Highland Railway Buildings
Neil T. Sinclair, Lightmoor Press and the Highland Railway Society, 2022.
Hardback: 160pp, 274x215mm. £27.50
By its very nature going by train gives the lucky traveller every opportunity to marvel at the care that was lavished, even by the impecunious Highland Railway Company, on the various structures needed by a railway.
Nowadays almost everything that is newly built for the railway must prove how "well the money was spent" i.e. how little it cost, by its totally utilitarian appearence. Highland Railway Buildings shows that it was once well understood that 'value' is not only a monetary quality. It is easy to imagine the reactions of Highland Railway board members were they to have been shown the tiny, cold and uncomfortable 'bus shelters' which would pass for passenger waiting facilities in the 21st Century.
Reading this book will transform idle gazing out of the train window, or along the platform, into an appreciation of the care that went into how the railway environment should look.
Although we have lost many of the buildings described here, as they were no longer needed, many remain. The Far North Line still has plenty to see, from the nearly-twin northern termini, via the pioneering concrete Helmsdale Station, now beautifully restored, and the successful restaurant occupying Tain Station to the fine building at Dingwall.
This reader especially enjoys seeing how the same basic design was utilised for more than one station, sometimes with different materials, such as Thurso/Wick and Helmsdale/Golspie/The Mound, and sometimes with several iterations of almost identical buildings, such as the Italianate Alness/Kildary/Fearn/Meikle Ferry/Bonar Bridge (Ardgay).
Neil Sinclair's book is a complete survey and is divided into sections, either by area, such as "Lines to the West and Far North" or time, e.g. "1875-1889". There is so much to see that you'll find yourself returning to it many times, but it is also well worth reading the narrative which covers the whole process of procuring buildings, from board decisions to individual architects and contractors, and the intricacies of working with local landowners.
There are also over 300 photographs, illustrations and plans, and the large format allows them plenty of space. Anyone with even a passing interest in railways or architecture would be delighted with this superb book.