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A more detailed history of the railway
You're- building a pipeline" the man from Yorkshire said, back in 1982 as he walked across the shoreline. "No we're not, we're building a railway". he was told. "Rubbish!" he insisted. "You're building a pipeline". Actually we then admitted that we were building a haggis farm. The ditches we were excavating with the digger were to stop them escaping, as it is well known that they do not like crossing water. He seemed more at ease with this explanation and happily went on his way.

As it happened, we were building a railway - but why?

In 1975 the owners of Torosay Castle decided to open the castle and its 12 acres of gardens to the public. The problem was how to get the visitors, the great majority of which did not bring their cars, the two miles from the ferry pier at Craignure. It was too far for the young and the not-so-young to walk and the road was  narrower in those days and there was no chance of getting any bus through
the gate and up the drive. So, however unlikely it seemed at the time, the best solution seemed to lie in constructing some form of narrow gauge railway. An added advantage would be that the railway would be an attraction in its own right.

This suggestion was put to the Estate in the Spring of 1975 and, it seems nothing changes, it was over nine years later, in June 1984, before the one and a quarter miles of railway was officially opened! It would appear that the building of railways, even little ones, is no easier now than it was 100 years ago. Planning was about the only thing that went relatively  easily  but  there  were objections from neighbouring owners, the usual red tape, the nature of the terrain and the question of funding, all of which would have seemed quite familiar to a railway company operating in Victorian times


First you need a plan

One of the promoters of the railway had noticed a track along a possible alignment on the Ordnance Survey sheet that might get us part of the way and this was mentioned to the late David Guthrie James, the then owner and father of the present laird. He explained that Campbell of Fossil, the original builder of the castle, had commissioned David Bryce, a leading architect of his day and the greatest exponent of the Scottish Baronial Style, to demolish the existing house and to design what was initially called Duart House and is now known as Torosay Castle. The building was completed in 1858 and part of the grand plan was to construct a drive down to the old stone pier at Craignure that can still be seen opposite the campsite. Campbell of Fossil reckoned without the Kirk though because when lie reached his march (boundary) with the Kirk, they refused to allow him to cross the Glebe. Subsequently, the drive had slumbered away for over 140 years until we had spotted its course on the OS sheet. Not long after this incident with the Kirk the estate was sold and the Guthrie family became involved. Around 1945, through marriage, the James family then appeared un the scene. The full story is told in the illustrated guide to the Castle and Gardens.
The summer of 1975 saw the 4th Laird of Torosay, David Guthrie James and two companions taking a look at the remains of the drive to investigate the possibility of it being used as a track bed. After the first 100 yards it became an impenetrable tangle of ponticum rhododendron, undergrowth and trees that we only progressed through by crawling on our stomachs. We got the impression that there was a not inconsiderable hump in the middle of the drive's course that could cause problems and also, where the track headed off towards the Glebe, we would have to change direction and cross an area of peat bog, the depth of which we could only guess!

The end of 1975 saw the granting of Planning Consent. Good news indeed but it did not permit us to take the railway along the seaward side of the road into Craignure and this therefore dictated where we would have to build our Station. It was to be another three years however before all our other difficulties had been overcome.


Construction begins

During this long delay the railway had been surveyed and Torosay had removed  most of the tangled undergrowth and trees that had concealed the old drive but it was rapidly becoming overgrown again by the time we were ready to make a start.  April 1982 saw us ready to begin construction and thanks to the now defunct  Highlands and Islands Development Board, we had the additional and vital financial support that we needed so desperately. The company had engaged Rob Davies, an engineer from Salen to join our construction team and a further very important addition to our numbers was George Gray. He was a retired civil engineer who had read about the proposed railway in the Scots Magazine and who had volunteered to keep us right on line and level. He and his wife Lilian made many, many journeys to Mull from Helensburgh to ensure that the work was being properly carried out. We were now well and truly off and running!

The first job that we tackled was drainage, particularly along the bog area. Where we followed the old drive we found some existing drains and ditches which for the most part were merely in need of reinstatement. In a relatively short time we managed to get them flowing again.
We were now in a position to order supplies - 23 tonnes of rails, 3,000 sleepers (Mull timber), 12,000 dog spikes and fishplates plus the nuts and bolts to secure them. We also needed ballast. An island location makes the transportation costs involved in any construction work extra expensive, so imagine the ludicrous situation where you are building a railway on an island founded on some of the oldest rocks in the world but were there is no quarry for ballast for the track! Transport and haulage costs from the mainland made that option unthinkable, so what could we do? Very fortunately there was a road contract on Mull that was nearing completion and the contractor had his own crusher. We therefore had to hurriedly estimate how much we might need before he took his plant away and then find somewhere to store it. There were people called local bank managers in those days and a friendly one gave us the facilities to buy 1500 tonnes of the stuff. Sadly, the contractor had only two sizes of screen - too big and too small!  We settled for the too small and this was dumped on the area that is now the campsite.

