|You're- building a pipeline" the man from Yorkshire said, back in 1982
as he walked across the shoreline. "No we're not, we're building a railway".
he was told. "Rubbish!" he insisted. "You're building a pipeline". Actually
we then admitted that we were building a haggis farm. The ditches we were
excavating with the digger were to stop them escaping, as it is well known
that they do not like crossing water. He seemed more at ease with this
explanation and happily went on his way.
As it happened, we were building a railway - but why?
In 1975 the owners of Torosay Castle decided to open the castle and
its 12 acres of gardens to the public. The problem was how to get the visitors,
the great majority of which did not bring their cars, the two miles from
the ferry pier at Craignure. It was too far for the young and the not-so-young
to walk and the road was narrower in those days and there was no
chance of getting any bus through
the gate and up the drive. So, however unlikely it seemed at the time,
the best solution seemed to lie in constructing some form of narrow gauge
railway. An added advantage would be that the railway would be an attraction
in its own right.
This suggestion was put to the Estate in the Spring of 1975 and, it
seems nothing changes, it was over nine years later, in June 1984, before
the one and a quarter miles of railway was officially opened! It would
appear that the building of railways, even little ones, is no easier now
than it was 100 years ago. Planning was about the only thing that went
relatively easily but there were objections from
neighbouring owners, the usual red tape, the nature of the terrain and
the question of funding, all of which would have seemed quite familiar
to a railway company operating in Victorian times
First you need a plan
One of the promoters of the railway had noticed a track along a possible
alignment on the Ordnance Survey sheet that might get us part of the way
and this was mentioned to the late David Guthrie James, the then owner
and father of the present laird. He explained that Campbell of Fossil,
the original builder of the castle, had commissioned David Bryce, a leading
architect of his day and the greatest exponent of the Scottish Baronial
Style, to demolish the existing house and to design what was initially
called Duart House and is now known as Torosay Castle. The building was
completed in 1858 and part of the grand plan was to construct a drive down
to the old stone pier at Craignure that can still be seen opposite the
campsite. Campbell of Fossil reckoned without the Kirk though because when
lie reached his march (boundary) with the Kirk, they refused to allow him
to cross the Glebe. Subsequently, the drive had slumbered away for over
140 years until we had spotted its course on the OS sheet. Not long after
this incident with the Kirk the estate was sold and the Guthrie family
became involved. Around 1945, through marriage, the James family then appeared
un the scene. The full story is told in the illustrated guide to the Castle
The summer of 1975 saw the 4th Laird of Torosay, David Guthrie James
and two companions taking a look at the remains of the drive to investigate
the possibility of it being used as a track bed. After the first 100 yards
it became an impenetrable tangle of ponticum rhododendron, undergrowth
and trees that we only progressed through by crawling on our stomachs.
We got the impression that there was a not inconsiderable hump in the middle
of the drive's course that could cause problems and also, where the track
headed off towards the Glebe, we would have to change direction and cross
an area of peat bog, the depth of which we could only guess!
The end of 1975 saw the granting of Planning Consent. Good news indeed
but it did not permit us to take the railway along the seaward side of
the road into Craignure and this therefore dictated where we would have
to build our Station. It was to be another three years however before all
our other difficulties had been overcome.
During this long delay the railway had been surveyed and Torosay had removed
most of the tangled undergrowth and trees that had concealed the old drive
but it was rapidly becoming overgrown again by the time we were ready to
make a start. April 1982 saw us ready to begin construction and thanks
to the now defunct Highlands and Islands Development Board, we had
the additional and vital financial support that we needed so desperately.
The company had engaged Rob Davies, an engineer from Salen to join our
construction team and a further very important addition to our numbers
was George Gray. He was a retired civil engineer who had read about the
proposed railway in the Scots Magazine and who had volunteered to keep
us right on line and level. He and his wife Lilian made many, many journeys
to Mull from Helensburgh to ensure that the work was being properly carried
out. We were now well and truly off and running!
