Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed. Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.

The Railways of Scotland
Chapter IV - The Great North and the Highland


THE Great North of Scotland and the Highland are two railways that at first sight seem to have much in common. In length of line they are not very unlike, as the Highland has 425 and the Great North 316 miles; while in train mileage they are practically identical, as each company runs between 850,000 and 900,000 miles in the half year. The capital too in each case is about four and a half millions sterling. Further, in each case the staple of the traffic consists of sheep, cattle, and fish, reinforced in the summer by an enormous influx of passenger traffic, both sportsmen and tourists. Spite, however, of this superficial resemblance, the position of the two companies is very dissimilar. The Highland is all main line, the Great North all branches, a difference which of course rests upon a difference in the territory which they respectively occupy. In all the 300 miles from Perth to Wick, except perhaps for the stretch from Forres to Dingwall, there is hardly a square mile of really fertile ground: Aberdeen and Banff, on the other hand, are perhaps at the present time the most prosperous agricultural districts in Great Britain. Yet again, in the Highland territory there is hardly such a thing as a manufactory; the very hides of the beasts killed for the London or Glasgow markets go south to be tanned: Aberdeen has a number of flourishing industries.

The nearest analogue to the Great North is possibly to be found in the Great Eastern. Substitute Aberdeen for London, and reduce the scale throughout somewhat in similar proportion, writing Keith and Elgin for Cambridge and Norwich, Peterhead and Fraserburgh for Yarmouth and Lowestoft, Banff and Lossiemouth for Cromer. and Felixtowe, and the Braemar Highlands for the Norfolk Broads, and you have no bad idea of the Great North position. There is another respect in which the analogy applies. The Great North, like the Great Eastern, has turned over a new leaf of recent years, and resolutely set itself to live down the reputation acquired by long and patient continuance in ill-doing. That the reputation was well deserved in the case of the Great North, there can be no question. Many are the stories told of its despotic treatment of passengers, who after all were neither foes nor criminals. For one thing, its management steadily refused to effect a junction with the line to Perth and the south. Though invited to take a share in the construction of the present joint station, and to extend their line into it, they persisted in remaining at Waterloo Station, which is now their goods depot, a long way off down the quay, and thither all passengers for the north had to transfer themselves and their luggage. Not only so, but the Great North train was timed to leave almost immediately after the south mail arrived, and passengers who failed to get across as quickly as the mail bags were sternly shut out and relentlessly left behind. On one occasion a director of the company, finding himself locked out with the rest, and refusing to accept his fate with resignation, smashed a window and got in that way. Another time, Mr. Merry, a Scottish M.P. well known in his day, had the mortification of seeing his wife and family go on without him, a disappointment which he caused the company to regret some years after, when they found him upon a Parliamentary Committee to which a Great North Bill had been referred. Indeed the very first appearance of the Great North on the scene in 1852 was in an attitude which was hardly conciliatory. It had been permitted by Parliament to acquire possession of the Aberdeen and Inverurie Canal, then the main highway of the traffic of the district. Having got it, it promptly proceeded to let the water out, in order to obtain access to Aberdeen along the canal bed.

The Great North has, however, outgrown these youthful indiscretions. Perhaps no line, not even the Lancashire and Yorkshire, can boast of more rapid improvement in recent years. A decade back every train stopped at every station, and to get to Elgin, So miles from Aberdeen, took at least 41 hours. To-day, though the fastest trains are run by a route 7 miles longer, they cover the distance in just over 2 hours, or at all inclusive speed of 34 miles an hour throughout. Considering that this is mainly over single line, with five intermediate stops for certain, and five more conditional, it is really more creditable to the company than many a through train timed nearly half as fast again on an English main line. Moreover, though 34 miles an hour may not entitle a train in Great Britain to rank as express, in France it would be ample to justify the company in labelling it "rapide, premire classe sculement," while in Italy or the United States they would unquestionably dignify it with the title of "Lightning Express."

Needless to say, improvements so sweeping in the train service have not been accomplished without corresponding improvements in both engines and carriages. The new stock would do credit to any line in Great Britain, and through coaches are now sent every day in summer to Glasgow; so Lowlanders have the opportunity of judging for themselves. Indeed it is not a little remarkable how good the rolling-stock in out-of-the-way parts of the country often is. I have travelled through the length and breadth of Great Britain, from Penzance to Peterhead, from Strome Ferry to Cromer, and from Wick to Weymouth, and I can honestly say that, with a possible exception in favour of the Brecon and Merthyr, I have never, even in the most outlandish parts, come across carriages which can equal in badness those which the South-Eastern and the Chatham and Dover boldly run year after year—our grandchildren will probably, if the timbers hold together so long, be able to add, century after century—into their termini in the heart of the metropolis.

Yet more remarkable than the goodness of the Great North stock is the size of the works in which it is built. The shops at Kittybrewster —the eponymous heroine of this oddly-named place is believed to have been the keeper of an adjacent toll—were only meant to do repairs, and were much too small for that; and now that it has come to building new engines and carriages as well, it is a wonder how matters arc ever kept going at all. The erecting-shop only holds four engines, and half the work has consequently to be done in the open air. Fortunately Scotchmen are contented to let pass as mist what the effeminate Southron would describe as drenching rain. The Kittybrewster engines have two specialities. In addition to the accustomed damper, they have a series of holes opening into the front of the fire-box immediately underneath the boiler, and secondly, an ingenious arrangement of the valve-gear brings the cylinders so close together that room is made for the employment of a leading bogie with wheels of exceptionally large size.

