28/11/2018
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Memories of a Scottish steam train holiday

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Happy memories of childhood holidays by steam train in 1950s Scotland. By Alexandra Wilkinson.

Our summer holiday destination in the 1950s never varied. Every year my mother and I would spend the long summer holidays at my grandmother’s cottage in Plockton. 

In those days Plockton was virtually unknown as a tourist destination – a wee gem of a Highland village frequented by a few artists and writers seeking peace and inspiration among the beautiful surroundings of Loch Carron. 

The journey by steam train was long and tiring but it never failed to enthral me. The first stage took us from Larbert to Perth, where we had to wait half an hour for the connection to Inverness. My mother always travelled with our battered and much-labelled cabin trunk, packed full of clothes for all weathers, presents for gran and food supplies.

I remember so well our frantic dash at each station to retrieve it from the guard’s van, with our without the help of the elusive porters.

The steam train journey

We travelled second class. I always hoped we might have the entire compartment to ourselves but invariably we had to share It with other passengers for at least part of the journey. One year, our travelling companion from Perth onwards was a lady whose family had emigrated to Vancouver. Her granddaughter was keen to find a Scottish penfriend so we swapped addresses. Shortly afterwards Beverley and I started up a correspondence that lasted for many years.

Occasionally we had a great treat – lunch in the dining car amid the luxury of plush armchairs, pristine white tablecloths, silver cutlery and impeccably-uniformed waiters who could balance soup plates expertly without spilling a drop.

When we reached Inverness, we saw little of the town. We had only one aim – afternoon tea at Burnetts (bakers to the Highlands). The waitress in black dress and starched white pinny would serve us plates of French Fancies, creamy meringues and ‘fly cemeteries’. What a treat for two weary travellers!

Journey's end

The Kyle line, the final stage of the journey, was spectacular. After juddering to a halt at all the wee stations where there was seldom a soul getting on or off the train picked up speed over the unbroken moorland until last Loch Carron came into sight.

I would sit with my nose pressed against the window, watching the sun sink into the shimmering blue water, excitement mounting at the thought of seeing Plockton and gran again. One more stop, at Duncraig Castle, then though the tunnel, and we had arrived. The holiday had begun!

QUICK LINK: Childhood toys of the Fifties

History Scotland e-newsletter

(image copyright Tuck DB Postcards)

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