Greig Houghton Photography
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Irish Landscape and Travel Photography Blog

Journey to the Streets of Edinburgh


Through my childhood and into my early adulthood the only transport links between my home in the Scottish Borders and Edinburgh was road and in particular the A7.  Many a day of my childhood was spent in the backseat of the twisty road which snaked and twisted its way along the slopes of the various hills following the Gala Water on the valley floor below.  Leaving Galashiels, the journey was immediately established on what seemed to be a never ending right hand bend and usually stuck behind the number 95 bus or a slow moving lorry.  Following the topography of the hills and valleys, there was limited overtaking opportunities and those that did exist were not for the faint hearted. 

The view out of the back window provided glimpses of a bygone age, a memorial to the era of steam trains and the former links that the Borders had to both Edinburgh and Carlisle.  The track bed and bridges of the Waverley Line, upon which once was home to miles of steel rails and timber sleeper filled with the sounds of the rhythmic puffing and hooting of the steam locomotive and it's whistle, lay dormant and silent.  Rails and sleepers torn up and replaced by farm machinery, silage bales and sheep.  A journey filled with boyhood day dreaming of a more romantic form of travel.

The Waverley Line connected Edinburgh to Carlisle, but fell victim and is the most famous of all the cuts resulting from the now infamous Beeching Report.  The 1963 report aimed to reshape the British Railways resulting in the mass closure of stations and routes, mainly rural and industrial lines, in an attempt to stem endemic losses from the growing competition of road and declining subsidiaries. Despite the angry protestations, the line closed in 1969 leaving the Borders without rail transport, the only region in the whole of the UK to suffer this fate.  The town of Hawick, the largest in the Borders, was left with the ignominious title as the largest town farthest from a rail station at over 50 miles to Edinburgh and just under 50 miles to Carlisle. 

The former railway was never far from my thoughts with the route of the former line running along the Gala Water at the bottom of the street where I lived in Galashiels.  The line was turned into a local amenity facility known as the black path, one presumes due to its black tarmacadam surface.  Running through Galashiels and onto to tweedbank, the Black Path became my playground and territory, with many days and hours spent exploring and playing on foot and cycle.  

The railway weaved its existence into my school life becoming a research project for my standard grade history class.  As part of my research, I wrote to the local minister of parliament, David Steel, who at the time of the Beeching Report was an up and coming Liberal and was vociferously opposed to the closing of the Waverley Line . The Conservative MP who voted in favour  of the Beeching Report lost his seat to Lord Steel in the 1965 by-election, a seat then held by Lord Steel for 32 years until 1997 when he retired from his seat and was made a life peer as Baron Steel of Aikwood. During those 32 years, he rose quickly through the party ranks rapidly progressing to Chief Whip and then taking the leadership of the LIberal Party in 1970. In 1967, Steel was at the forefront of social change, introducing the Abortion Act 1967, as a Private Member's Bill, a bill backed by the Labour government, which legalised abortion in the UK including the the free provision through the National Health Service.

Lord Steel was gracious enough to respond to my letter enclosing extracts from his autobiography detailing out the period surrounding Beeching and the closure of the line in 1969.  The thick ivory coloured ministry of parliament headed paper containing a short note and signed by Lord Steel, left an instant and lasting impression on me. I doubt that in today's world  of google with the letter replaced with instancy of email, that such a research project would be so fondly remembered 20 years later.

I left the Borders in 1997 before leaving Scotland all together to move to Ireland a decade later.  Ironically, it was the year that I left Scotland in 2006, that the Waverley Railway Bill to rebuild a section of the Waverley Line between Tweedbank and Edinburgh was given Royal Assent and became an Act of the Scottish Parliament.  Construction of the new Borders Railway was completed in 2015 and was officially opened on Wednesday 9 September 2015 by Her Majesty The Queen just under 50 years since a train last ran on the route.  The reopening of the line has exceeded all passenger number expectations with Borderers taking full advantage of the new services.  Having once been seen as the poster child of the Beeching Cuts, the regeneration of the line is now being held up as a modern example of how new railway lines can support sustainable transport in the 21st century with growing calls to expand the line south to Hawick and even as far as Carlisle.

The photos from today's post are from my most recent trip from the Borders to Edinburgh and my very first journey, not on the A7 looking down at the former glory of the Waverley Line, but instead looking up from the window of the train at the convoy of cars and lorries on the A7 as they twist their way around the Border hills.  A boyhood daydream turned reality.