Ballachulish railway: The Slow Train
Written by: Stewart Borland
Published: 14th May 2015
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!