Far North Line

(Far North Railway Line)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

This edition is copyright © The Editors of the Gazetteer for Scotland, 2002-2022.

It has taken much time and money to make the six-volumes of Groome's text freely accessible. Please help us continue and develop by making a donation. If only one out of every ten people who view this page gave £5 or $10, the project would be self-sustaining. Sadly less than one in thirty-thousand contribute, so please give what you can.

Use the tabs on the right of this page to see other parts of this entry Arrow

Highland Railway, a railway serving the north and north-western districts of Scotland, and traversing the counties of Perth, Moray, Nairn, Inverness, and Ross, with allied lines extending into the counties of Sutherland and Caithness, and, at Strome Ferry on the west coast, giving access to Skye and the Hebrides. The system comprises 305¾ miles in the main line, 110¼ of allied railways worked by the Highland Company, and 7¼ of the Caledonian railway from Perth to Stanley, over which the Company has running powers under an annual toll of £5000. The inception of the Highland railway as a through line dates from 1856, when powers were obtained to construct a line called the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction from Keith, the terminus of the Great North of Scotland railway (see Great North of Scotland Railway) to Nairn. In 1854 the Inverness and Nairn railway had been authorised, and was opened as a single line, 15½ miles in length, in November 1855, this being the first portion of the system actually in operation. The railway from Nairn to Keith, 40 miles, was opened in August 1858. In 1861 an act was obtained for the construction of the Inverness and Ross-shire railway, which was opened to Dingwall, 18 miles, in June 1862, and to Invergordon, 31¼ miles, in May 1863. In 1861 the branch from Alves to Burghead, 5½ miles, was authorised, and it was opened in 1862. In the meantime, by an act passed in June 1862, the Inverness and Aberdeen Junction and the Inverness and Ross-shire railways were amalgamated; and by an act passed in 1863, the amalgamated company obtained powers to make an extension to Tain and Bonar-Bridge, 26½ miles, the last-named station being the northern limit of the subsequently amalgamated companies. While these railways were being constructed on the basis of affording a continuation from the Great North of Scotland line northwards, steps were taken to open up an independent access to the North. In July 1854, the Perth and Dunkeld railway was incorporated, and the line, 8¾ miles, was opened in April 1856. By an act passed in 1861, the Inverness and Perth Junction railway was sanctioned, 103¼ miles in all, consisting of a single line from Forres, on the railway first named, to the terminus of the Perth and Dunkeld railway, with a branch to Aberfeldy. This line (which was to be worked by the Inverness and Aberdeen company) was opened from the south to Pitlochry in June, from Forres southwards to Aviemore in August, and throughout in September 1863. In that year this company was amalgamated with the Perth and Dunkeld. In June 1865, the various railways now described were amalgamated under the title of the Highland Railway. In July 1865 an act was obtained for the construction of the Dingwall and Skye Railway, which was in 1880 amalgamated with, and now forms an integral part of, the Highland railway. In the same year powers were got for the Sutherland railway, which was projected to run from Invergordon, the northern terminus of the Highland railway, to Brora, a distance of 32½ miles. The line was made to Golspie only, being 26½ miles ; and under an act obtained in 1870, the Duke of Sutherland was empowered to make a railway from Golspie to Helmsdale, a distance of 17 miles, occupying 6 miles of the line formerly authorised, which were then abandoned. In July 1871 the Sutherland and Caithness railway was authorised, from Helmsdale to Wick, with a branch to Thurso, the line being 66 miles in length. It was opened in July 1874. All these lines last described were made on the footing of being worked by the Highland company. In 1883 the total capital of the Highland railway (including the capital of the amalgamated Dingwall and Skye, £330, 000) was £3, 817,047, of which there had been raised in shares £2, 775,692 (ordinary stock £1, 681,962, the remainder in preference stocks at various rates), in debenture