The Great North, as has been said, is all branches. There is one branch, however, that namely up Deeside, which has had one try at being a main line already, and is likely some day to repeat the attempt. A quarter of a century back, when the Caledonian was troubled with growing pains in every part of its system from Aberdeen to Greenock, it made an attempt to get hold of this line so as to continue onward its route up Deeside, thence across the hills and down one of the tributaries of the Don to Alford, and thus obtain an access to Moray and Inverness behind the back of the Great North. This latter company accordingly found itself in much the same position in which the Great Western was placed some ten years later by the attempt of the Midland to get hold of the Bristol and Exeter. It was forced in self-defence to offer still better terms, and to-day the lucky Deeside shareholders get about Jo per cent, for their money. We are not likely again to see the scheme for a line to Alford mooted, but it is an open secret, that but for the objection of an influential Aberdeenshire proprietor, who occupies Balmoral and Abergeldie Castles and a good deal of land in their vicinity, the railway would before now have been carried forward from Ballater at least as far as Braemar. Thence one bold scheme would have taken it right through the Cairngorms to Aviemore, and so on to Inverness; but that road is now in the possession of the Highland Company; so possibly an exit may be found some day down Strath Avon, where the important town of Tomantoul is clamouring for railway accommodation. Not that, to tell the truth, the traffic of Lochnagar, or Glenlivat, or the other great distilleries of the neighbourhood, is by any means a despicable item in railway receipts. Some of them are said to turn out 2000 gallons of whiskey per week. But there are cynics who declare that, yet more remarkable than the amount of whiskey sent out, is the amount imported into the district from Leith. If this be true, at least the railway need not grumble, as it must get the carriage of the traffic both ways.

The speciality of the Deeside line is its tourist traffic; the Buchan line, on the other hand, which runs due north from Aberdeen to Maud Junction, and there subdivides to serve both Peterhead and Fraserburgh, probably does not see a dozen tourists in a twelvemonth. Fraserburgh subsists mainly on herrings; Peterhead has two additional strings to its bow, whales and convicts. The convicts are occupied in constructing a harbour of refuge, a mile or so south of the town, a job that, from what I saw of the obstinacy of Peterhead granite, is likely to last them for some time to come. As for the whales, according to all precedent, they ought to come to Peterhead ships to be killed. But of late years they have shown an increasing disinclination to do so. In the last five years the value of the produce of the whale-fishing, taking Peterhead and Dundee together, has declined steadily and continuously from £88,000 in 1884 to £12,000 in 1888. Two reasons are given by the experts. The one that the ice has in recent summers never broken up sufficiently to allow the whales to be reached ; the other that the animals themselves have deserted their old feeding-grounds. As we know, on the authority of Mr. Matthew Arnold, it is their custom to

"Sail and sail with unshut eye
Round the world for ever and aye."

One of these voyages they appear to have undertaken lately, and to have sailed through the North-West passage into the North Pacific. At least, the American fleet from San Francisco, which fishes in Behring Straits, has had very different luck from that which has befallen the Scottish fishermen off the coast of Greenland.

Perhaps as Peterhead is an out-of-the-way place, I shall not be wrong in assuming that some, at least, of my readers are as ignorant on the subject of whale-fishing as I was when I went there last spring, and so I may be pardoned if I dwell on my own experiences. I was told that Captain David Gray, one of the greatest authorities on Arctic navigation living, had caught two whales on his last voyage, and so made, at least, some profit. The whales yielded 22 tons of oil, worth about £20 per ton, say £450, and in addition, 18 cwt. of whale-bone. I expressed my surprise that so small a sum should cover expenses. "But you have not allowed," said my informant, "for the bone." "But there is only 18 c\vt.; that cannot be worth much," I answered. "About £rsoo," was the quiet reply. I thought I must have misunderstood, but it turned out in further conversation that £1600 to £1700 a ton was the current price for whalebone, and that it had been known to fetch £2250,or say, in other words, is. 3d. an ounce. [This last autumn the American fishery has also failed, and "bone" is now quoted at about £2500.]

It was excusable to feel a desire to see so valuable a commodity in its natural state. I did just know that the bone (as it seems to be always called) was not bone at all, but a substance existing nowhere else in nature; that it was attached, so to speak, on a hinge, and lay inside the upper jaw of the whale; and that when he blows out the water which has been allowed to flow in through his open mouth, it falls down across it like a portcullis and so prevents the minute creatures which form his food from escaping. But I certainly was not prepared for what I saw. The individual pieces were some of them as much as 12 or 14 feet in length. They were perhaps ten inches to a foot broad at the bottom, and tapered to a point at the top. Down the centre of each ran a strong rib, and the edges on either side were fringed with coarse hair. The weight would be some 10 lbs. or thereabouts apiece. It gave one a startling idea of the size of the animal to imagine a row of these great palisades, which would reach from the floor to the ceiling of any ordinary room, swinging up and down every minute inside his closed mouth.

Whale oil is by no means so attractive a subject of investigation as whale-bone. When the animal is killed, the blubber, or layer of fat which wraps it round and keeps it warm, is cut into great pieces, and thrown into the tanks which line the hold of the vessel throughout, and there it remains till the vessel gets home. Then it is taken out, and, under the joint influence of heat and pressure, the oil is extracted. Fresh blubber is said to be good eating, but anything more horrible than the smell of a great vat full of rancid blubber it is impossible to conceive, Whale oil, or seal oil, for they are much the same, has but one use. It all goes to Dundee to soften the jute fibres, and prevent them from breaking in the process of manufacture.

