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.