Highland Survivor: a tale of trains, trials and triumphs (Part 1)

It was the summer of 1973, and we – the makeshift and fairly useless Inverness Exiles football team – were trudging off a pitch on the Bught Park after yet another hammering by the Highlands and Islands Development Board and were on our way to a ‘post-match analysis’ at the Gellions, actually the whole point of the evening.

(Incidentally, before my life becomes too heated, I exempt from the above ‘fairly useless’ description our goalie Iain MacDonald, a splendid custodian whose later broadcasting and journalistic career earned him the soubriquet of ‘The Voice of the Highlands’, and who even surpassed this status by becoming a director of Kessock Books. But I digress.)

Back at the Bught, as I consoled our doughty centre-half and ex-Inverness Academy schoolmate, I could not have predicted that, over forty years later, he would be established as one of Britain’s leading and most respected railway authors or that I would be his editor and a director of the Inverness-based company which would publish one of his books.

But this situation has now come to pass, and the Exiles’ centre-half, David Spaven, has long since traded hoofing footballs for writing best-selling train books. And I have spent a good deal of my time over the last few months in encouraging Dave, today a railway expert and a natural writer, to bring his latest book to a mutually satisfactory conclusion.

So, on 21 September, Kessock Books publish his Highland Survivor: The Story of the Far North Line, an exhaustively reseached, carefully and meticulously written, and handsomely illustrated history of the 168-mile-long railway line which weaves its way from Inverness to Caithness.

Since its opening in the 1870s, the Far North Line has enjoyed prosperity, played a critical role in wartime, survived Dr Beeching’s proposed cuts in the 1960s, recovered from the collapse of the Ness Viaduct, staved off increasing competition from bus, lorry and car traffic on the A9 (and, in particular, the road bridge over the Dornoch Firth) and much else besides. It has stubbornly defended its existence in the face of threats and adversity, and it well deserves the honorific of Highland Survivor. We are also delighted to welcome David back to Inverness and to Kessock Books.

And the HIDB feature prominently in his story. But not their football team.

Rab MacWilliam, Publishing Director



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