The Story of the West Highland Paperback – 1 Dec. 1982
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There is a further extension, which I've never visited but which is obviously spectacular, from Fort William to the small Atlantic port of Mallaig, and on this section there is the opportunity to travel by steam train (early booking recommended). There was once something else - a 24-mile branch line from Spean Bridge near Fort William up the Great Glen to the village of Fort Augustus at the south-western tip of Loch Ness. Exploration of this route is now for the fit and the determined, but quite apart from its fascination for railway antiquarians the area is of breathtaking beauty. The Great Glen is a geological fault taking an unnaturally straight line from Inverness in the north-east to the Atlantic. Its length is measured by the three 'Fort' towns of Fort George near Inverness, Fort Augustus and Fort William, established by 'Butcher Cumberland' himself - William Augustus Duke of Cumberland, third son of George the Second and famed mainly for his massacre of the Jacobite rebels at Culloden outside Inverness in 1715. The story of the ill-fated Fort Augustus branch railway is hardly less melancholy to some of us, and would-be explorers are advised that the best relics of it are actually at Fort Augustus itself, where the extension of the line from the town station to the harbour, a distance easily walkable in less than 10 minutes, was one of the ultimate follies of the British railway mania, seeing commercial service for all of 3 years.
This little book was originally published by the London and North-Eastern Railway in the 1940's. The only updating consists of a supplementary chapter on the wartime history of the line including, very properly, that of the Fort Augustus branch. There is a map and there are chapters on the locomotives used on the line up to the time of writing and on the services provided. These now consist of 3 trains per day between Glasgow and Fort William, and of course from there to Mallaig there is also the option (presumably expensive) of travel by steam traction. The book is printed on glossy paper of high quality, which makes it all the more disappointing that the photographs are quite so dismal. In fact there is a central section of colour photos to a good standard, but the black-and-white efforts incorporated into the pages of text are really substandard, a matter of particular dismay in respect of the Fort Augustus line, which is astonishingly little documented when one considers how copious the material is on other lost branch-lines of less intrinsic interest in less beautiful settings.
Disappointments notwithstanding, this is a book I still feel I have to recommend to anyone interested in this kind of thing. In its day it was 'official', to this day it is fascinating, and I hope the day never comes when the area loses either its beauty or its remoteness or its railway.