I feel as if I have neglected my favourite part of the UK railway network this year. The only downside to spending a lot of my summer trundling between Edinburgh and Aviemore to volunteer on the Strathspey Railway was that I didn't really feel like doing a 3rd or 4th weekly trip up the Highland Main Line to get to the North Highland Lines. The Kyle Line runs east-west from Inverness (west) to Kyle of Lochalsh (east). Although the settlements it links are fairly important (certainly in that part of the world), there is a lot of 'nothingness' in between. This 'nothingness' is essentially brilliant scenery and a few small settlements. That means there are a number of very small stations along the route which see few passengers. One of these is Achnashellach, a request stop between Achnasheen and Strathcarron which sees between 800 and 1000 people per year.
I didn't have to get up as stupidly early as I normally have to for these trips. A train at the reasonable time of half past 9 took me up to Perth. I had been monitoring this for quite a while, as there had been problems on that line during the morning because of a broken down train. Luckily, the expected 15 minute delay did not happen, and the train arrived at Perth 3 minutes early.
Of course, while I had been on the train, a signalling fault had developed on the Highland Main Line at Carrbridge. Journey Check stated that the estimated fix time was midday. My train was due to pass through the area almost an hour after that, so I decided that my train was in the clear. Of course, I was wrong. That signalling fault meant that all the trains on the line were running out of course. Because the Highland Main Line is mostly single track, we had to wait at Stanley for 20 minutes for another train to pass us. We could have passed at Dunkeld & Birnam, but a rail had broken there.
3 faults and a near 30 minute delay meant by 11 minute change at Inverness was not going to happen. I spoke to the conductor, and he said that he would communicate with his control so that they could decide what would happen. 3 other people also wanted to change onto the 13:35 Kyle service at Inverness. As the train progressed, time was made up and then lost again.
Control decided that “a decision on whether to hold the Kyle service would be made at Moy [a passing loop 15 minutes south of Inverness]. If the train wasn't held, ScotRail would provide a taxi to Achnasheen [one of the stations on the Kyle Line] and we would be able to board the train there (the road being faster than the train).”
The train wasn't held, and the 4 of us got into the large taxi for the sprint to Achnasheen. Just over an hour later, we all arrived at the station, and were 12 minutes ahead of the train. The train was also slightly late. Achnasheen, although being one of the bigger and busier stations on the Kyle Line, has some impressive views.
The train arrived, and 3 of us got on. The 4th was only going as far as Achnasheen anyway. I made sure I requested Achnashellach from the conductor as she came through. 19 minutes later, the train pulled up at the request stop. The automatic announcement system gleefully announced “We are now approaching Achnashellach. This is a request stop.” I've always had a problem with this last sentence, mainly because it is the first time that the system specifically states that the station in question is a request stop. Any passenger would have no time to alert a member of staff that they wished to get off. Guards on the route make up for the shortcomings of the computer by asking people where they are getting off.
Back to the journey, and my train had arrived at the station. I got off, thanking the conductor. The train departed, and I was left to look around.
Yes, despite all the infrastructure failures attempting to prevent me from reaching my destination, I was at Achnashellach only 5 minutes late.
The station itself is nestled in a wood, with only a few farm buildings for company. It is a simple station, although it has quite a long platform. There are a large number of signs clustered at one end of the platform (by the level crossing) and a simple shelter in the middle. That's about it.
I had almost 3 hours before my train back to Inverness. I decided to have a walk down to a nearby Loch (Loch Dughaill) and observe it. On previous trips I have had a lot of enjoyment looking at Lochs. I was forced to spend 15 minutes walking along a country road to get there, but this walk was worth it. The pictures don't quite do it justice, but here they are anyway.
I spent an hour looking at the Loch, eating the last bits of my lunch, and talking to myself. It was lovely to be in proper solitude outside for the first time in a ages. I made sure to let off plenty of steam.
Of course, being November in Scotland, the sun had set before I had realised. The walk back along the road felt a lot shorter (because I knew where I was going), but I was kept on my toes because of the speed of the traffic and the light levels. I made it to the turning up to the station without any difficulties, and spend the remaining hour failing to take pictures of the station because of the darkness.
The Journey Home
The return train approached on time. I flagged it down, getting a toot in response. I boarded, and watched some stuff on my phone for the nearly 2 hour return journey to Inverness. I would love to have looked out of the window, but it was pitch black outside at this point.
I had ordered a pizza on the train, so when I got to Inverness I would only have to take a 5 minute walk to the shop, pick up the pizza, and then go back to the station. I always feel very pleased with myself when I'm able to do this. The Inverness to Glasgow train I boarded was lightly loaded (as normal), so I didn't annoy too many people by eating said pizza.
We lost a bit of time down the line waiting for late running trains coming the other way to pass us. The 15 minute delay leaving Perth was a problem, because I had a 6 minute change at Stirling for my train back to Edinburgh. Luckily, the guard made sure that the last train of the day back to the capital was held for us. I arrived back at Edinburgh at 20 past midnight. I was tired, but it had been worth it to actually visit Achnashellach.
For the record, the Strathspey Railway is brilliant. Visit it.
I was actually surprised that I managed to get to Achnashellach. The quantity of problems that were encountered (failed train at North Queensferry, broken rail at Dunkeld & Birnam, signalling failure at Carrbridge) en-route meant it was actually amazing that I got there. Serious credit to all the staff who kept stuff moving.
I don't really have anything to say about Achnashellach that I haven't already said before in other posts. Although it isn't used by many people, it is a very useful station for those that live in the area, and probably provides a lifeline for the rural communities nearby. One of the sad things about the huge cuts in the railways in the 1960s was the number of small places who lost their public transport altogether. I'm glad this isn't the case for the parts of the Highlands served by rail.
Author - Felix