Monday, September 21, 2015
The Mallaig Line/The Kyle Line
These two railway guides are from 1971 or thereabouts. Because that’s in my lifetime, it seems to me contemporary: but it’s over forty years ago and I have to recognise that to others it is history, just as the Thirties would have seemed to me then.
They describe two of the most remote railway lines in Britain, in the far North of Scotland, giving a short history of their construction, then evoking each landmark and station. The author, Tom Weir, also took the trouble to talk to people who worked or travelled on the lines, and records their memories. They are a delight for the armchair traveller.
Some landowners only permitted the railways to go over their land if a private station was built for their own estate, and some of these wayside halts continue to exist, far from any significant settlement, bare platforms in the middle of nowhere. Quite a few supernatural stories start with a character alighting at a lonely station like these.
By the time Tom Weir is writing, increased motor car ownership and travel is beginning to threaten the existence of the railways (it was less than ten years since the major Beeching programme of closures). So he also takes care to explain their importance to local communities.
One of the charming aspects of the guides is that they were evidently funded in part by advertisements from local tradespeople: hotels, cafes, shops. The design and wording of these has a quaint air even to me today: they are notable for simplicity and civility.
But I particularly like the one for ‘The Record Rendezvous and Musicassette Centre”, Inverness. This could actually be of a shop today, except that now it would be tongue-in-cheek and be for a retro or vintage emporium.
Meanwhile, the “Loch Ness” Butter Shortbread has a faintly macabre offer:
Fingers and Petticoat Tails
in attractively wrapped tins
posted to all parts.