stocks £1,041,355. The capital of the Sutherland Railway Company amounted to £204,850 (£144, 930 ordinary stock, the remainder debenture loans) ; the Duke of Sutherland had expended £70,585 on his railway ; and the Sutherland and Caithness Railway Company's capital amounted to £414,559 (ordinary stock £294,849, the remainder debenture loans), making on the entire system a capital expenditure of £4, 440,040. On its ordinary stock the Highland Railway Company has for some time paid a steady dividend ; and the Sutherland Company, after meeting interest on its loan capital, has paid on its ordinary stock a small dividend of from ¾ to 1½ per cent. The Duke of Sutherland regularly publishes the accounts of his 17 miles of railway, on which, however, there is no proper capital account, as no charge is made for the land occupied. Taking the actual outlay in constructing the line, the profit, after meeting the demands of the working company, would be equal to nearly 3 per cent. Throughout, the system consists of single line of railways, with suitable passing places at stations, etc., but the section between Inverness and Dalcross has been made a double line. In the year last reported upon the Highland railway carried 137, 425 first class, 67, 242 second class, and 1,040,592 third class passengers, yielding, with 1921 season ticket holders, a revenue of £140, 755. Parcels and mails gave a revenue of £50, 935, merchandise £98,999, live stock £25,467, minerals £24, 810, and miscellaneous £7100, making a total revenue of £349,080. For working the allied lines the company received £21,733 in the year. The rolling stock to earn this revenue consisted of 71 locomotives, 283 passenger vehicles (including luggage vans, etc.), and 2404 waggons of various kinds, embracing the significant item of 15 snow ploughs. The passenger and goods traffic over the system is largely carried on by mixed trains, so that the mileage under each head cannot be given separately. The train mileage on the principal line was 1,266,369½ miles, on the Sutherland railway 56,252, on the Duke of Sutherland's railway 36,383¾, and on the Sutherland and Caithness railway 128, 315, or a total of 1,486, 321¼ train miles in the year. The accounts of the lesser companies are issued once a year ; and from the last published accounts it appears that in the year the Sutherland Company carried 59,668 passengers, yielding £4095 in fares, and that the total revenue for the year was £10, 779. The Duke of Sutherland's railway carried in the year 40, 652 passengers, and had a total revenue of £5945 ; and the Sutherland and Caithness railway carried 98,168 passengers, and received a total revenue of £19,363. The receipts per train mile were, on the Highland railway, 69.62d. and 60. 21d. respectively in the two halves of the year, on the Sutherland railway 45.35d., on the Duke of Sutherland's railway 38.81d. , and on the Sutherland and Caithness railway 36. 85d The Highland Railway Company is conducted by a board consisting of a chairman, deputy-chairman, and 18 directors ; the Sutherland railway by a board containing a chairman and 3 directors ; and the Sutherland and Caithness railway by a board comprising chairman, deputy-chairman, and 6 directors. The Duke of Sutherland's railway is managed, financially, as part of the estate.

While the Highland railway and its allied lines have been largely instrumental in opening up a picturesque and interesting portion of Scotland, and in attracting many thousands of tourists annually to famous places and districts, the primary object in their construction has been the improvement of the country and the development of its resources. The lines have been constructed to a very large extent by capital provided in the district ; and while the financial success of the main railway has made it a favourite with investors, the continuation lines afford very little prospect of being made remunerative in a direct way. In the construction of the railways, the land has, as a rule, been obtained on favourable terms, the railways having been made after the earlier ideas that such works would impair or destroy the value of property had died down. The railways reckon as amongst the cheapest lines in the kingdom, the average cost of constriction having been, on the original Highland line, £14,400 ; on the Dingwall and Skye, £5880 ; on the Sutherland, £7548 ; on the Duke of Sutherland's railway (outlay only), £4400 ; and on the Sutherland and Caithness, £6280 per mile.

