Posts Tagged ‘Scotrail Far North Line’

a retrospective of a 1975 trip with my friend Mary, at age 20, recreated with travel journals, letters, and photos. Somewhere while writing these posts, I got the dates mixed up.  It was June, not May, when we started out!

Wednesday, 18 June 1975

Today we took the train up to Thurso—near the north tip of Scotland—and back.  Before catching the train, we picked out a cake at one of the wonderful Scottish Bakeries.

[When I shared this photo with Mary a few years ago, she wrote, “Oh, I remember this day! And the bakery. That’s where we picked out a plain sponge cake, about 8 inches round, and the bakery lady cut in half and FILLED it with cream for us. I couldn’t believe her generosity.” I replied that back at home I could never find a cake like that again, and she replied, “There never was such a cake again!”

This, from British Railways, probably was our route:

The Far North Line takes the right fork, north into Ross and Cromarty, bound for Sutherland and Caithness beyond.

As the carriage sweeps up the shore of the Cromarty Firth you’ll see Foulis Castle and the town of Invergordon, which has an intriguing series of murals commissioned by the local communities – from the lifeboats to the Anglers’ association.

This stretch of the coast has plenty of whisky distilleries: you’ll pass Teaninich, Dalmore and Whyte & Mackay’s Invergordon site, as well as Glenmorangie in Tain, and Balblair.

The line swings inland, but returns to the coast for a stop at Dunrobin Castle station, just a short distance from the impressive castle itself.

You’ll travel onwards past Helmsdale to Altnabreac – where things really begin to feel remote. From there it’s not far to Georgemas Junction where the train heads north first to Thurso, and then returns east to Wick.]

The train journey’s views  [four hours each way] got progressively bleaker, in a beautiful way, the further north we went.  Fewer trees and hills, then no hills—just flat land with sheep on it, with a few rolling swells in the earth.

Photos taken from the train:

wild rhododendrons

as the landscape got interestingly bleak

Wildlife seen: a herd of brown deer, some with antlers,  assorted different kinds of gulls, swans, a heron flying past trees over a loch on the way back, lots of rabbits!—just like Watership Down with their little burrows in the pasture banks.  I saw a beautiful old woman standing in the doorway of an pretty and very old cottage, looking out over her farm.  Wish I could grow old like that.  Lots of sheep with long shaggy coats, some shorn just around the middle like poodles.

[Looking at the map now, I wondered why we had not gone around the coast to John O’ Groats, then remembered that with our Britrail passes, we were reliant on any route the train took.]

We waved to people from the train.  Two young men, one blond and one brunette, waved to us from a river bank and we blew kisses at each other.  Four scrubby boys about 16 got on the train and walked through our car.  Of course, one said “How!” because of my headband.  Then they all broke into laughter and walked on.  Later, they sat down across the aisle from us and asked how we liked Scotland.  I said better than England, and they cheered.  I told them we were sisters.  They did not believe me so I said half sisters.  I couldn’t understand their accents as they talked among themselves except for the words, “Too fat.”  I could have remarked that they had a mangy, unwashed look.

About halfway up, we passed through a village called Helmsdale.   We had known it had a cottage-like hostel, but we had not known it was right on the ocean.  I wish we had stayed there.  It looked like the perfect place, the epitome of everything a coastal village should be.  (It looked 1/2″ from the shore on the map.) As it turned out, we should have gotten off there and not gone the two more hours to Thurso, because when we got to Thurso it was pouring rain and the shore was too far to walk to in the time that we had.  (It looked right on the shore on the map!) [Because of the eight hour round trip, it would have been a lot smarter to stay in Thurso and thus have time to explore, but perhaps there was no youth hostel, and we could not afford other accommodations.]

For lunch, I had white pudding and chips for 40p (20 p in Inverness) and Mary had coffee (20 instead of 10p). [Now that I live in a remote place, I know that it’s normal for groceries to cost more!]  I bought some pineapple crush to put in my bottle and, pouring without a funnel, managed to spill it on the counter.  The proprietor was very sweet and brought a towel and told me the counter had seen much worse than that.  In Thurso, we bought a sponge cake to eat on the way home (only 16p).  It tasted like a twinkie.  All the other treats we bought from Scottish bakeries were delicious.

Thurso buses

We arrived at the Inverness hostel at 10:50 PM.  You’re locked out if you get there later than 11!  We had wanted to catch the 6:15 AM train to Thurso in order to get back earlier, but the hostels won’t let you out before 7:00 and sometimes 8:00 AM.  Everyone in the hostel has to do a chore before we get our cards back and can leave.  Today, I had swept a corridor and a flight of stairs—murder on legs sore from all that climbing in Aviemore.  I had envied Mary’s chore of folding four blankets!

Thursday, 19 June 1975

On the train to the Kyle of Lochalsh to go to the Isle of Skye.

Mary checked on her ticket today.  She’ll be flying out of London on Tuesday, so we will part on Sunday or Monday.  I’ll feel mighty lonesome with no one to share pretty sights with.  We’ve had such fun.  I plan to stay on another four weeks after she leaves, and I am kind of scared because I have never traveled alone.  I won’t be likely to be able to afford plane tickets again for a long time, so I must make the most of this trip.

For today’s train trip, we bought some canned veggie salad, two apples, two oranges, veggie soup, and shortbread, and we each had a bridie for breakfast (pastry filled with meat and onions). Yesterday, we each bought a yogurt (9p for 6 oz, pretty good).  It was liquid like kefir and just delicious.  I had pear.  Yummers! Real fruit! And Mary had peach.  Mmm, good.  I wish I had remembered to get some today.  My mouth is still raw from eating too many pickled onions.

We just waved to two men wearing handsome tartan vests.

Now the train is going through the highlands—lochs, heather, gorse, tough grass, rushing rivers, rough hills, and very few houses. Only one poor road for cars along this part.  Today’s route: Inverness, Dingwall, Garve, Lochluichart, Achanalt, Stromeferry, Plockton, Duirinish, Kyle of Lochalsh, Kyleakin (Skye).

photos taken from the train between Inverness and Skye:


I am throwing in this photo. The caption says Lake Marieth, but I cannot find anything about it via Google.  It seems to be in the sequence of this train trip.


Kyle of Lochalsh

Kyle of Lochalsh ferry

Kyle of Lochalsh from the ferry, on the way to Isle of Skye…no bridge back then!

a page from my scrapbook of the trip

Next: The Isle of Skye


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