The first job that we tackled was drainage, particularly along the bog
area. Where we followed the old drive we found some existing drains and
ditches which for the most part were merely in need of reinstatement. In
a relatively short time we managed to get them flowing again.
We were now in a position to order supplies - 23 tonnes of rails, 3,000
sleepers (Mull timber), 12,000 dog spikes and fishplates plus the nuts
and bolts to secure them. We also needed ballast. An island location makes
the transportation costs involved in any construction work extra expensive,
so imagine the ludicrous situation where you are building a railway on
an island founded on some of the oldest rocks in the world but were there
is no quarry for ballast for the track! Transport and haulage costs from
the mainland made that option unthinkable, so what could we do? Very fortunately
there was a road contract on Mull that was nearing completion and the contractor
had his own crusher. We therefore had to hurriedly estimate how much we
might need before he took his plant away and then find somewhere to store
it. There were people called local bank managers in those days and a friendly
one gave us the facilities to buy 1500 tonnes of the stuff. Sadly, the
contractor had only two sizes of screen - too big and too small!
We settled for the too small and this was dumped on the area that is now
Drainage having been completed on the initial section, we now started
making up track panels, each 15 feet long. The sleepers had previously
been soaked in creosote and when we had made up a reasonable pile they
would be loaded onto a wagon and pushed out to the head of steel where
they were roughly laid. We had no mains services to assist us but some
good friends loaned us a generator for power tools. Incidentally these
friends are still with us, one a director and the other company secretary.
Our first major civil engineering problem was the hump now known as
Beattock. Here we had to divert from the line of the old drive in order
partially to avoid a shoulder of rock. This involved the use of explosives
to reduce the level by two metres and we also had to establish a gradual
gradient on either side of the summit so that our locomotives would be
able to negotiate the incline. We were helped in this labour intensive
operation when we were also loaned a Hymec digger and driver for the weekend.
A source of rotten rock had been located. ideal for infil and building
up an embankment but unfortunately it was further along than we had reached
with our rails. We got over this problem by building up the track on sleepers.
constructing a siding to our supply of rock and then infilling around the
sleepers with rock until we could safely remove them. The embankments along
Nightshade Straight and Skeleton Gulch are constructed in this way, each
stone having been placed by hand.
July 1982 saw the track emerge from what was the forest area - most
of these trees have since been felled - and we then faced the questions
posed by the bog, how much was there of it and, perhaps of more concern,
how deep before you hit bottom. We soon began to find out' We had been
using Bob Davies' crawler tractor with back acter to dig out the formation
and one day at where we subsequently called Bob's Wallows it broke a track
on a submerged tree and began to sink. It took us several days to recover
it and refit its track so it seemed sensible to look for another way around
the problem area. Over to George Gray who set out an alternative route,
thus avoiding this potentially dangerous section of ground. This part of
the route became known as the Gray-Welbeck Curve, the latter part of the
name because of the help we received from the boys of Welbeck College in
laying it. We had Martin Eastwood to thank for the help from this unusual
quarter, he was at that time a director of the company and also a member
of staff at the College.
We had realised early on that if we were going to run more than one
train at a time then we had to have a passing place. If water was also
available at the same place then all the better as the locomotives could
take on the necessary supplies at the same time. We found such a location
at Tarmstedt. As to how it got its name you will have to visit the Torosay
Archive Room to find the answer!
From here to the terminus at Craignure was mainly across boggy land
that appeared to be at least 2 metres deep for most of the way. We had
to therefore think about floating the formation on top of this difficult
terrain and this was one of the reasons why the 260mm gauge was chosen,
to reduce weight. Our friend and advisor George Gray came up trumps here
once again as he knew of a source of suitable material that the owners
wanted offsite as soon as possible. We arranged to collect it and it proved
to be ideal for the task.
We had also by this time begun the construction of Craignure station.
In February 1983 the site had looked like a battlefield with mud. peat
and rocks everywhere because it was from here that the top ballast had
to be run out along the complete length of the line.