The trains northward on the Highland railway are made up in the general station at Perth, at platforms set apart for the purpose ; and from that terminus to Stanley the route is over the Caledonian railway. From Stanley (7¼ miles from Perth) the line proceeds through a rich part of Perthshire, a portion of Strathmore, and reaches Murthly station (11¾ miles), beyond which the finely-wooded grounds of Murthly Castle are skirted. The line passes through a tunnel of 300 yards just before reaching Birnam station (15¾ miles), which occupies a fine position on the side of Birnam Hill, with the Tay flowing between the railway and the finely-situated town of Dunkeld. We are here recalled to the fact that the valley of the Tay, where we now are, is the proper gate of the Highlands ; and in selecting this as the point at which to break through the mountain barriers, the railway simply followed the example set by all, whether Roman invaders, military road makers like General Wade, or the more peaceable Highland Roads and Bridges Commissioners, who have essayed the task. The tourist finds himself here in the midst of the softer attractions of the Highlands. The town of Dunkeld is beautifully situated amongst wooded hills, and its old cathedral occupies a picturesque site, while at its side are shown the first larches seen in Scotland, the tree having been introduced by the Duke of Athole in 1738. Leaving Dunkeld, the railway crosses the Bran, and beween this point and Dalguise (20½ miles) there is a tunnel of 360 yards. At Dalguise the line crosses the Tay on a handsome lattice-girder bridge of 360 feet span. From here to Guay (21¾ miles) the line passes through a fine valley, with hill and wood and river, making up a beautiful scene. Beyond Guay there is a fine view of the district of the junction of the Tay and the Tummel ; and Ballinluig Junction (24 miles) is reached, where the Aberfeldy line branches off. This branch, 9 miles long, crosses both rivers on lattice-girder bridges, the Tay in two spans of 136 feet and two of 40 feet, and the Tummel in two spans of 122 feet and two of 35 feet each. There are on the branch upwards of forty bridges, and also a number of heavy cuttings and embankments. There is a station at Grandtully (4¼ miles) and at Aberfeldy, the latter being. 33 miles from Perth. The next station on the principal line is Pitlochry (28¾ miles), beyond which the railway traverses the famous and picturesque ' Pass of Killiecrankie,' with Killiecrankie station, 32½ miles from Perth. Just before entering a short tunnel at the head of the pass, the railway passes over a remarkable bit of engineering, being carried on a lofty viaduct of stone about five hundred yards long, and open below in ten arches, generally dry, but provided in case of damage from flood. This viaduct rises 40 feet above the bed below, and as it curves round towards the tunnel, it affords the traveller a very interesting view of the wild pass and its surrounding hills. At Blair Athole (35½ miles) is seen the old house or castle of Blair, originally a singularly plain building, but now very much altered and improved by the present Duke of Athole. The trees along the railway grounds, planted originally to shut out the railway, now effectually shut out the view of the castle except at one or two points, where a momentary glimpse of it can be obtained. At a few miles' distance the river Bruar is crossed. The famous ' petition ' made by Burns to the Duke of Athole has been granted so fully that the beautiful falls on the stream are now quite concealed from public view. Numerous walks and bridges have been made to display their beauties. We now enter upon the more remote and bleak portion of the line. The river Garry is seen on the right, fretting and tossing over a very rocky bed ; while on the left ranges of magnificent hills fill up the scene. At Struan or Calvine station (40 miles) the railway is carried across the river Garry on a fine stone bridge of three arches 40 feet in height. Below the centre span, which is 80 feet wide, the old road is carried across the river Garry on an old bridge. Approaching Dalnaspidal station, the railway is carried through a very heavy rock cutting. Looking westwards a fine glimpse is obtained of Loch Garry. There is a good road from Dalnaspidal by the foot of Schiehallion, one of the most striking of Highland mountains. The road skirts Loch Rannoch and Loch Tay on its route to Aberfeldy. Before reaching the next station, the line ascends by steep gradients to its summit-level on the boundary of the