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Rannoch Station





Rannoch Moor

















Bridge of Gaur












Rannoch Moor





Rannoch Station
Map of this location

Rannoch Station has an atmosphere all of its own. The immense empty Rannoch Moor stretches as far as the eye can see, with very few signs of man’s hand, and across the desolate landscape runs a railway track constructed with imagination, skill and courage in the face of huge obstacles, but looking insignificant in this vast realm of mist and mountain, heather and peat-hag.

In his most interesting book “The West Highland Railway” (Pan Books) Mr. John Thomas has a fund of information. There is the wonderful story of the seven gentlemen who set out to walk from Spean Bridge. one January day in 1889. intending to meet up with Sir Robert Menzies a few miles west of Rannoch Lodge, to discuss the route of the proposed railway. They were Robert MacAlpine the contractor, three civil engineers, the factors of Breadalbane Estate and of Poltalloch Estate and a Fort William lawyer - dignified gents with tall hats and umbrellas, Walking across the largest uninhabited space in the British Isles, in the depth of Winter. Things went wrong from the start, and after a fearful trip along Long Treig in an ancient rowing boat - the youngest men rowing, others using their boots to bail out the water, the old men sheltering under their umbrellas - they had to climb a track that was to rise to 1,300 feet. and then cross 23 miles of inhospitable, storm-swept waste-land. They reached the River Gaur. and found one of Sir Robert’s gamekeepers who invited them to turn off their way and come to Rannoch Lodge for the night, but foolishly they thought they should go on and went ahead in impossible conditions. They struggled on through the night, becoming separated and for a time quite lost in the total darkness. They were very fortunate to arrive the following day at an isolated little cottage at Gorton, in poor shape but all alive. After their nightmare journey. they were made welcome at Inveroran Inn, and as they slept there the next night a dreadful blizzard broke over the Moor. Had it come one day sooner, the men would all have been lost without trace.

Building the railway began later in 1889. and met with all kinds of problems. On Rannoch Moor in particular. it proved impossible in parts to find a rocky bottom, and instead some of the bogs were tilled up with layers of turf and brushwood. Viaducts were constructed to cross the worst areas. All this took time. and the money ran out, but one of the Directors, a Mr Renton, gave part of his private fortune to save the situation. A fine dry summer in 1893 helped, and in September of that year Mr Renton was invited to drive in the last spike, The railway navvies carved his likeness in a boulder at Rannoch Station, marking their appreciation of his support. Next the stations were built and the signalling systems installed, and at last the Railway opened in 1894. Unfortunately the winter of 1894/95 was the worst of the century. After that, “snowsheds” were built in an attempt to keep the line clear.

In 1897 work began on the extension from Fort William to Mallaig. and the same Robert MacAlpine who had walked across the Moor now became known as “Concrete Bob” as he advocated, and built, many beautiflul viaducts and bridges along the line, using the relatively new and inexpensive material, concrete. By 1901 the whole line was open, and passengers leaving Stornoway in the steamer “Clydesdale” at II p.m. could next morning board the waiting train at Mallaig, leaving at 7:20a.m. and be on their way to Glasgow and London.

The West Highland Railway is truly a monument to man’s enterprise, daring to cross this enormous tract of dreary moorland to bring previously isolated areas into closer contact with the cities of the South. And now you can visit the Station, have a cup of tea, look at Mr Renton’s head carved in the rock, and remember the Magnificent Seven trudging across the Moor, just a hundred years ago. A road was then built to link the Station with Bridge of Gaur, and Rannoch Station became quite a busy little village community for a time, with station houses, church services in the Waiting Room (complete with harmonium), a school with half a dozen pupils at most, and of course the Hotel, which was always hugely popular. as the only licensed premises for miles and miles in any direction.

There is a true story of an earnest young divinity student who had been visiting some of his flock at Rannoch Station. Cycling homewards down the lochside he was overtaken by darkness. and he decided he must light his bicycle lamp which was probably a Lucas “King of the Road”. the latest model in those far-off days, operating on carbide. All you had to do was add a little water, so the lad went to a house and asked politely for some water for his lamp. “No, no,” said the lady of the house, “it’s oil you need for lamps. Wait and I’ll get you a drop Paraffin.””No,” said he firmly, “I put water in the lamp.” The old lady was adamant too: water was for making tea, Paraffin was for lamps. The student tried to explain, and began by saying. “I’ve just been to Rannoch Station, and.. "Och laddie,” interrupted the lady. “I see now. If you’ ye been to the station you’ll have been drinking. No wonder you’re for putting water in the lamp. Away you go, and when you’re sober tomorrow, come back and I’ll give you some Paraffin. Water in the lamps. indeed. What nonsense.” And the young man had to leave her, and struggle to get a droppie water from the next burn.

Near Rannoch station is a road to the North, optimistically sign-posted “The Road to the Isles.” By Tummel and Loch Rannoch and Lochaber makes a good chorus for the song, but geographically it is not much help. There is no road to the Isles, this way. Oban, or Ullapool, would be more direct. However, it is quite possible to hike for some miles along this track, and arrive eventually in Lochaber, as the song says.(Remember Lochaber isn’t a loch, it is the district around Fort William.) Why not park your car at the Station, catch the morning train going north, leave the train at Corrour, and walk back down this “Road to the Isles”? When you begin to feel a little weary, at least you know that the car is there waiting for you,’ and if scorching heat or perishing cold is causing you any discomfort, refreshment is at hand. It makes a very pleasant walk, I’m told. (Personally, if I went to the trouble of catching a train, I’d prefer to go to Fort William, or even better Mallaig, enjoying the changing scenery as the track drops to sea level and climbs again, crossing Glenfinnan on Concrete Bob’s famous viaduct. On a clear day the silvery sands at Arisaig and the silhouettes of Rhum and Eigg are unforgettable.)

Another walk is along by Loch Laidon, going south-west from Rannoch Station. For the stout-hearted, it is thirteen or fifteen miles to reach the Glen Coe road near King’s House, though where you might go from there is another question. For the majority of us, a mile or two along the shore of Loch Laidon, and then back to the station, is a most enjoyable experience. Unusual grasses and bog-plants abound, and you might even find that carnivorous vegetable, the “Fly-catcher” or Sundew.

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