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Ballachulish railway: The Slow Train

Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 14th May 2015, last updated: 4th March 2019

In a more innocent age there was once a single track railway line that ran from Oban to a terminus at Ballachulish (The Scottish don’t pronounce the ‘c’ – it’s pronounced: Balla-hoo-lish). It was the Ballachulish branch of the Callander and Oban railway, opened in 1903. Trains travelled north through Connel Ferry, across a remarkable bridge built over Loch Etive.

Connel Bridge, built during the construction of Ballachulish railway, now a road bridge.

Connel Bridge, built during the construction of Ballachulish railway, now a road bridge.

They stopped at stations called North Connel, Benderloch, Barcaldine, Creagan, Appin, Duror, Kentallen, Ballachulish Ferry, before finally reaching a station called ‘Ballachulish & Glencoe’. This branch line used a token system in order to operate. The driver of the train had to present the stationmaster with a physical token, of which only one existed, in order to pass through a station. This eradicated the risk of collisions on a single track railway.

Ballachulish & Glencoe Station, Ballachulish Railway, Ben Brooksbank. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Comm

Ballachulish & Glencoe Station 1961, by Ben Brooksbank.

These slow trains came with their own culture. As train networks spread to remote places – which in effect was a rather short period in our history, Ballachulish railway was built in 1903 and dismantled in 1966 – the growth in cheap holidays gathered speed. Some tracks had a ‘camping coach’. This was an old carriage on a siding set aside with basic equipment for people to sleep in if they were making long journeys. These were especially used by holiday makers, and indeed targeted at holiday makers so they would use the railways.

Camping coach, Ballachulish railway

A camping coach

Sadly despite such marketing ideas the Ballachulish Branch never did become a commercial success and always ran at a loss. So it became one of the victims of the widespread Beeching cuts which closed many branch lines in 1966.

Creagan_Railway_Station, Ballachulish railway

Creagan station, still standing though the line is gone

Below is a remarkable piece of cine film from the 60’s showing one of the last journeys on the branch line, just a few days before it was due to close. The train is travelling from Connel Ferry up to Ballachulish. It passes Benderloch and shoots past Creagan before stopping at Appin – stations which no longer exist. You can see views of Castle stalker and Shuna island, and at the end of the film is an interesting view of Connel Bridge when it was a railway bridge and road bridge combined. Wouldn’t fancy driving along that thin piece of road when a freight train screams past. Even today the road bridge is so narrow there are traffic lights at either end so traffic can cross in single file!


For those who love old movies, we also found footage of Ballachulish Ferry filmed in 1926 long before the Bridge was built. (Ballachulish bridge was built in 1975). It was another world. Just check out that old car!


Ballachulish railway: The slow cycles!

This summer we are hoping for a new phenomenon taking place in Glencoe Wood, the happy sound of cycle bells! Sustrans is the company set up to build the National Cycle network across the UK. These cycle networks link up through some of the most beautiful parts of the country and often use the old railway routes. Route 78, is one of these, running from Oban to Fort William, and a large part of it runs along the old Ballachulish railway. The trains may be long gone, but much of the route remains, and cyclists can experience the beautiful scenery, the lochs and mountains, though in a slightly less leisurely fashion!

Appin Station, Ballachulish railway

Remains of Appin Station 2007

Sad to say, two miles of the railway route along Loch Linnhe up the A828 have been lost in recent years in order to enlarge the trunk road. But we would love to invite cyclists needing to avoid the A828 for a couple of miles to ride through our reserve and maybe stop for a while to take in the scenery. We warn you there is a bit of a hill, but you can always get off and push! If you like you can ring your bell when you pass our welcome cabin to show your support!

Ballachulish Ferry Station, Ballachulish railway

Ballachulish Ferry station, 1961, by Ben Brooksbank

One of our partners, Crankitup Gear, in Glencoe Village, has everything a cyclist needs including good quality cycles for hire, and it really is a great way to see the highlands, and would be especially good for riding between our two nature reserves of Glencoe Wood and Bumblebee Haven. For all our Lords, Lairds and Ladies Crankitup Gear will give you a 10% discount if you show them your plot card!

Crankitup Gear, a local family run shop, is just one of the many local businesses that have collaborated with Highland Titles to bring you discounts and special offers when you visit the area. See Our Highland Titles VIP page for further details on our partners.

We hope some of you Lairds, Lords and Ladies who are planning to visit the nature reserves might take up the challenge of riding Route 78 as part of your visit, and don’t forget to ring your bell – Stewart and Fiona, and the rest of our volunteers, will wonder what on earth is going on!

Crankitup Gear, Route 78 , Ballachulish railway

About the author

Written by: Stewart Borland

Comments on this post

  • Phillip Ebrall
    04/06/15 - 10:11

    I’m really touched by this. I love the old movie, and seeing not just the aerial wires but also the huge porcelain insulators. Wow, so much to take in.

    Thank you for all you do.


  • Thursa Wilde
    04/06/15 - 15:26

    Thanks for reading Phillip. Glad you enjoyed our trip down memory lane 🙂

  • Pamela Burnett (Australia)
    05/06/15 - 22:54

    I am so impressed. Thankyou for a wonderful newsletter. I would love to get over to Scotland and see Glenco, ride a bike, see my plot – meet the people. Maybe one day I will be there. Regards Pamela

  • Lord Ole Aagaard
    06/06/15 - 17:06

    Happy to see the railway-video. A shame the Railway is gone.
    I hope to see Glencoe one day.
    Regards from Denmark

  • Francoise Dousse-Seignier
    15/06/15 - 09:27

    Beautiful pictures of the trip and the film is a pretty way to remind all of us of the railway stations and trains. I will definitely become a member to go back to Scotland soon! Warm regards to all from a Frenchie living in Besancon. 🙂

  • Robin Kidd
    23/06/16 - 01:44

    RE. the video, I was born in Benderloch Station House ( above the offices ) in 1943 when my father was the station master there.
    The station is long gone, Beregonium is totally overgrown and inaccessible, Ben Lora covered in depressing forest. On a recent visit I was sad to see the neglected farm land where crops were once grown, now overgrown with brambles and gorse, probably in the name of conservation, similarly the once lovely views are hidden by scrub and trees growing by the roadside, the line is now a cycle trail with much of it like cycling through a tunnel of scrub & only occasional views of the lochs and hills. I consider myself to be a conservationist but it has gone too far to the detriment of our ability to enjoy this lovely part of Scotland.
    Robin Kidd New Zealand

  • Jeanne Christie
    30/03/19 - 10:47

    Lovely to watch, thank you. Muy family moved to the area just before the line was closed and I grew up there, so I’m very familiar with the route and have followed it many times since, from the bus rather than from a car, as you see more. I once had all the station signs, but had to let go of them when my dad gave up his garage! They went to a collector somewhere.

  • Colin Wetherill
    06/11/19 - 19:52

    My great uncle, Colin Christie, was one of the engine drivers on that line!

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