Highland Survivor wins RCHS award


David Spaven has won the prestigious Britain-wide ‘Railway Book of the Year’ award for his political, social and business history of the Far North Line from Inverness to Wick and Thurso.

Highland Survivor: the story of the Far North Line was announced as the category winner at a ceremony held by the Railway & Canal Historical Society in Exeter at the weekend.

The Society – which encourages the writing of ‘well-researched, interesting and readable books in the field of transport history’ – has been making annual awards since 2004 and this is the second occasion on which Spaven has been an award winner. His first book, Mapping the Railways – which has sold 70,000 copies – was awarded ‘Popular Transport Book of the Year’ in 2013.

The Society’s citation for Highland Survivor states:

‘The focus of this book is the story of the line’s survival since the 1950s told by someone who, for much of that time, has been closely associated with it in a professional capacity as a railway manager and consultant…The meat of the book is the detailed and informed account of the struggles against closure proposals and changing traffic, drawing extensively on records from the Highland Archive at Inverness…The author writes with enthusiasm and authority, advocating local management to enable the line’s continued survival, and emphasising the importance of developing local traffic south of Tain and promoting tourism on the northern section. It is important reading for those interested in railway history.’

The author – who travelled by train, of course, to Exeter for the awards ceremony – commented:

‘I’m delighted that this award will bring additional focus to a much-neglected railway, which deserves the same kind of attention as the better-known classic Highland tourist lines to Kyle, Fort William, Mallaig and Oban. ScotRail and tourist bodies should be applying to the Far North Line the same kind of transformative marketing as the highly successful North Coast 500 road campaign. The railway penetrates territory where no road goes, and over its half a dozen distinct geographical sections it skirts estuaries, climbs between mountain ranges and runs along a dramatic, unspoilt coastline. This is a hidden gem waiting to be discovered.

‘I began a working life spent in and around the rail industry on the Far North Line in 1973, and it has been a real pleasure to produce the first detailed account of its remarkable escape from the Beeching axe in 1964 and its subsequent chequered history. My aim was always to produce a well-researched and readable political, social and business history – rather than a traditional railway book focussing on locomotives and engineering – so it’s a wonderful accolade to receive this prestigious award from the Railway & Canal Historical Society.

‘It’s also fitting that the awards are made possible by a legacy from the late David St John Thomas – author of numerous books himself and well-known as a founder of the David & Charles publishing house – who spent the latter decades of his life in Nairn and took a keen interest in Highland railways.’

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