David Fasken and I have been travellers on the world-famous Kyle line since 1966. We spent our formative years in Inverness, and the opportunity to travel the 82 miles from the North Sea coast to the Atlantic Ocean was always irresistible.
The scenery is, of course, mostly glorious – but the typical tourist guide book gives the impression that the skies are always blue and that everything in the landscape is delightful. This kind of hype can lead to disappointment on the day – so David and I have set out to take a long-established tradition in a new direction.
The Insider Rail Guide aims to provide an entertaining and informative companion to the 82-mile journey, but we don’t shirk some of the realities which are often glossed over in visitor brochures. As the Guide says: ‘…we won’t assume that the sun is shining gloriously throughout your journey’. This is a wise precaution, given that the English translation of the Gaelic placename ‘Achnasheen (the watershed between the east and west coasts) is ‘field of rain’. But the Kyle line can look at its best in all kinds of weather – from crisp, clear winter days with snow-capped peaks, to the moody atmosphere of ‘dreich’ (bleak) periods at any time of the year.
The natural landscape gives the Kyle line much of its grandeur, but the built environment – particularly in and around stations – has a big impact on the travel experience. There are some delightful station locations – notably at Duncraig, Plockton and Kyle on the west coast – but one or two are an embarrassment, as the Guide explains in the case of lonely Lochluichart station, which was rebuilt in the 1950s:
‘The ‘new’ station building (no longer in railway use) demonstrates that utilitarian, indeed ugly, architecture was firmly established well before the unlamented 1960s. Keep your fingers crossed that nobody will request a stop at Lochluichart, as the station is also flanked to the north by a bizarre, semi-abandoned junk yard of portakabins, lamp posts, satellite dishes, breeze blocks and flower pots. Yet the station sports a Keep Scotland Beautiful ‘Bronze Award’ plaque!’
Like all good guide books, our book has lots of illustrations. But we took a conscious decision to avoid completely the use of colour photos and only to use railway views dominated by locomotives where this adds to the story. Instead, the Insider Rail Guide has a more ‘arty’ feel than typical tourist literature – we carefully selected 41 well-composed black & white photos of scenes along the railway and commissioned cartographer Alan Young to produce two hand-drawn maps and Inverness artist Merrill MacWilliam to create 11 sketches of the lineside environment.
Our aim has been to present a practical and honest account of a memorable train journey – we hope you like it.
Visit www.kessockbooks.com to order your copy of ‘The Insider Rail Guide – Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh’