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  • The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century by John Jackson

    The date was 9th August 1968, a day I remember well. That was the day I crossed an imaginary line, and my imagination turned to reality. My love affair had begun.

    Leaving Carlisle’s Kingmoor yard behind me, my first entry in my beloved spotting notebook was to be at the isolated community of Beattock, around forty miles north of the border on the West Coast Main Line. That was the day that I had crossed the border from England to Scotland for the very first time.

    The iconic Forth Bridge, spanning the Firth of Forth since 1890. (The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    In the next few days I will notch up my fifty-first consecutive year of visiting Scotland at least once, and, most years, many times more.

    Just a couple of years ago, my visit to the re-opened Borders Railway ensured that I have still visited every open passenger railway station in that country. Of course, many escaped my grasp due to the ‘Beeching Axe’ taking out much of the Scottish passenger rail map before both my maturity and financial position would have enabled me to visit.

    Back in 1968, I was a teenager with a hobby, but it was so much more than that. It was, and still is, a passion. My father had lit the touchpaper by sharing with me his love of steam engines. Those beasts may have come and gone but my love affair with our railways remains. In recent years, my camera has become my travelling companion as I pursue another railway target, this time to take at least one photo at every station on the rail network. That remains a tall order.

    So, fast-forward fifty years from that teenage moment in 1968, and I am standing on the single platform at Altnabreac. This isolated station is just over forty miles south of Wick on the Far North Line. My wife and father-in-law, and our car, are left behind at nearby Scotscalder as I make the ‘out and back’ journey with a twenty-minute connection here at Altnabreac having arrived on the lunchtime southbound train and then returning north almost immediately.

    The remote outpost of Altnabreac on Scotland’s Far North Line. (The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century, Amberley Publishing)

    As I stood at this remote outpost I had to pinch myself. The motivation for this particular journey was to take a photo, not just for my private enjoyment, but also for imminent publication.

    I had decided that Altnabreac was to feature on the Far North Line pages of ‘The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century’, my tenth title for Amberley Publishing. It didn’t matter that there was no road access to this station whatsoever! The twenty minutes waiting here between trains gave me the chance to archive yet another chapter in my Scottish Railway memories.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed travelling the length and breadth of Scotland’s railways over the last half century. Of course, the Scottish railway scene has changed much in that time. By the time of my early ventures north the steam engines had disappeared, but in their wake came a wide variety of Diesel locomotive types. Most of these locos seemed to spend most of their time stabled out of use at the many depots that littered Scotland in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Most of those locos and depots have also been consigned to history. But Scotland’s railways still have much to tempt me north.

    The last few years of these travels are reflected in this book. The publication takes a whistle-stop tour of those lines that survived into the twenty-first century. From the border city of Carlisle to the Far North termini at Wick and Thurso, the book covers the length and breadth of the country. I have included as many lines and locations as space constraints allow. I hope you have the chance to share my journey.

    John Jackson's new book The Scottish Rail Scene in the Twenty-First Century is available for purchase now.

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