counties of Perth and Inverness, the height being 1462 feet above sea-level. The scenery here is wild and desolate, presenting scarcely a sign of human occupancy, or even of animal life save that of grouse, for which the district is famous. We are here traversing the forest of Drumouchter or the ' cold ridge.' Crossing the watershed, the line descends rapidly for a short distance, and then with a gentler gradient reaches Dalwhinnie (58 miles), where, in the midst of a scene of great desolation, the traveller is astonished to find a busy railway station, with many passengers joining and leaving the train, this being the centre of a wide district at which many roads converge. Two prominent hills on the left are called respectively the Sow of Athole and the Boar of Badenoch. The next station is Newtonmore (68½ miles), the distance of 10½ miles between those stations marking the desolate character of the district through which the railway is here carried. The township of Kingussie (71¾ miles) occupies an important position as a half-way station on the journey to Inverness, and also as the point from which the coach runs daily by Loch Laggan and Spean Bridge to Fort William. The next station is Boat of Inch (77½ miles). On leaving Kingussie, the ruined barracks of Ruthven are seen upon a mound to the right ; and further on the left, on the side of a wooded hill, are seen Belville House and the monument erected to Macpherson of Belville, the translator and editor of Ossian. The line is now completely in rear of the Grampians, and at this part of the journey splendid views of the northern ranges in Inverness-shire are obtained. Two miles from Boat of Inch the railway passes Tor Alvie, on the top of which is placed a cairn in memory of Highlanders who fell at Waterloo, and on the Hill of Kinrara a tall pillar to the memory of the last Duke of Gordon. Further on the opposite side the mass of the Hill of Craigellachie is seen to the left. Aviemore station (83½ miles) is next reached. Along this portion of the line have been executed some difficult engineering works, including a considerable amount of embanking, to guard the railway against the floods on the impetuous river Spey. Passing on to Boat of Garten station (88½ miles), the railway forms there a junction with the Strathspey railway (see Great North of Scotland Railway). Re-entering Inverness-shire, the railway reaches Broomhill or Abernethy station (92¾ miles), and here, bending more to the northward, takes leave of the Spey, whose course it has followed for many miles, and reaches Grantown (96 miles), beyond which it enters upon heavy rock cuttings, and ascends by steep gradients to an inferior summit-level on the Knock of Brae Moray. Dava station (104½ miles) lies on the northern slope of the range, the line here descending by rapid gradients. Five miles from Dava the railway crosses the river Divie on a large stone bridge of seven spans, and of great height. Like the other large viaducts on this line, this bridge is flanked by battlemented towers at each end. Beyond Dunphail station is the descent towards Forres, in the course of which a fine view is in clear weather obtained from the train, extending over the Moray Firth, and showing beyond the broken coast-line and fine mountain ranges in Ross, Sutherland, and Cromarty. The train passes through a deep cutting, and immediately thereafter crosses a gigantic embankment of 77 feet high, and it then descends to Forres Junction (119¼ miles), where the lines to Keith and Inverness diverge. At Keith station (149¼ miles from Perth) there is a through connection over the Great North of Scotland railway to the south. The stations between Keith and Forres are Mulben (5 miles), Orton (8¼), Fochabers (11½), Lhanbryde (14½), Elgin (17¾ ), Alves Junction (23), and Kinloss (27) from Keith respectively. At Orton there is a nominal junction with the Morayshire branch of the Great North of Scotland railway, which is now disused. From Alves the Burghead branch, 5 miles long, strikes off, with a stopping place at Coltfield platform, and from Kinloss a short branch leads to Findhorn. At present (1883) the company is constructing a branch 13½ miles long to connect the important harbour of Buckie with the system at Keith. Resuming the main journey towards Inverness, we cross the Findhorn river on a handsome girder bridge of three large spans. To the right are seen glimpses of the Culbin sands, which many years ago covered over a fertile tract of country. The first station is Brodie (122¾ miles from Perth), at which Nairnshire