May 22nd 1983 was a day to remember. The first steam locomotive to operate
on Mull and Scotland's first passenger railway on an island, took the slow
and careful journey to test clearances along the line. The locomotive was
called Lady of the Isles, henceforth known as LOTI. She was built specially
for our railway and on this our maiden journey on Mull. she was driven
by David Nicholson and Graham Ellis. David had come up to give us a hand
from a railway in Suffolk who had borrowed LOTI until we were ready to
use her. August l8th saw a daily experimental service operating mainly
with our diesel outline locomotive as we were having great problems sourcing
suitable coal and there was little time in high season to train steam locomotive
Before we opened to the public we had to rebuild the three open vehicles
we had purchased from a railway that was operating in Loughborough on the
site of the Great Central Railway. We converted them to closed coaches
and also fitted them with vacuum brakes and new bogies. As they did not
fit when delivered, the bogies had to be further modified and this delayed
our opening which had to be done with minimum publicity in case we failed
to make the date!
Open at long last
Our official opening by Chris Green, then the General Manager of Scotrail
and now Chief Executive of Virgin Rail, was on June 22nd 1984. It was one
of those well known Highland days of liquid sunshine when it just
managed not to be fine and the sun just managed not to shine properly.
Our Chairman, David Guthrie James welcomed Chris Green, his wife Milzi
and their two children and then waved off the train carrying them and all
the invited guests with a large green flag. He later appeared at Torosay,
as if by magic carpet (but in reality by fast car) to welcome the train's
arrival. All the guests were then piped off the train and escorted up to
the castle for a small libation, as they used to say in Victorian times,
followed by a cold collation at the Puffer Aground in Salen. Since those
early days there has been constant development and improvement. We soon
found that we needed more coaches and three were built on Mull by Bob Davies
to our design, enabling us to run two three-coach trains. To think that
we initially wondered if we could fill one train and we have now built
up our coaching stock to twelve vehicles. Two of these have been designed
so that they can take one wheelchair-bound passenger each and three others
are all-weather vehicles with pull-up windows. More coaches also meant
more platforms were needed and therefore a bay platform was put in at Torosay
and an island platform built at Craignure. As recently as 2000 the platform
roads at Craignure have been lengthened to enable them to take longer trains
and further alterations are also in hand at Torosay station.
We have always been needful of the importance of safety in running the
railway and although we were successful in passing the Railway Inspectorate's
inspection before we opened, we felt that communication could be improved
by having radio links with the trains. After some not so successful experiments
with CB radio we were however sufficiently encouraged to buy our own short
wave radios and each operating locomotive now has its own set and an overall
listening watch is maintained at Craignure.
We struggled for many years without mains electricity but in 1993 a
suitable scheme became available into which we could link. It enabled
us to at last have decent light in our workshop areas and be able to use
more than one power tool at a time. 1993 also saw an enormous leap forward
in our maintenance facilities. To coincide with the arrival of our
new steam locomotive Victoria, we built a new shed that contained a high
level track for the maintenance of both locomotives and rolling stock.
For those who had been used to managing with ground level maintenance
which someone commented was more difficult than trying to milk a goat,
this was a complete transformation and more than welcome.
Into the future
We celebrated the year 2000 by the installation of mains electricity at
Craignure station, our Chairman having found a means of getting connected
at a much more reasonable price than had been quoted previously. In 2001.
at the time of writing, what then does the future hold? We do have lots
of ideas and only finance or more accurately, lack of it, will limit their
implementation. We want to further improve the facilities at Craignure
station where things are somewhat inadequate for present visitor numbers.
We would like a sister locomotive for Victoria, so that like her she could
take over 100 passengers up the 1 in 52 gradient over Beattock.... and
so it goes on.
We would very much like to see our supporters' organisation grow. They
could then do more to support and publicise our railway, which, with its
links to Caledonian McBrayne, makes Torosay arguably a unique destination
within the UK, if not Europe.
We certainly believe that Mull Rail has that uniqueness, despite its
small gauge, and there is no doubt that the panoramic views of sea and
mountains are very special and help in making it so. We are very proud
of what has been achieved here at Torosay and hope that you have been intrigued
and interested by this brief account of our history. We hope you will enjoy