scotland (4K)
The Friends of the Far North Line
Cairdean Na Loine Tuath
the campaign group for rail north of Inverness - lobbying for improved services for the local user, tourist and freight operator

Railway Self-Sufficiency

Let's take a look at how some of the railway staff used to augment their wages in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, with some possibly still doing it. For example at Clachnaharry some very well attended garden plots were seen by the side of the track between the signalbox and the road bridge, with a large assortment of vegetables including onions, leeks, potatoes, lettuce and beetroot growing in the lineside plots. Also at Clachnaharry, to the Inverness side of the signalbox was a small culvert that allowed the tide to come into a small basin so if a net was placed over it one could be rewarded with a few nice flounders which went well with some of the garden produce.

A bit further along the line the embankment was an ideal spot for setting a few snares to get a rabbit or two and if you got too many it wasn't hard to sell a few to the butcher. So we see there were a few opportunities to get a saving or two on the weekly shopping bill. In the late summer one was usually quite near a bramble bush as the railway seemed to have an abundance of them. I certainly gathered loads of them and at one station there was an apple tree by the lineside which was usually heavy laden with fruit and along with the brambles made excellent jelly which kept one supplied over the winter.

Depending on where one was located often made for different foods. On the Kyle line it was quite common for the train to hit a deer and if the driver told you about it you could be set for some butcher meat. I remember on one such occassion taking a hand trolley with a couple of others after the last train had passed to recover a large stag. We took it to a railway bothy and strung it up to a bar across the attic hatch. There we gralloched and skinned it and then divided it up. We laid it across a bed frame in one of the cubicles which was empty. A couple of days later, without warning, the railway engineers arrived at the bothy to make arrangements about it being painted inside. I don't know what they thought of our larder. Another useful thing was when bushes were cut back the thicker limbs often made a good supply of firewood and again if you were in the right locality you often got a supply of peat which kept the home fires burning.

So far we have had fish, venison, rabbits, jelly, vegetables, firewood and peats. So if one was inclined it always helped the budget. My first boss encouraged me to make a garden plot on a spare bit of ground within the railway fence and along with a retired railwayman, who had a plot alongside, we used to see who could grow the best produce. Invariably he won, of course, but I should have won as my boss got me to clean out his henhouse and use the manure. Such was the life of a junior porter in the1950s. Some of the railwaymen were keen beekeepers and one of them I knew had an almost commercial set up at Daviot and always had the heather honey in production. He was quite a wit too, I don't know if it was the honey he ate or not, One man was boasting to him about all the workers he had working for him to which our friend replied "what, that's nothing, I have thousands working for me".

So if any one fancies a bit of living off the land this is just a few of the ways some of the railway staff in the Highlands did it. In many cases it was necessary as large families were more common in those days and pay was poor. All the activities mentioned were lawful and above board and people were honest and generally did not resort to theft. If only that were true of today.

Iain MacDonald