Far North Line Scotland

There is something about rail travel which I just find appealing. I just enjoy sitting in a carriage, hopefully, next to the large picture window, looking out at the passing countryside, as it gives me a true sense of travelling. One of the most memorable train trips that I have done is travelling on the Far North Line in Scotland, from Inverness to Thurso and return.

Thurso is the most northerly railway station in the United Kingdom, and the Far North Line is, apparently, only surviving after other lines have closed because the local roads were so bad. Although, I understand that many of those roads may have been re-aligned and improved.

Importantly, the Far North Line is still operating, and it is a great journey. A one way journey covers 160 miles, and takes three and three quarter hours to complete. It is certainly not the greatest, and probably not the prettiest rail journey in Britain, but it is certainly one of the most interesting. I did it when the skies were grey and there was some drizzle, but as this was north Scotland it was entirely the type of weather that I expected, so was an important factor in the experience.

The line is not electrified so the train is hauled by diesel locomotives which may not provide the same smooth ride as a mainline express, but the slight side-to-side roll of the carriages does make the journey more comforting as you know that you are on a train.

As does the scenery. For much of the trip you follow the coastline, passing tiny fishing villages with their boats bobbing on the waters, crossing firths and forths and rivers and canals. You stop at stations that are so small the platforms don’t extend to the full length of the carriages, so that you need to know what carriage you need to be in so that you can alight. Of course, the locals know all these things, but some of the iconic stations you visit seem to have no reason to exist.

Altnabreac, for instance, which is Britain’s most isolated railway station. Here is a town which consists of just two houses and no roads, yet the train stops here religiously, despite the fact that the patronage averages less than 100 passengers using the station per year. At Kildonan the train driver has to stop the train and check to see that no motorists are tootling down a seldom used road.

The Far North Line is archaic, iconic, unique and wonderful. How it still exists I have no idea, but long may it remain so that many more travellers can enjoy this odd but truly fantastic journey.

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