Peterhead, spite of the failure of its whale fishery, has by no means a depressed look; and this is the more remarkable, seeing that the herring industry is depressed as well. For if the town has suffered from a dearth of whales, it has suffered even more from a plethora of herrings. Five years back, in 1884, the catch was so tremendous that all the Continental markets were glutted; the price of a barrel of fish fell to a point that hardly paid for the empty cask; and only last year did the demand at length once more overtake the supply. It is strongly urged, however, by those who should know, that the loss has been caused largely by bad management. At present, the herrings, if not taken for immediate consumption, are shipped to Hamburg, there to be put into store, in order that the curers may be able to obtain advances on their bills of lading.

This, it is argued, is a radically faulty system. The interest of Hamburg is that of buyers; they will naturally wish to depress prices as low as possible. Granted that it is necessary for the curers to be able to obtain advances on their fish as soon as possible, the need should be met by the establishment in the fishing ports of a system of warrant stores, such as exists in all the great iron- producing centres. The oldest and most famous of these is Connal's store in Glasgow. Passengers into the Central Station there may notice, on their left hand just before they cross the river, a large enclosure filled with stacks of pig-iron, amounting probably, as a rule, to hundreds of thousands of tons. This is Connal's store, or at least one of them, and into it any maker may send his iron, on payment of a small sum for rent and expenses. For every 500 tons - 200 tons first, and 300 tons second quality—he obtains a warrant, and on the production of this instrument, he can in a moment either sell his iron or raise money on it in any part of the world. So much do the Scottish makers appreciate the advantages of the system, and such haste do they use to avail themselves of it, that it is sometimes jocularly alleged that the railway trucks have their bottoms burnt out by the pigs that are hurried off to the store before they have had time to cool. It may be added that, if any one wishes to secure a princely income without exertion and without risk, he can hardly do better than open a warrant store. Nothing is needed except an office and a couple of clerks, and of course, in addition, a name that shall be known throughout Christendom, and a credit as unassailable as that of the Bank of England.

It is not, however, in a herring-store at home that the fishing ports of the North of Scotland have hitherto sought salvation. Rather have they tried to find it in sending away a larger portion of their catch in the form either of fresh or kippered herrings. This latter trade both at Peterhead and at Wick is at present advancing by leaps and bounds. As for wet fish, it also is going south in increasing quantities, more especially from the series of small fishing towns lying along the shore of the Moray Firth. A new railway, known as the Buckie Extension, has been opened within the last year or two, and a series of excellent small harbours has been built by the public-spirited enterprise of Lady Gordon Cathcart and other local proprietors, with the result that, from the mouth of the Spey, almost as far round as Banff, the little towns of Port Gordon, Buckle, Portessie, Portknockie, Cullen, and half a dozen more, are all as prosperous and contented as well can be. We are often told that it is the railway rates which strangle the fishing industry. It would be more accurate to say that it is to the railway rates that the fishing industry owes it that it exists at all. At Peterhead, for example, an old resident complained that, whereas he used formerly to be able to buy a fine cod for is., now that the fishermen could send away their catch by train, he was forced to pay not less than 25. 6d. to 3s. 6d. As for Wick and Thurso, till the railway got there, it was never worth while catching the herrings at all, unless they were in good enough condition to be fit for curing.

Here is the evidence brought forward in favour of what is now the Highland line when it was first proposed in the year 1846. If the line were made, it is pointed out, "the haddock, cod, turbots, skates, soles, and shell-fish of the Moray Firth might be in Manchester and its neighbourhood about 12 hours after leaving the water, and the ton of fish which they now pay about £14 to £18 for, would cost them but £6 or £7, for at this moment it might be purchased at the boats for £3, and £3 more would see it unladen in Manchester market." The prophecy has turned out remarkably correct as far as the railways are concerned. Fish leaving Buckle on the Moray Firth at 1.40 by the Highland road, or twenty minutes later by the rival route, is in Manchester under 14 hours, and the rate is just about £3 a ton. But the widening of the area supplied has raised immensely the initial cost of the fish. Even herrings are worth perhaps twice £3; as for soles and turbots their value is much more like £3 per cwt. Nor does the prophet appear to have foreseen how large a sum would be needed for what the fish trade euphemistically describes as "expenses of distribution."

Let us see what the railway charges really are, and then what the companies have to do to earn them. Without going into intricate details of classification, owner's risk or companies' risk, and so forth, it will probably be sufficiently accurate to say that a ton of herrings, haddock, whiting, or cod, will be delivered in Billingsgate market from the north of Scotland—a distance of not less than 600 miles—for 4. In other words, the company receives about three halfpence for carrying a ton of fish one mile. The average rate for a ton of merchandise is probably about the same; for a ton of coal about one halfpenny. To put the figures in a form perhaps more interesting to the ordinary consumer: the cost of carriage increases the value of the 10 lb. cod, which was worth half-a-crown retail in Peterhead, to as much as 2s. 10d. in London. No doubt the benevolent fishmonger deeply laments his inability to supply this fish to his hungry customers at any less price than half a sovereign; still, it is not quite fair for him to tell them that this inability is caused by the amount of the railway charges.

