The Kyle line is another one of those long, slow but very beautiful lines that few places in the UK have. Like with so many of them, it was threatened with closure, but dodged it due to local efforts. The line itself traverses many lochs and mountains across the Highlands from Inverness in the east across to Kyle of Lochalsh in the west, where people can continue on to the Isle of Skye and others. The line continues to ferry tourists (ironically no longer by ferry since the road bridge was built) between the Isle of Skye and the rest of the world. It has also become a tourist attraction in itself because of the views one can enjoy from the train. Locals also use to line to do normal things, like buy food.
Duirinish itself is a request stop, and is the station just before Kyle of Lochalsh, located about 8-10 minutes (depending on what timetable one looks at) from the end of the line. It serves 3 nearby cluster of houses: Duirinish (the surprise), Drumbuie and Port an Eorna. Drumbuie is technically the closest of the three. The usage of the station has remained stable in the past decade or so, staying around the 800/900 mark. It has recently climbed to just over 1000, but the most recent statistics put it back down at 930. The stability indicates that this station is mainly used by locals needing to get to places, rather than the majority of the patronage being based on nutters like me standing on the platform in bracing wind and rain for 3 hours between trains.
To do the journey in a day is possible, but takes most of the day. I got myself to Edinburgh in time for the 06:33 departure to Dunblane, where I changed for the first service up the Highland Main Line to Inverness. After a 30 minute wait there, I boarded the second of the four trains per day that use the Kyle line in each direction. I settled down in my reserved seat, before someone else sat opposite me. I disliked this because there were still plenty of other empty four-seater tables available. I made my feelings apparent by immediately getting up and sitting in one of these for the duration of the journey. After I had made sure that the conductor knew I was getting off at the request stop, I enjoyed the Kyle Line. 3 elderly couples were sitting around me and making conversation with each other. When the trolley lady came round (they probably now have some ghastly over-the-top management-type title like On-Board Refreshment Receptacle Assistant), discussions were had about how long it was worth staying in Kyle of Lochalsh. “Should we stay on the train and just go back or wait four hours for the next one?” enquired one couple.
“Just go straight back, there's nothing to do. And I live there!” was the response. I feel that this was a bit harsh on the small town. When I was there last year, I bought some shortbread from the corner shop and took pictures of the train, station and the surrounding area. Certainly 20 minutes and 69p well spent.
At the first passing loop, Garve, we passed the Royal Scotsman charter train, with various people commenting that they “had never seen a train like it” while I tried not to laugh as it was being hauled by a class 66 re-painted into the Royal Scotsman livery. For those who don't know, the class 66 is the diesel locomotive that looks like a big shed and hauls most of the freight services in this country. I'm sure I saw Princess Anne on it.
The second passing loop was Achnasheen, where we passed a normal service going back to Inverness. The driver was without his coffee or and, with no On-Board Refreshment Receptacle Assistant on his train, the lady on ours made one and handed it over by opening the door at the back of the train and handing it through his cab window. This was alien to me as someone who has grown up on a suburban rail network. It was sweet. If this had happened in London, someone would have filed a health & safety complaint.
We continued onwards past various other small request stops, none of which were stopped at (I will be doing these in turn later on in the series), until the time came to make sure that we were stopping at Durinish and that I didn't need to get out at a particular door. We were and I didn't.
The train pulled into Durinish a few minutes late, and I popped off, thanking the conductor. I watched the train departing before I assessed the situation.
I've been very lucky with the weather so far in this series, so I was due a bad weather day. The wind was vicious and the clouds kept trying to spit at me. I was glad of my extra layers and wind-proof coat. The facilities, as one would expect, are pretty basic. There is a small waiting room which can hold all of 3 people, some benches located at one end of the platform, a phone, some notices and a bike rack. The station is protected by a small gate in the entrance area. The bigger one has rusted itself out of use, as has the cover for the phone. It was warped to the point where it required significant banging to shut it.The only annoying part about Duirinish is the level crossing. For a road down to a village with a maximum of 15 inhabitants, putting something, metal, white, electric and loud is madly out of place. It was also rather large, because of the three crossing points it grouped into one. The first was for cars and other road vehicles, protected by the normal barriers and a cattle grid to prevent the free-roaming Highland Cattle from trespassing. There was then a small gate for pedestrians and a third telephone-controlled gate to be used by horses and farmers wishing to herd their cattle across. This was all surrounded by tall white metal fences. In conclusion, yuck.
