miles along the margin of the Dornoch Firth the line is running north-westwards, and, in places due west again, to Bonar Bridge, before the northward direction is resumed up Strath Shin to Lairg. Here a bend of more than a right-angle takes place, and for the next 12½ miles the line is running eastwards down Strath Fleet, and fully south-eastwards as The Mound Junction is reached. Emerging at Golspie on the coast-line, the railway passes, near Dunrobin, the prominent monument to the late Duke of Sutherland, which the passenger may have clearly seen from 13 miles away, when near Tain; the train, meanwhile, has travelled a trifle of 32 miles, and has taken roughly 1¾ hours to do it. The coast is now skirted as far as Helmsdale, where another startling change of direction takes place. Entering the valley of the River Ullie, the line forsakes its northeasterly direction for one which for some miles is due west, but gradually bends up to the northerly direction again by Forsinard. There the track curves east-northeastwards to Georgemas Junction, while the final run into Wick has a distinct trace of south in it, being actually east-south-east.
The effect of these wanderings on route mileage is astonishing. A straight line from Inverness to Dornoch, at the end of the short branch from The Mound measures 28 miles; the rail journey is one of 88¼ miles, and takes roughly four hours. From Helmsdale to Wick is 30 miles as the crow flies, but exactly double this - 60 miles - by rail. From Inverness to Wick, 161¼ miles by train, would be only 76½ miles could a direct course be pursued. If the main line between Elgin and Inverness be added to that between Inverness and Wick, some even more striking figures can be obtained.
From Elgin to Wick, for example, 76 miles direct across the water, is 198¼ miles by rail, and the best journey time is one of 8¼ hours. But the most extreme disparity between rail and direct distance would be if one wanted to take the train from Lybster, at the end of the Wick and Lybster branch, to Lossiemouth, exactly 40 miles apart, and in sight of each other on a clear day. By rail the journey is one of 217 miles! By leaving Lybster at 7.40 a.m., with good connections at Wick, Inverness and Elgin, the much travelled passenger can, by the best service of the day, make Lossiemouth by 5.15 p.m., having taken over 9½ hours to span what, as just mentioned, is a direct distance of 40 miles.