Of course, however, it is always possible that the rates, though only a fl-action of the retail cost of the fish, do really bring in to the companies an unfair and unnecessary percentage of profit. To judge whether this is so or not, consider how the traffic is actually worked. The fishing fleet gets in, say to Peterhead and Fraserburgh, at nine o'clock in the morning. The fish are sorted out on the quay, sold by auction, packed and sent up to the station, They are loaded instantly upon trucks, and by one o'clock an engine starts from each place with perhaps 20 tons of fish. A dozen miles off at Maud Junction, the two trains of, say, 15 trucks are united, and thence they arc run away straight for the markets of the south a special train for 600 miles at express speed throughout. It will probably be a week before the empty trucks get home again. To show the solicitude with which the fish traffic is watched over, let me narrate a personal experience. I left Peterhead for London one day last spring by the 2.45 P.M. train. A few miles outside Aberdeen we were stopped, and learnt that the fish special, which had started in front of us, had broken down. Matters were, however, soon put right; the fish train and the passenger train were amalgamated, and we ended in reaching Aberdeen only about 20 minutes late. Meeting there the superintendent of the line, who was on the look-out for our arrival, I expressed my regret that the London express would be delayed. "Oh, never mind the express," was his reply; "what I want to do is to get the fish special away to Perth in front of you." This in the result proved impossible, but it ran through Perth and got in front while the passenger train was marshalling. The ordinary earnings of an English goods train are about 6s. per mile. Will any one say that as., which would be about the gross receipts of a fish special such as that described above, is an extravagant sum?

But it is probable that the companies would be only too well satisfied to compound for an average of a good deal less. Supposing the 14 trucks had only been 8 or 9. They would still have been too much for the passenger train to take, and would have required the services of an engine to themselves. So that, in fact, while the expenditure remained constant, the receipts would have been diminished almost one-half. Yet worse, supposing the fish had never come at all. Take an actual case. The station master at a fishing port telegraphs that a heavy catch of fish is expected that morning. In hot haste an engine is ordered out, and a train of trucks got ready and sent down some 60 or 70 miles from Aberdeen. The wind changes, and the boats cannot get in, and after waiting about for hours till it is too late to think of catching the next day's market, engine and trucks go back to Aberdeen empty-handed. Here is a dead loss of say £5 to the company, which must in fairness be balanced against the £20 or £30 it will earn as its share of the receipts for the next consignment.

The Buckie Extension line from Portsoy to Fochabers is a beautiful road, but the Spey at its mouth is by no means an attractive river. To see its real beauty one must take the old inland routc and cross the stream where at Craigellachie it leavcs the mountains for the open plain, or better still turn up the Strathspey branch to join the Highland Railway at Boat of Garten.

Railway managers, with all their enterprise to attract tourists, hardly, I think, do as much as they might to give them the full benefit of the scenery they pass through. So at least it struck me, as I travelled one lovely day last May on the engine along the Strathspey line, Of course, the footplate of the engine—always supposing one has no special interest in the working of injectors or dampers or what not, to distract one's attention just as one ought to catch a glimpse up the mouth of a glen— is the best place possible from which to see the landscape. But then accommodation on the footplate is very strictly limited. In an ordinary railway carriage, even if one has the good luck—a thing probably not as a rule desired by railway companies—to have it all to oneself, one really sees little of the scenery through which the train passes. Even coup/s have their outlook blocked by the end of the carriage in front. The saloons run on the Highland line are better, but the seats face inward instead of outward, and moreover, they are only available for first-class passengers. There is really no reason why "observation waggons," as the St. Gothard authorities term them, with glass sides and all the seats facing forward, should not be run on lines such as the Strathspcy or the Highland, the Callander and Oban, or the Settle and Carlisle. It would of course be necessary to turn them round at the end of their journey, but there is no great difficulty in this. Further, they would have to be taken off in winter, but then there is not a line in the kingdom which has not a good deal of its rolling stock standing idle in winter even as it is.

The scenery, however, was not the only thing that impressed me that morning on Spey-side. As the train ran into Aberlour Station, there was an unusual number of people, and an unusual excitement on the platform, with an amount of luggage that even in August would have been considered respectable. The large square wooden boxes with their big printed labels, "Anchor Line —not wanted on voyage," soon told their own tale. It was a party of emigrants en route for New York; "going away," as the engine-driver phrased it with the pathos of simplicity. Not indeed as friendless outcasts, for the laird himself—who probably knew something as to the contents of those substantial boxes-had come down to see them off, and wrung their hands as he wished them God speed; and when, a moment afterwards, the train sped unconcernedly on its way, all along the line for several miles, at the door of every cottage, from which the blue wreath of peat smoke curling up showed there was some one at home, friends had gathered to wave their hands and wish them once more good-bye. It was well, no doubt, that they should go. The "divine discontent," if one may borrow the expression, which forbids the peasant of to-day to accept the condition of his ancestors a century ago, so a Government Inspector wrote at the time, the Aberdeenshire peasants used to save themselves from starvation by bleeding their half-starved cattle at the end of a long winter—was thrusting them out into a wider world, where fate is less stern than among the rugged Grampians. And beautiful though the valley might look, when the brilliant green of birch and larch stood out from the broom and the anemones at their feet against the dark background of firs, the scene in the long dreary months of winter, when the sun never tops the hills, and the firs claim the foreground, with no background but snow, must be quite otherwise.

One thing, however, it was impossible not to regret. The labels on the luggage were not for our own colonies, but for the United States. Where Lady Gordon Cathcart has set so good an example, other Highland proprietors at least might follow it and see that the surplus population of their straths and glens, the flower of the British army in the wars of the beginning of the century, is not lost to Greater Britain in the newer battles of commerce with which the century closes.

There was another thing which much impressed me on the Spey-side line, as it always does in every part of the Highlands, and that was the admirable postal connections. Imagine a mail leaving Aberdeen at 3.30 A.M., and picking up and putting out its bags all along the route—in order that the fishermen of the Banff coast may find their Edinburgh and Glasgow letters awaiting them when they come down to breakfast. Yet more remarkable, imagine that from Inverness to Wick, through that "desert of silence," as Mr. Foxwell appropriately terms Caithness, the Highland Company hurries the mails faster than the Italian lines can convey the international special train to Brindisi, faster than the German and the Belgian Governments, with the assistance of the cizemin defer du Nord, can forward their passengers from Aix to Calais. Till some one can point out a better, I shall venture to believe that the combined rail and steamboat mail services to the Western coast, and to Skye and the Lews, are unmatched in the world.

