True Highlands Blog
Wave your hand and command the approaching train to stop at the tiny private platform where you wait alone, miles from the nearest settlement. Sounds like a scene from the Wild West, but in fact you can do exactly this at a handful of so called request stops that serve some of the most inaccessible parts of the Highlands.
Usually trains will just hurtle past these unassuming and most basic of dots on the map, but for the curious there is a lot to see.
Some of these stations have an odd history, others are little more than a tiny concrete platform but for those connoisseurs of the remote and out of the way bits of our country, they are like a portal to the past.
There is often little information available about these stations and even less when you actually arrive there, so do plan your journey in advance. If you wish to alight at a request stop, you should notify the conductor as early as possible and he will signal the driver to stop. If boarding at a request stop, the train will slow down and sound its horn – if you wish to board the train then raise your arm so that the driver can see you. Sounds quite empowering doesn’t it?
Perpetually teetering on the edge of closure, many of these stations survive for reasons that have little to do with logic and certainly nothing to do with finance: political expediency, labyrinthine bureaucracy and sheer whimsy are often involved or, in the case of Duncraig, an outright rebellion in which local train drivers simply refused to accept that the station had been closed and stopped there anyway. After 11 years of this, the station officially reopened in 1976 and has been in constant service since.
Altnabreac is possibly the most inaccessible station on the whole of Britain’s rail network. Situated about 40 miles west of Wick and 12 miles from the nearest road there is actually nothing here and nothing for miles in any direction, apart from the platform and a very rough dirt track. That alone just makes me want to visit. What is curious about Altnabreac is that there seems to be no actual reason for its being there and nobody seems to be able to conjure up a reason as to why it was built in the first place. If you are a hiker or mountain biker it’s just too good an opportunity to miss, the wilderness experience without the effort. There are only a few trains a day that pass here, if you miss one there is a phone at the station, as the chances of mobile reception are slim. You may have a long wait. (Update: Altnabreac is now lived in).
Dunrobin Castle is one of Scotland’s oldest inhabited castles, the stop here was once the private station of the Dukes of Sutherland, where you could step off the train directly through the gates into one of stateliest homes in Scotland. The station was built by the third Duke in 1870 who was by all accounts a bit of a train spotter. He even had his own private locomotive and train kept here.
Reopened in 1988 The Falls of Cruachan station on the Oban branch of the West Highland Line is another example of a perfect jumping off point for hillwalkers. There is also a recently installed path to the Ben Cruachan Visitor Centre, but due to there being no station lighting, trains can only stop here during daylight hours.
Duncraig station, just a few miles east of Plockton is another formally private station, now free for all to use. Sir Alexander Matheson, co-founder of the mighty Jardine Matheson Group made his staggering fortune selling opium to the Chinese before returning home to his native Scotland to build himself a Castle, enter parliament and gain a knighthood. When the line from Inverness to the Kyle of Lochalsh opened in 1897 Matheson had Duncraig station built as his own private stop, adding an octagonal waiting room constructed in the style of his castle. The waiting room is a listed building and is incredibly well preserved (the castle somewhat less so).
Once a village with no roads Lochailort now has two roads but sadly no village. It is a stunning place to visit though, right in the middle of The Road to the Isles, and has featured in numerous films including Breaking the Waves and Local Hero. The once grand Inverailort House which was requisitioned to train spies during the war is sadly in a terrible state but fundraising is ongoing to turn it into a military rehabilitation centre.
Although not technically a request stop, we should include Corrour on our list of out of the way stations. Sir John Stirling Maxwell gave access to the West Highland Railway Company to build across his land on condition that they build a railway station for guests visiting his estate here. It opened in 1894 with estate guests being taken from the station to the head of Loch Ossian by horse-drawn carriage before journeying down the loch by steamer. These days it is still 10 miles from the nearest road but there is a restaurant and a youth hostel. It is a scenic jumping off point for exploring the nearby hills and benefits from having a direct connection with London, being on the Fort William sleeper service. The station featured briefly in the film Trainspotting.
So you see, who knew train stations could be so fascinating!Tags: altnabreac, ben cruachan, corrour, duncraig, dunrobin castle, inverailort house, lochailort, Railway History, Remote Railways, scottish railway history, Scottish Train Stations, Train Stations, trainspotting, west highland railway