is reached, and the river Nairn is crossed on a stone bridge of four 70-feet spans, reaching Nairn station (128¾ miles). The line then proceeds to Fort George station (134½ miles), near the military depot of that name, to Dalcross (137¼), and Culloden (140¾), reaching the central station at Inverness (144), where are placed the administrative offices and the extensive workshops of the company. Leaving Inverness the line crosses the Ness by a fine stone bridge, and afterwards crosses the Caledonian Canal by a swing bridge, so as not to interfere with the traffic of the canal. The line in this part of its course follows in some measure the indentations of the coast, skirting in succession the Beauly Firth, Cromarty Firth, and Dornoch Firth, till Bonar-Bridge, at the head of the last named, is reached. The stations are Bunchrew (3½ miles from Inverness), Leutran (5¾), Clunes (7½), Beauly (10), Muir of Ord, near the great market-stance of that name (13), Conon (16½), Dingwall (18½), Novar ( 5), Invergordon (31½), Delny (34¾), Parkhill (36¾), Nigg (39¼), Fearn (40¾), Tain (44¼), Meikleferry (46¾), Edderton ( 49¼), and Ardgay (57¾), this terminus of the Highland line proper being 201 miles from Perth. The extension from Inverness to Ardgay passes through the rich agricultural district of Easter Ross, with woods and mansions indicating a cultivated and prosperous community. At Muir of Ord the country is bleaker, and the portion from Tain to the terminus is also of a less rich character. On the right going N the eye of the traveller meets a pleasing succession of changeful scenes as the several arms of the sea are approached and left, and the mountains of Ross-shire at varying distances give a striking character to the prospects in that direction. For its extent, the line from Inverness to Tain presents the best proportion and the finest examples of cultivated landscape on the system. The Dingwall and Skye branch (so called because from its western terminus it communicates by steamer with the Isle of Skye) leaves the main line at Dingwall, and, proceeding by a steep ascent, reaches Strathpeffer station (4½ miles), which occupies an elevated position above the village and spa giving it a name. Proposals are now (1883) under consideration to make a branch on a lower level to the village itself, with the ultimate purpose of forming a loop with the main branch further on, and so save the heavy gradients of this part of the line. This route was originally proposed, but was abandoned owing to the opposition of one of the proprietors. Leaving Strathpeffer, the railway continues the ascent, and passes through a remarkable rockcutting, over which towers the gigantic mass of the Raven Rock (Creag-an-fhithaich) 250 feet high. Skirting Loch Garve, the line next reaches Garve station (12 miles), at which point the coach for Ullapool, crossing the ' Diridh More, ' connects with the railway. A bleak district of nine miles is here encountered, and then the railway runs along the margin of the lower end of Loch Luichart, where the landscape is finely wooded. Between Loch Luichart station (17 miles) and Achanault (21¼ miles) the line follows the watercourse of the district, passing the falls of Grudie and crossing the Achanault Burn at the point where two small lochs are divided by a neck. At Anchnasheen (27¾ miles) the coaches for Loch Maree and Gairloch connect with the railway, and a short distance beyond the line crosses the watershed, reaching a summit-level of 634 feet above the sea-level. From Garve onwards the line passes through a district of splendid mountain scenery, and from Auchnasheen, descending rapidly towards the western shore, enters upon scenes of much grandenr and desolation , enlivened by an attractive oasis in Auchnashellach (40 miles), a picturesque house surrounded by fine gardens placed in the midst of a bare and forbidding mountain region. At Strathcarron (45¾ miles) the railway strikes the coast of Loch Carron, an extensive sea loch, and, pursuing the shore-line, reaches Attadale (48 miles) and Strome Ferry (53 miles from Dingwall and 215½ from Perth), the present terminus of the line. The originally proposed terminus was 10½ miles further on, at Kyle-Akin, where a narrow strait only divides the mainland from Skye, the titular terminus of the railway. The Sutherland railway starts from Bonar-Bridge, and, following the line of the Kyle of Sutherland , strikes inland until the foot of Loch Shin is reached, when it curves seaward again, traversing Strath Fleet and reaching the sea at Golspie. Beyond