That they do not pay directly may be taken for granted. The postal subsidy of the Great North is nearly £18,000 a year, while that of the Highland is no less than £55,000, and probably all the postage stamps used throughout their territory would not cover this sum. But for all that few would be so foolish as to grudge the money. The Postmaster-General, with his omnipresent mail bags, and his yet more obtrusive parcel-post hampers —I saw six huge ones landed from the Orkney steamer one evening last June—is a far more efficient representative of the central government than any Secretary of State for Scotland, and is doing more to cement the Union than any Scottish Home Rule League can do to break it. If one has any objection to make, it is that the Post Office does not direct towards the improvement of our intercourse with Australia and Canada the same statesmanlike liberality which it has shown in its dealings with the Highlands of Scotland.

But we must get back to Aberdeen, and without stopping to notice its cotton, linen, and jute mills, or even its more important paper works—no favourites of the lairds these, for their owners manufacture paper from Swedish wood pulp, alleging that local wood is too full of resin to be used, and then poison the trout in the streams with the refuse—we must just cast a glance at the granite quarries. Of these one of the largest and most famous is that at Kemnay, some dozen miles from Aberdeen, whence came the granite used in the construction of the great Forth Bridge.

The quarry, which is 200 feet deep, is situated on the top of a hill, and the stone, after being hoisted up from the bottom, is let down along a steep incline to the railway in trucks, which are worked by a stationary engine with a wire rope. Big blocks, and some of them are enormous, are raised with cranes, smaller ones are hoisted by an ingenious machine termed a "Blondin," but which looks not unlike a safety bicycle, that runs up and down on a wire cable stretched from top to bottom at an angle of 45°. One of these machines will run down the whole 200 feet in 18 seconds, and come back to the top, bringing with it a couple of tons of stone, in just over a minute. Sometimes, however, a successful blast detaches blocks so big that no machinery can move them, and they have to be broken up. One that we measured was i8 feet by 16 by 12, and would weigh some 300 tons. The biggest pieces mostly go into Aberdeen to be shaped into columns or tombstones or pedestals the next size will make doorsteps or lintels ; a smaller size will do for kerbstones; last of all, the fragments are broken up into "setts," as they are termed, for street pavement. As for the mere chips, which in an ordinary country would fetch a high price for road-metal, they lie about in heaps of thousands of tons, and any one who will be so good as to take them away will be warmly welcomed. I noticed that the kerbstones were being finished with what seemed to n-ic quite unnecessary precision, for, needless to say, granite is not a material in which a workman gets very rapidly "forrarder," and asked the reason. To my surprise, the foreman replied that in this particular branch Norway was underselling Aberdeen in the London market. Unless the kerbstones were both better finished and sold for less money than used to be asked, it would be no good expecting to sell them at all. Indeed, not only London, but actually Aberdeen itsc1f, imports foreign granite, but in this case the reason is to obtain varieties of colour that the local quarries do not afford.

We have left to the last what is after all the main industry of Aberdeenshire, namely, cattle raising. The whole district is, in the words of one of its leading agriculturalists, one great beef-factory. Not that the factory is by any means an old- established one. In 1779, Mr. Andrew Wright, who travelled through the country as surveyor to the Commissioners on the Annexed Estates, declared that it was no wonder the sheep were small, as he "could observe no grass till he alighted and put on his spectacles." In 1786 the "valued rent of the whole shyre of Aberdene" was 619,418. In these days the cattle were driven southwards to fatten. But then came the introduction of sown grasses and turnips, and in 1812 the rental of the country had risen to over L300,000. The farmers could now keep their beasts at home and fatten them themselves. But what it must have cost to get them to market—not, of course, to Manchester or London, but to Edinburgh or Glasgow—may be judged from contemporary English evidence. A beast driven up from Norfolk to London, so a tenant on the Holkham estate declared, took a fortnight on the road and lost three guineas in value. From Hockliffe in Bedfordshire, less than 50 miles from London, said a witness before a House of Lords committee in 1837, 1500 cattle and 1000 sheep are driven up weekly to Smithfield market.. The charge is 7s. a head for cattle and is. for sheep ; and, besides, the animals suffer "injury incalculable. . . . Cattle are constantly left at every town on the road, where they are sold for what they will fetch." From Braybrooke, near Market Harboro', said another witness, "the charge for driving is 7s. in summer and Ss. in winter, but he would be glad to pay 17s. for railway condition. He had always understood that a sheep driven So miles wasted 8 lbs., that is a stone." No wonder that the shrewd Aberdeenshire farmers were glad to avail themselves of railway transit as early as possible.

