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The Highland Railway at Pitlochry

September 9, 2013

This week sees the 150th anniversary of the opening of the railway from Perth to Inverness, on 9 September 1863. My younger son and I happened to be in Pitlochry yesterday and made a little detour to see its beautiful Victorian station, which has been restored for the anniversary.

 

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The mid-nineteenth century was the great age of railway expansion. Coinciding with Queen Victoria’s love affair with the Scottish Highlands and the consequent rise in tourism, it was inevitable that several companies formed to build railways connecting the south to the Highlands. The construction of the line north of Dunkeld was delayed, allegedly, by the Duke of Atholl refusing to give permission for it to cross his land. ‘Thus far and no further’, he is supposed to have declared, moustache bristling (one imagines).

Once permission was cajoled from the various lairds, however, the work proceeded apace. Within two years, the line from Perth to Inverness was completed; an impressive feat of engineering, not least because this section of the railway crosses the Drumochter Pass, at 1484 feet (452m) the highest point of the rail network in Britain. Pitlochry is one of the small towns along the way which benefitted enormously from the tourist traffic brought by the railway. The town today is still largely Victorian, with an assortment of imposing battlemented hotels crowded onto the hillside above the town’s main street.

The station is still housed in the fine stone building of 1863, with a fretted iron bridge over the rails to the little waiting room on the opposite platform. In honour of the anniversary, the buildings have had a fresh coat of paint and are looking very pleasing.  Hanging baskets of flowers brighten the walls , while on the platform a little model engine built from an old whisky barrel is pulling a train-load of geraniums.

 

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Exploring further, my son and I discovered an extraordinary Victorian water fountain behind the model train. It has just been restored and repainted: in fact, we effectively got a sneak preview of its restoration, as it was officially unveiled today! It is as vividly painted as ever it must have been in its heyday, with a fierce-eyed heron standing watch over the basin below.

 

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The real treasure of the station, however, is the second-hand charity bookshop housed in the main building. It was begun in 2005 as barely more than windowsill of old books. Since that time, it has expanded into a beautifully presented trove of books on all subjects, raising tens of thousands of pounds for charity. Not normally open on a Sunday, it happened to be open for us on our after-church wander because of the imminent anniversary celebrations.

My wee boy and I each found something irresistible in it: a Harry Potter quiz book for him, and for me a beautiful nature book from the 1920s. I have a weakness for good bookbindings and book illustrations. This book called to me.

 

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It is a bit daft to be buying more old books when you have a house overflowing with them already. But this beautiful tome has resolved a thought I’ve been having for Dancing Beastie. I thought you might be interested to see some of the other beautiful covers of vintage books in the castle. Maybe as an occasional series, along the lines of the Tuesday Tree but perhaps more ‘as and when’. What do you think? I’ll start – soon – with showing you some of the beautiful illustrations inside this ‘new’ Nature book of mine, and we’ll see how we go.

Meanwhile, I gather that the celebrations at Pitlochry station went very well today, and that the heron was much admired. It is definitely worth a visit if you are travelling through the Highlands – and remember to bring a few pounds for the book shop.

 

You will find more Highland Perthshire history and travelogue in A lonely glen, a loch and and a visit from Rabbie Burns.

 

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. September 9, 2013 9:57 pm

    It is a gem of a station. Every time I’ve been through there by train there has been something interesting to see on the platform, from international Scouts to pipers to lurid-lycra clad Italian cyclists.

    Book features will be welcome!

    • September 12, 2013 11:32 pm

      Yes, there always seems to be something going on in Pitlochry. Lots of bike races, vintage car rallies, Harley Davidson gatherings, TV crews and tourists. They are only just beginning to thin out a bit now at the beginning of autumn.