Whilst I was at the station, a person pulled up in a car, and proceeded to walk around the station, making sure that everything was working, well-kept and existed. She was from Transport Scotland and doing one of the semi-regular checks on the many unstaffed stations to make sure that there was nothing wrong with them.
The Surrounding Area
I did a 2.5 mile circular walk around the coast path, where I appreciated the bleakness, remoteness and beauty of the Highlands. About half-way round, I passed a couple, one of whom stood aside for me. I thanked them and got no response. Having crossed the road bridge that was visible from the station, I returned.
20 minutes later, the couple from earlier returned from the other direction. They were unsuccessfully wrestling an umbrella.
Kyle of Lochalsh
2 and a half hours after I arrived, I checked on the status of my train from Durinish to Kyle of Lochalsh, and discovered it was running slightly late. After a tense wait, it appeared, activating the horrible alarms of the level crossing. The train sat by the crossing for about 30 seconds, before I registered that, in the time that I had been there, it had developed a fault meaning that the signals allowing trains to pass refused to clear, despite the barriers being down and nothing obstructing the crossing. Therefore, the driver had to blast his horn for several seconds to make sure he didn't run anything over, further disturbing the natural beauty of the area. Once he had done that, I flagged him down, getting a thumbs up exchange in response. I approached a door, boarded, and enjoyed the final 10 minutes to the end of the line.
I would have got some more pictures at Kyle of Lochalsh, but the weather had completely closed in at that point, making everything come out very grey and very wet. I stayed on the train for most of the hour-long layover, before we departed going back to Inverness.
The 17:13 departure from the Kyle, which I was on, continues to Elgin, and is technically a parliamentary service because it takes the chord between the Far North & Kyle lines and the lines down south to Aberdeen and Perth, avoiding Inverness station itself. Once the train has taken this chord, it reverses, backs into the station, reverses again, and continues to Elgin. It is possible for a service to go from one side of Inverness station to the other without using this loop. Platform 5 has tracks to both the northern and the southern sides, meaning that a better path would be to have this service reverse there. However, it doesn't. It is only there to not close down the chord now that there is no longer freight traffic beyond Inverness.
I changed at Inverness, boarding a service to Perth, where I changed again and continued to Edinburgh, arriving back at 00:23. Or, I was supposed to. The train from Inverness to Perth was delayed at Carrbridge because of a late-running northbound service. We left 5 minutes late, and got later and later, finally arriving into Perth 15 minutes late. I had spoken to the conductor who had asked the staff at Perth to hold the connection to Edinburgh. This was done, and the departure made up some time, and, with the help of padding in the timetable, we arrived in Edinburgh only a few minutes late.
I hate level crossings in remote areas. They should be more discreet than this huge metal thing plonked in the middle of the countryside. Not that level crossings are a bad thing. Clearly, making sure people and animals don't walk out in front of a train is important. But, designs have to be changed and toned down in rural areas with few users. In the 150 minutes I was at Duirinish, I saw three people use the level crossing. One was me. The other two were pedestrians and were travelling together. A telephone-controlled gate would work perfectly well.
Otherwise, Duirinish station is a perfect example of a station that should be least used. It is in a remote area with a small population. The patronage is stable because it provides a good service to the area it is built to serve. While it may not be massive, it is certainly useful to the local population. This is something that Beeching did not recognise, even for larger populations like Hawick or Kenilworth, but has been preserved. And this is a good thing. Even if a station is only used a few times per week by people going into the big town to buy food and supplies, then it should remain open because it provides a useful service. Duirinish shows this.
Author - Felix