Invershin station (3½ miles from Bonar) the railway follows the course of the river Shin, a romantic scene, in the course of which some heavy rock cuttings and embankings had to be executed. Lairg station (9 miles) is a noted terminus for anglers, who here leave the railway for Loch Shin and a multitude of inland and sea lochs which have no nearer access, and to which conveyance is had in mail gigs, etc. Passing from the hilly districts into more cultivated regions, the railway passes Rogart (19 miles) and The Mound (23), the latter situated at the great embankment, with slnices, built by the Highland Roads and Bridges Commissioners at a cost of £12, 000. Golspie station (26½ miles) stands at the W end of the fishing village of that name, at the E end of which stands the palatial residence of the Duke of Sutherland, Dunrobin Castle. The railway route is now for 17 miles carried on by the line built by the Duke of Sutherland almost entirely at his own expense. Beyond Golspie there is a private station called Dunrobin, only used when notice to stop is given, and occupying a position near one of the approacches to the castle. The other stations are Brora (6 miles), Loth (11½), and Helmsdale (17), the last-named, at the important fishing village of that name, being the terminus of the Duke of Sutherland's railway. From Helmsdale the route is continued by the line of the Sutherland and Caithness Company. Beyond Helmsdale the public road northwards crosses the Ord of Caithness, but the railway line turns aside to follow inland the course of the Helmsdale river, in Strath Ilie, the first station being Kildonan (9½ miles from Helmsdale), beyond which it crosses a long stretch of wild and exposed country, where snow blocks on the railway are of frequent occurrence in winter. The stations here are Kinbrace (16¾ miles), Forsinard (24¼), and Altnabreac (32½), beyond which, in a more lowland territory, there are stations at Scotscalder (41¾) and Halkirk (44), and at Georgemas Junction (46) the lines for Wick and Thurso diverge. The distance to Thurso is 6¾ miles, with an intermediate station at Hoy, the terminus being 298 miles from Perth. The line to Wick proceeds to Bower (2¾ miles from the j unction), Watten (6½), and Bilbster (9), the extreme terminus of the system being at Wick, 14 miles from Georgemas Junction, l61¼ from Inverness, and 305 from Perth.

The Highland railway and its continuations fulfil an important function in providing communication over a very large portion of Scotland, performing the threefold task of opening up a market for the produce of the hills in sheep, cattle, grain, etc. , of carrying merchandise into the district from other quarters, and of opening up to tourists and sportsmen some of the grandest portions of Scottish scenery. Excepting Inverness, the towns served by the line are small, but, as will be seen, the railway touches at many fishing villages on the Moray Firth and further N, embracing the important, but not now undisputed, capital of the herring fishery, Wick. By means of the branch to Strome Ferry it has opened up an alternative route to Skye and the Outer Hebrides, previously only accessible by long sea voyages. In the extreme N the development of the railway has not rewarded those by whose capital the lines were made, the sinuous line followed in order to render the system valuable locally having in a great measure lessened its likelihood of proving a good through line for traffic to Orkney. In the branches to Aberfeldy and Strome Ferrv, as well as in the main through route, the railway holds an important place in the tourist routes throughout Scotland, many tours in conjunction with coaches, steamers on the Caledonian Canal, etc. , being organised. The most striking feature of the system, in the eye of a stranger, is the long stretches of apparently desolate country through which the railway for many miles pursues its way, while at many points the view obtained from the train embraces. scenes of grandeur and impressiveness not excelled in any other railway in the kingdom. The Highland Company is now (1883) engaged in resisting the proposal to construct a new railway to Inverness, traversing the line of the Caledonian Canal, Glencoe, Loch Lomond, etc. , to a junction with the North British railway near Glasgow.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

If you have found this information useful please consider making
a donation to help maintain and improve this resource. More info...

By using our site you agree to accept cookies, which help us serve you better