  2. hmunro permalink
    September 10, 2013 11:38 am

    I feel as if I’ve just been to Pitlochry! What a wonderfully vivid account of a day well-spent. I shall take your advice and will indeed visit this place, just as soon as I can get over to Scotland. In the meantime, I will look forward to seeing a few of your favorite books. By the way, your photos are just beautiful. The image with the heron statue has especially good composition. Well done!

    • September 12, 2013 11:34 pm

      You are too kind: I am, as always, acutely aware of the failings in both prose and picture quality! These were just snaps on my phone, but better than nothing.
      Pitlochry is an essential stopping point on the way north – I hope you’ll get here one of these days. 🙂

  3. Toffeeapple permalink
    September 10, 2013 11:53 am

    The picture of the Whisky barrel loco rings a bell with me, in that I think I might have seen it in May when we took the train from Arrochar to Corrour, stopping off at Rannoch Moor – is that possible do you think? Rannoch Moor looked desolate that day. I am so pleased that Pirlochry station is being revived, it looks so pretty.

    I should be very interested to see images of the illustrations in your new / old book and the bindings of your other interesting books.

    • September 12, 2013 11:38 pm

      Um, it sounds as if you were on the west coast, but you could well have stopped at Pitlochry if you also went on to Rannoch. The Moor is *always* desolate looking, an extraordinary bit of post-ice-age wilderness.

      Thanks for feedback on the book idea. I’ll follow it up.

      • Toffeeapple permalink
        September 17, 2013 12:28 pm

        How odd, we were definitely on the west coast, not near Perth at all. Perhaps there is something similar elsewhere. One thing I can say for Rannoch Moor – it has a very hospitable hotel where I was able to enjoy a good glass of wine.

  4. September 10, 2013 5:32 pm

    What a pretty station – it’s just begging to be the backdrop for a period drama! That sounds like a delightful bookshop and if I find myself in Pitlochry I will drop in there. I love the look of your vintage ‘find’ – any others that you’d like to share would be interesting, too!

    • September 12, 2013 11:39 pm

      Lots of vintage fans like me here, I think – hurray! I wonder if Pitlochry station has ever featured on TV. I wouldn’t be at all surprised.

  5. September 12, 2013 4:38 pm

    The colorful heron mounted fountain reminds me of those enormous Victorian majolica pieces which are now extremely expensive and collectible. Love the idea of covers and illustrations from your vintage/antique book collection- I recall that you have some nice examples.

    • September 12, 2013 11:40 pm

      Yes, I see what you mean about majolica. I’ve never much liked the stuff myself, but the heron is splendid in his way.
      I’ll see what I can do about book covers, even if it’s on a rather sporadic basis. Thanks.

  6. September 13, 2013 7:36 pm

    Oh what fun, DB. DH and I travel alongside the Perth to Inverness railway for many miles each time we head up to the north coast, but have never had the time to stop off and explore en route. Your post makes a visit to Pitlochry very tempting. 🙂

    As a lover of books, old and not-so-old I’d be very interested to see more of the castle’s collection.

    • September 13, 2013 7:50 pm

      It’s a nice route, isn’t it? I love the bleakness of the Drumochter pass, where the bare mountains loom up and the temperature drops. Sometimes you see herds of red deer moving across the hillsides, but not much else moves. Then on to the great slab of the Cairngorms, usually with snow in the corries.

  7. HIS permalink
    November 21, 2013 3:15 pm

    I write a blog about memorial drinking fountains and would like permission to use the photo of the Victorian drinking fountain. I will, of course, credit and link back to your site. You can view my blog at memorialdrinkingfountains.wordpress.com

    • November 24, 2013 12:14 am

      What an interesting project of yours. By all means please use this photo: I’m sorry it’s not a better one! The heron stands on an ornate pillar and has a broad, shallow bowl about two foot below him to catch the water. The whole thing is roughly five feet high. The bowl is painted pale sky blue, and the heron has fierce yellow eyes.

      • HIS permalink
        November 27, 2013 11:43 pm

        Thank you. The blog has been posted.

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