But to-day they have got far beyond the stage of merely sending the cattle of their own raising to market. The country could never raise nor even feed all the beasts which it despatches southwards. Many years back the farmers took to bringing in store cattle from Ross-shire. Then when Ross-shire learnt to fatten for itself, they vent further afield and imported from Ireland. When this source of supply in turn was closed by pleuro-pneumonia, they started a company and chartered ships to fetch store cattle from Canada. And to feed the Canadian beasts and enrich the pastures over which they roam, ships from all quarters of the globe pour into the Aberdeen harbour feeding stuffs and manures. A vessel may be seen discharging bones from the River Plate alongside of another loaded with maize and cotton-cake from Baltimore, or a third freighted with locust beans from Alexandria. It shows the importance of the industry that one of the fiercest fought railway battles of this generation was the case of the Aberdeen Manure Company v. the Great North of Scotland, which turned on the question whether the wording of its Act of Parliament compelled the railway company to carry artificial guano, worth probably £7 or £8 a ton, at the rate which was fixed for ordinary farm-yard manure. The importance may be shown in another way. In December, 1888, the North British carried to London, for the Christmas market alone, 1016 head of cattle in six special trains composed of 96 trucks. For Christmas, 1889, the Caledonian Company took 1048 head in 187 trucks, for the custom is that East and West Coast divide the Christmas traffic turn and turn about. In addition the Midland secured 334 head in 58 trucks. It should be added, as the cost of driving beasts in the old days has been given-7s. for 50 miles— that the modern rate per head for ten times the distance is about a sovereign.

If the Great North is pre-eminently a cattle line, the specialty of the Highland might be said to be its traffic in sheep, of which it carried last year over a quarter of a million head. But that would be only a very partial account of the matter. Railways may have done much for Aberdeenshire, but they have done far more for Ross and Cromarty and Sutherland. It is the railway, and not General Wade and his roads, that the Highlander should really lift up his hands to bless. Forty years back it cost 6s. a quarter to get the barley grown in Badenoch down to Inverness, while to bring a ton of coal up again was worth from £1 to 25s. Here is another sample from the brave-days of old. "Hundreds and even thousands of packages, containing each but a few brace of birds, lie daily throughout the season waiting their turn for transmission by coach and steamer, until it would be far better that the birds had never been killed, or that they had been thrown into the rivers." Nowadays the railway is sued for damages if the salmon that was caught or the grouse that was shot in the furthest corner of Ross-shire on the Monday afternoon is not punctually delivered in Leadenhall or Billingsgate markets on the Wednesday morning.

Indeed it might fairly be argued that the Highland Company suffers in public estimation through the excess of its own virtue. The admirable service which has brought Wick, Thurso, and Portree within little more than twelve hours of Glasgow, often leads us to forget how deep is the gulf that yawns between them. We compare the Highland with the Caledonian and the North- Western, and we grumble if it falls short of our standard. The fairer comparison would be with some American or Australian "backwoods" line. The States have a significant railway term which is not in use in England. What we call a stopping or ordinary train, what the French call a train omnibus, the Americans describe as an "accommodation" train; in other words, their lines have been built for goods traffic, to afford an outlet to the markets of the great towns for the agricultural or mineral products of the neighbouring country. Passengers are almost an afterthought, and passenger trains are run rather for their accommodation as a favour than with an eye to profit. No American would expect from the Missouri and Pacific or the Wabash the same class of services that are given by the Pennsylvania or the New York Central. Out west, if they only get one passenger train in the twenty-four hours they make the best of it; if they get two, they are content with three, they may consider themselves unusually well served; while as for speed, they are satisfied to label "express" anything that can reach an inclusive speed of 20 miles an hour. Tried by a somewhat similar standard, the Highland Company would be found to give most generous facilities.

To show how impossible it is to compare it on all-fours with an English line, let us set it side by side with a company of about the same nominal length of line, the Lancashire and Yorkshire. The Highland has 425 miles, all but 8 of them single line; the Lancashire and Yorkshire has 514, of which all but 224 are double or more than double. The capital in the former case is £4,700,000; in the latter it is just ten times as large. The English company's half-yearly income is over two millions, that of its Scotch contemporary a good deal under two hundred thousand. Not to elaborate the point too far, let it just be added that, to work its traffic, the Highland Company has 85 engines, while the Lancashire and Yorkshire has no less than 1050; and that, spite of all efforts to keep down the mileage, the Highland engines can only earn 4s. 4d. a mile, while the Lancashire and Yorkshire can secure on every mile an extra shilling. Southerners mostly see the Highland trains in August, when they are full enough in all conscience; they must have a very different look for at least eight months in the year. A railway newspaper chronicled a short time back that, no later in the season than the last week of September, the London Mail arrived at Oban, a much more frequented place than Wick or Strome Ferry, without a solitary passenger.

Let us see, however, what sort of service the Highland Company does in fact give. Tam, on the Dornoch Frith, is 638 miles from Euston, and has four through connections every day, averaging over 29 miles an hour throughout. To Strome, 677 miles from King's Cross, as well as to Wick, which is 768, the speed of the best train is well over 34. Compare this with points nearer home. No one will accuse the North-Western either of want of liberality or of bad management. Brink- low, Shilton, and Bulkington are three consecutive stations on the main line of the first railway company in the world. They lie just north of Rugby at an average distance of 91 miles from Euston. They have only five connections in the day, and the average speed is a little over 36.

The Highland Company is not unfrequently the object of severe reproaches from the inspecting officers of the Board of Trade for its sins both of omission and of commission. It ignores the block system; it will have nothing to do with train staff or train tablet, but works its traffic, as does also its neighbour the Great North in most parts, on the old-fashioned system of telegraphic crossing orders; its facing points are often unprovided with locking-bars, in some cases they are not even interlocked with the signals. If an attempt were made to open a new railway without any or all of these modern improvements, the Board of Trade would peremptorily refuse its license. The line being opened, all the department has hitherto been able to do is to protest, and that it has done both frequently and vigorously. Nor is this the only subject for its strictures. The Board of Trade objects to pilot engines "banking" up a train from behind. They do not hesitate to use two "bank" engines on the Highland when they want them. It objects to mixed trains altogether. If it had its own way, mixed trains would cease to exist, or at least be reduced to one or two passenger carriages attached, and always attached in front, to very short goods trains, all of whose trucks would be fitted with screw couplings. The Highland line sets all these scruples at defiance. Most of its trains are mixed, some of them very mixed indeed, and the passenger carriages are always in the rear. I came into Inverness not long since from the North in a train of 35 goods trucks followed by seven passenger coaches. I remarked to the guard that this was a good deal. "Long train, sir," was his reply; "why, we took in 50 trucks on this train last night, and I've seen me come in with 70."

