Forty six years ago the rail line that ran from Edinburgh, through the villages of Heriot, Fountainhall and Stow, then the Border towns of Galashiels, Melrose, Selkirk and Hawick and onwards to Carlisle – the Waverley line – was closed. The government of the day, looking as always for budget cuts, waved around a report into the railway network, little changed since Victorian times, and decided on implementation of the suggested cuts.
The closure of the Waverley line left the Borders as the only region in the UK without a train service to connect us, and the region’s businesses, with the rest of the country. This is the age of the motor car insisted many, people don’t want to travel with others, but on their own. Not tied to a train timetable, but working to their own.
For years groups doggedly campaigned for a new line, citing the damage caused to business and tourism by not having a rail connection.
Now, in September this year, the new Borders rail line will be opened. At present the line only runs to Tweedbank, between Galashiels and Melrose, but campaigners are enthused to lobby for its continuation to Carlisle. After forty six years the Borders will again be relinked with Edinburgh and the fabric of Scotland.
As part of the celebrations to mark the new line, Borders Writers’ Forum, of which I’m a member, has produced an anthology of members’ work with the title of Waverley and other railways (designed and set by me). On Sunday we had a slot at the Borders Book Festival in Melrose when members read from their works, in poetry and prose, about the Waverley line and railway journeys around the world.
Reminiscences of the old line and railway journeys of the past are inevitably linked with steam engines and the nostalgia generated by coal stoked boilers, individual compartments to carriages, station canopies with wooden fretwork, waiting rooms with coal fires, and cheap travel on a spider’s web of train lines.
And although the trains on our new line will be modern with all expected facilities and amenities, run by the Dutch company Abellio, there have been suggestions that a steam train will run occasionally to test the demand from steam enthusiasts for special excursions.
My contribution to the anthology is a three part story based on my own train travels. I remember with clarity, though very young at the time, being taken to meet my aunt and uncle on their return from India. Funny how certain memories stick in your mind. For years whilst at primary and then secondary school I travelled by local train, known in Glasgow as the Cathcart Circle. Later when first we moved to the Borders we watched the rails of the Waverley line being lifted. And now we’ve seen a line relaid, and are taking part in the celebrations marking the line’s return.
So contributing to the anthology has been a trip down the byways of the past, and adding to that was our visit to the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway and the Scottish Railway Museum where we were allowed to take photographs for the anthology.
The nostalgia trip for steam engines and the whole caboodle surrounding them aren’t really my thing — I remember all to clearly the soot and grime, dirty stations, the smell of gas from lamps that barely penetrated the dark of winter afternoons, the dislike of compartments with raucous young males, drunks and other dubious characters.
But such reminiscences and visits do provide material for stories and books, and photographs for a number of uses. And, as with most things, there are always the little gems to be unearthed that delight and tickle the imagination. The drinking fountain is one.
The other I think is the trolley with cake stands. We were too late for a steam train trip complete with afternoon tea, but I found something fascinating about the cake stands sitting there, cleared from the coach, slightly enigmatic, slightly quirky, with perhaps just a hint of Hercule Poirot and the Orient Express.
My Ouma used to rate train travel above all else and sent us letters written from her window with a moving view. This post brought back many train memories for me too, including of course The Railway Children. Good luck with it all. What a great way to explore the Borders..
I can understand the fascination of long train journeys, especially train journeys in other countries where you can see so much of the countryside. A few years ago we were on a train in France – the first time we’d been on a double-decker train. Unfortunately the station we left at was in the middle of nowhere, no bus, no taxi, no means of transport whatever to take us onwards to the place we wanted to visit. So occasionally, as the saying goes, it is better to travel hopefully than arrive! Hopefully that dead end syndrome won’t occur in the Borders and that efforts will be put into ensuring onward transport for those wanting to explore. Business opportunities are waiting.
I didn’t know that there are only first and third classes, this seems odd. But great post, thanks for sharing.
I presume at some point there was a second class option which got dropped, but I haven’t come across anything referring to that. In the 21st century perhaps it’s time for railways to drop the class reference, or take a leaf out of the airlines’ book by referring to first class as business class or something similar
Fascinating look at the history of this rail line. Funny that when they dropped second class, they didn’t just start calling third class “second”. Perhaps they wanted to maintain the distinction, making first class more tempting to travellers.
Congrats on the publication of your piece in the Borders Writers’ Forum anthology, as well as your work designing and setting it. Well done!
Personally I feel the whole first/third class thing just perpetuates class divisions and that we should all enjoy the same facilities when travelling. But I guess the rail companies would say we would then all have to pay more to travel. No idea when second class was done away with – I certainly don’t remember it. But it would have been advisable then to rename – something along the lines of standard and standard plus or something which left class out of it altogether.
The Scottish Borders hasn’t had a rail line for 46 years, so quite a celebration is planned for the new line opening.
It’s odd how rail- and airlines still cling to the old class terms. Your suggestion, standard / standard plus, is so much more pleasant.
Glad you agree, Chris. I can understand people travelling a distance on business and wanting more space to enable them to work. But the rest of us deserve to be treated as valued customers also.
Much as I want to romanticize about train travel like they did in the past, as shown in movies, I kind of prefer the modern trains now. They are fast and clean although our suburban trains in Chicago needs to be modernize, they serve the purpose for commuters.
I tend to agree with you, Bebs, though I haven’t travelled on a train for a very long time. Last time was when in Paris and we took a train to visit a village I had long wanted to see. Was somewhat gobsmacked to see it was a double decker train – I’d never seen one before. Our railways here desperately need modernisation, but governments are too keen on their own agendas and reluctant to spend money on things that would make an enormous difference to the lives of many of the travelling public.
This is a great post! I love your writing and the pictures add a very nice touch.(:
The absence of a second class is rather curious, though…
Glad you liked the post. Second class…yes, really must do some research and find out what happened to it, when it was dropped.
Thank you for this post. I master matters related to the old trains.
Your story is very broad and can imagine the scenes in those heavy and noisy wagons.
The photos are beautiful. The large station clock, (I see that the number four is Roman IIII) My grandfather had an old clock with that number. I always wondered why it was flawed, why did not they use IV?…
A question for you …
Why the water source has an iron chain?
I’ve no idea why 1111 is used instead of 1V, maybe just so it balances with the V111 of eight. I never noticed it until you raised it – shows how observant I am!. Why an iron chain? Only guessing as I know very little about how steam trains operated, but perhaps the chain was pulled to allow water to enter the engine’s boiler. A bit like a tap, but a chain would be easier to reach from an engine.