Book Review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
The Waverley Line was, perhaps, the most romantic of railway routes. It was named after Sir Walter Scott’s great novels. It ran from Edinburgh to Carlisle through the wildest and most beautiful of country, crossing the border between Scotland and England, traversing a land rich in history and folklore. It created its own remarkable village at Riccarton Junction, a place of 180 people so remote that it could not be reached by road. Nevertheless, it had its own engine and carriage sheds, engine turntable, foundry and gasworks.
The line opened in 1862 and was axed by Dr. Beeching just over a hundred years later in 1969. It didn’t die without a fight. In Newcastleton the minister of the local church was arrested for stopping the train.
Today, work is going ahead for the northern part of the line to open in 2014.
Forty-three years have seen the line change beyond recognition.
The signal box at Harker with its wooden steps climbing up to the signalman’s vantage point with the corners fully glazed in both directions in now a most attractive summerhouse. The line where the trains once ran is now a gravelled path leading to the doors of a pink double garage.
The gentle gradients on the line that curved north from the A74 towards Longtown allowed the steam trains to reach speeds of seventy miles an hour. Today cows graze where once the parallel lines sped towards the horizon and the relentless motorway traffic rushes past. The bridge still stands that carried the old A74, but bridge 260 spans a dense coppice that has thrived on the old cinder track.
The substantial station at Lyneside closed in 1929 for want of passengers, but the signal box stayed in operation while boys in short trousers played on tricycles in the garden. Today the signal box has gone, the garden is walled and planted with shrubs and conifers.
The line crossed the Esk on a seven-span plate girder viaduct. Today the line and girders and the bastions planted firmly in the swirling waters have all disappeared and only a gravel island interrupts the Esk as it flows briskly to the sea.
In 1970 a bulldozer eased up the old rails in front of the station at Scots Dyke that in medieval times marked the border between the two kingdoms.
The buildings are still there. The station has become a small bay-windowed cottage and the waiting room, newly glazed, is now a conservatory. Proudly displayed across its lintel is the wooden sign for Scots Dyke Station. The red-sandstone edge of the platform still marks the place where the trains from Edinburgh once stopped.
Where once, at Newcastleton, an A3 Class 4-6-2 would get up a fine head of steam, preparing to tackle the Whitrope Bank, there is now a muddy track. The station had white palings and a neatly trimmed flower-bed.
At Riccarton Junction where the lines curved and crossed and went their separate ways to Hexham or Edinburgh or Carlisle, there is just a gravelled track and scrub land. The telegraph poles and the overhead lights have disappeared and the yards and the signal box are overgrown. Elsewhere the main station buildings have been renovated and the area landscaped.
Roy Perkins and Iain MacIntosh apologise because they have not always been able to supply contemporary pictures that exactly match the old grey pictures of the railway in its prime. It “has not always been feasible because of tree growth, new buildings or changes in level”.
No apology is needed for a book that so gently evokes a long lost railway line. The overgrown track-bed, the silent stations and the empty bridges have their own romance.