Now let it be at once frankly admitted that all this elaborate apparatus of precaution does add somewhat to the safety of railway travelling. A tour on the Highland, while far from being as perilous as a run on the main line of the Paris and Lyons in the neighbourhood of Dijon, and still further from being as venturesome as a progress in a Russian Imperial special, must evidently be less absolutely safe than a journey on an express on a great English line. For all that, speaking as a frequent traveller who values his own life at least as highly as the President of the Board of Trade is likely to value other people's, I must confess that my own sympathies are very largely with the railway company. The public, as represented by the Board of Trade, arc asking to eat their cake and have it too. After all, safety is only a question of degree. The Queen, many years back, wrote a letter expressing her desire that the safety of the meanest of her subjects should be cared for as her own. The thing is impossible. If pilot engines were sent in advance, if points were to be locked and bolted, goods traffic on the opposite line suspended, and so forth, every time each one of her subjects travelled, nine-tenths of them would have to stop at home entirely, and the trade of the kingdom would be absolutely paralysed. It needs no argument to show that, though all these precautions, which are specially taken for the sake of one exceptionally valuable life, do certainly reduce the risk of travelling to proportions even more homoopathic than usual, it would be absurd to employ them under ordinary circumstances.

To apply this argument to the case of the Highland. Unquestionably the signalling of the line might be made as elaborately perfect as it is on the Great Northern. It is only a question of money. Still, the money cost of a like reorganization was sufficiently serious not long since to determine the Great Northern, the Midland, and the Sheffield, to close the Winsford branch of the Cheshire Lines to passenger traffic altogether, rather than incur it. The Highland could scarcely adopt quite so drastic a course, but at least it would resolve, with competition to right, and competition to left, with the Caledonian tapping the west coast traffic at Oban, with the West Highland on the one side, and the Great North applying for a new line from Elgin to Inverness on the other, to refrain entirely from new extensions. To all appeals for branches to Ullapool or to Gairloch it would turn a deaf car. As for the suppression of mixed trains, there can be no doubt that it would mean the withdrawal of a large portion of the passenger facilities now enjoyed. The passenger receipts are probably under 2s. a mile. Deduct the earnings of the expresses in summer, which must carry traffic worth ten times that amount, and the ordinary trains for the rest of the year probably do not average is. a mile; north of Helmsdale or west of Dingwall, perhaps not sixpence. And at this price passenger trains will not be run at all. If the people of Sutherland had the question fairly put before them, which would they choose? One train a day and no risk, or four times as many in return for a safety fractionally less absolute.

"Well, but," it will be said, "at least the passengers might be put in front, and engines need not be attached behind." Nor need they, if passengers are not in a hurry. But it requires no argument to show that, if a train has to stop at the top of an incline for the engine in front to uncouple and run back on to the opposite line, it takes five minutes more than if an engine behind is simply hitched off and drops back without the train stopping at all ; and that means ten minutes' delay between Perth and Inverness. Again, you may put passenger coaches in front instead of behind the goods trucks, but in that case you must allow an extra seven or eight minutes at every station where shunting has to be done. For you must always begin by drawing up your passenger coaches at the platform, in order that passengers may get in and out; then you must put them across on to the other line, or into a siding; then come back to do the shunting, and when that is finished, go across once more to fetch the carriages. And seven or eight minutes at each of sixty stations between Perth and Wick means, in other words, seven or eight hour.

It is within my own knowledge that one of the great English companies was forced not long since, by the impossibility of complying with the-Board of Trade requirements in this respect, to abandon mixed trains altogether on one of its country branches. It now works its goods and its passengers separate; and no doubt the Board of Trade is well satisfied that this should be so. But the extra expense, which was a flea-bite to the English company, would be ruination to the Highland. And if the Highland dividend was brought down to nothing, who would suffer most in the long run? The Highland shareholders, or the Highland customers? Is the game really worth all this candle? Put the question this way: How many men, having missed the last train, would hesitate to accept with gratitude a lift in the brake of a coal train? But to travel in a brake is unquestionably much more risky than in a first-class carriage; Or, again, was it a crime to risk the precious life of His Imperial Majesty the Shah of Persia over the roughly laid contractor's lines along the Manchester Ship Canal? And if not, why may we not be content on-an out-of-the- way line with a practical instead of a theoretical standard of safety?

Apparently, however, the Highland will be compelled to conform to the theoretical standard ere long. Though, hitherto, the Board of Trade could only advise and request, henceforward, under the terms of the Railway Regulation Act, 1889, they are empowered to order any company to adopt block-working, to interlock its signals, and to use automatic brakes. In a circular recently issued they have given notice that every company will be required within a year or eighteen months to adopt all these precautions. In other words, speaking broadly, the lines in Ross and Caithness are to be brought up to the same standard of efficiency as is found on the main lines outside Euston or St. Pancras. Mixed trains are to be forbidden altogether, unless in exceptional circumstances, and in no case must the number of goods trucks exceed half the total number of vehicles on the train. Such is in plain terms the purport of the new circular, which adds, it should be said, a clause to the effect that the Board, before giving final orders, will be glad to hear from any company which has any objection to offer. As may be seen from what has gone before, to my mind, companies in the position of the Highland will have every objection. They will be able to point out that the new regulations, strictly enforced, would make their traffic unworkable, or workable only at a cost equal to or greater than the whole earnings of their railway.

It is easy to see the line which the Board of Trade reply will take. They will say, "Our concern is not with dividends, but with safety public opinion demands these precautions in the interest of the public safety, our business is only to act as the mouthpiece of the public." And there will of course be a good deal of weight in the answer. But if the companies are referred to public opinion for a final decision, they will have- to take care that the public has before it the materials for deciding fairly. It is not merely a case of safety v. dividends, but a case of setting up for universal adoption, at the risk of the withdrawal of a large portion of the facilities at present enjoyed, a theoretic standard of perfection as ridiculously out of place in remote districts as an improved wood-pavement would be in the back lane of the pettiest country village.

In one respect, and that a most important one, the Highland comes up to the highest standard. Whatever accidents may happen, they are not likely to be caused by any avoidable defect in engines or carriages. Of the new third-class carriages, Mr. Foxwell declares that "they are equal to the very newest of the wealthiest English companies," and his praise is not exaggerated. As for the engines, Crewe and Derby and Doncaster may equal, but cannot surpass in power of hauling heavy loads at high speeds, and can hardly equal in perfection of grooming, the iron steeds which are turned out by the Inverness stable. Perhaps when a loco-superintendent has only SS engines, and can keep them all close under his own eye, he not only takes more pride in them, but can look after them better than when they are numbered by thousands and scattered in running sheds all over the country from Bournemouth to Carlisle. Among the peculiarities of the Highland engines may be noted the fact that the chimney is double, and that in the front of the outer casing there are louvres, in order to counteract the effect of a high wind in checking the draught through the fire, a serious matter often in the wild Highland country. Another peculiarity, not visible externally however, is that some of the engines have their smoke-box roofed in, so to speak, with a grating a few inches below the foot of the chimney. This is found to arrest the sparks without tending, like spark-catchers on the top of the chimney, to check the draught.

A break-down on a railway is always a serious thing; but much more so when the line is single and there is no alternative route. So the Highland appliances for dealing with interruptions of traffic are of the most elaborate nature. At Inverness there is kept a steam break-down crane, which can work from either end, lift a weight of 15 tons, and swing it round in a circle, with a radius of 25 feet, and can move itself, if necessary, while at work, from one place to another. The machine must have cost some thousands of pounds; but as the use of it may obviate the necessity of throwing. three or four damaged carriages over an embankment in order to clear the line, the money may, no doubt, some day be proved to have been well spent. Attached to the truck on which the crane is mounted is a large and roomy van, whose interior looks a good deal like the model of an emigrant's hut. On every side are cupboards and lockers filled with provisions for. the break-down gang. Here is a tin of coffee, there a cheese, in the corner yonder is a cask of biscuits. Everything down to the smallest detail is ready on board, and all is prepared for an instant start.

Accidents fortunately happen seldom, but snow blocks are almost of annual occurrence. Among the rolling stock. enumerated in the half-yearly reports, there figure fifteen snow-ploughs. Many passengers coming up through the Pass of Killiecrankie, probably the finest railway view in Great Britain, will have observed a whole batch of them at Blair Athole. But far worse than the sheltered valleys of Perthshire are the bleak mosses of Caithness. Here in some parts the line is protected by a double row of snow fences.

At one point near Halkirk I noticed what looked like the roof of a shed only about three feet in height erected on the slope of the cutting through which the railway ran. That this structure had some connection with snow was obvious, but it was not easy to understand its mariner of action. I have' since learnt that it was a trial length of an if snow-fence" patented by a Lancashire gentleman, Mr. W. L. Howie, and that its object is not merely to intercept the snow and keep it off the line, but to prevent snow-drifts from forming at all. Mr. Howie reasons as follows: drifts form in cuttings because the wind passes over the top, and allows the snow to fall through the still air to the ground below. A wind blowing along the surface of level ground drives the snow before it and prevents it from packing. Accordingly, to prevent snow-blocks from winds blowing across the line, against which alone provision need be made, he constructs a roof, whose ridge, so to speak, projects far enough out of the cutting to catch the wind and deflect it downwards along the slope of the bank. But the wind is only deflected its force is not impaired, so it drives the 5flOW before it across the rails and up the slope on the further side.

lJnfortunately, so Mr. Howie thinks (the Highland Company perhaps would hardly be prepared to agree with him), there has been no snow to speak of in the far north for some years past, so the automatic snow-fence has scarcely had a fair trial. It is reported, however, that in slight falls the ground opposite it has been black while on either side it was white. But the idea has had a more serious trial than this. At Burghead, on the coast not far from Elgin, the Highland Company has been much troubled with drifting sand, and, in order to deal with it, they have erected a fence on Mr. Howie's principles, only made much deeper from top to bottom, as sand, being so much heavier than snow, needs a much sharper draught to blow it away. Here is one report as to the result, given by the company's assistant engineer —"No sand opposite fence. the agent [station master] and leading surfaceman gave me their opinion that 40 men could not have kept the line clear on Friday night, and that, if the fence had not been there, there would have been at least four feet depth of sand over the rails."

If the fence can keep sand from accumulating on the line, it should surely be able to prevent snowdrifts also; but the inventor is naturally anxious to see it also tried in action with snow. The extreme north is not likely, one would think, to escape much longer, and possibly while these lines are passing through the press a furious snowstorm may be raging at Halkirk. But it is a far cry to Caithness, so leaving the country with its flagstone fences and its all-pervading fishiness, but its almost entire absence of railway trains, let us notice some special features of interest on the different lines.


Return to Book Index Page

428466018527