Drainage having been completed on the initial section, we now started making up track panels, each 15 feet long. The sleepers had previously been soaked in creosote and when we had made up a reasonable pile they would be loaded onto a wagon and pushed out to the head of steel where they were roughly laid. We had no mains services to assist us but some good friends loaned us a generator for power tools. Incidentally these friends are still with us, one a director and the other company secretary.

Our first major civil engineering problem was the hump now known as Beattock. Here we had to divert from the line of the old drive in order partially to avoid a shoulder of rock. This involved the use of explosives to reduce the level by two metres and we also had to establish a gradual gradient on either side of the summit so that our locomotives would be able to negotiate the incline. We were helped in this labour intensive operation when we were also loaned a Hymec digger and driver for the weekend. A source of rotten rock had been located. ideal for infil and building up an embankment but unfortunately it was further along than we had reached with our rails. We got over this problem by building up the track on sleepers. constructing a siding to our supply of rock and then infilling around the sleepers with rock until we could safely remove them. The embankments along Nightshade Straight and Skeleton Gulch are constructed in this way, each stone having been placed by hand.
July 1982 saw the track emerge from what was the forest area - most of these trees have since been felled - and we then faced the questions posed by the bog, how much was there of it and, perhaps of more concern, how deep before you hit bottom. We soon began to find out' We had been using Bob Davies' crawler tractor with back acter to dig out the formation and one day at where we subsequently called Bob's Wallows it broke a track on a submerged tree and began to sink. It took us several days to recover it and refit its track so it seemed sensible to look for another way around the problem area. Over to George Gray who set out an alternative route, thus avoiding this potentially dangerous section of ground. This part of the route became known as the Gray-Welbeck Curve, the latter part of the name because of the help we received from the boys of Welbeck College in laying it. We had Martin Eastwood to thank for the help from this unusual quarter, he was at that time a director of the company and also a member of staff at the College.

We had realised early on that if we were going to run more than one train at a time then we had to have a passing place. If water was also available at the same place then all the better as the locomotives could take on the necessary supplies at the same time. We found such a location at Tarmstedt. As to how it got its name you will have to visit the Torosay Archive Room to find the answer!
From here to the terminus at Craignure was mainly across boggy land that appeared to be at least 2 metres deep for most of the way. We had to therefore think about floating the formation on top of this difficult terrain and this was one of the reasons why the 260mm gauge was chosen, to reduce weight. Our friend and advisor George Gray came up trumps here once again as he knew of a source of suitable material that the owners wanted offsite as soon as possible. We arranged to collect it and it proved to be ideal for the task.

We had also by this time begun the construction of Craignure station. In February 1983 the site had looked like a battlefield with mud. peat and rocks everywhere because it was from here that the top ballast had to be run out along the complete length of the line.

May 22nd 1983 was a day to remember. The first steam locomotive to operate on Mull and Scotland's first passenger railway on an island, took the slow and careful journey to test clearances along the line. The locomotive was called Lady of the Isles, henceforth known as LOTI. She was built specially for our railway and on this our maiden journey on Mull. she was driven by David Nicholson and Graham Ellis. David had come up to give us a hand from a railway in Suffolk who had borrowed LOTI until we were ready to use her. August l8th saw a daily experimental service operating mainly with our diesel outline locomotive as we were having great problems sourcing suitable coal and there was little time in high season to train steam locomotive drivers.

Before we opened to the public we had to rebuild the three open vehicles we had purchased from a railway that was operating in Loughborough on the site of the Great Central Railway.  We converted them to closed coaches and also fitted them with vacuum brakes and new bogies. As they did not fit when delivered, the bogies had to be further modified and this delayed our opening which had to be done with minimum publicity in case we failed to make the date!

Open at long last


Our official opening by Chris Green, then the General Manager of Scotrail and now Chief Executive of Virgin Rail, was on June 22nd 1984. It was one of those well known Highland days of  liquid sunshine when it just managed not to be fine and the sun just managed not to shine properly. Our Chairman, David Guthrie James welcomed Chris Green, his wife Milzi and their two children and then waved off the train carrying them and all the invited guests with a large green flag. He later appeared at Torosay, as if by magic carpet (but in reality by fast car) to welcome the train's arrival. All the guests were then piped off the train and escorted up to the castle for a small libation, as they used to say in Victorian times, followed by a cold collation at the Puffer Aground in Salen. Since those early days there has been constant development and improvement. We soon found that we needed more coaches and three were built on Mull by Bob Davies to our design, enabling us to run two three-coach trains. To think that we initially wondered if we could fill one train and we have now built up our coaching stock to twelve vehicles. Two of these have been designed so that they can take one wheelchair-bound passenger each and three others are all-weather vehicles with pull-up windows. More coaches also meant more platforms were needed and therefore a bay platform was put in at Torosay and an island platform built at Craignure. As recently as 2000 the platform roads at Craignure have been lengthened to enable them to take longer trains and further alterations are also in hand at Torosay station.

We have always been needful of the importance of safety in running the railway and although we were successful in passing the Railway Inspectorate's inspection before we opened, we felt that communication could be improved by having radio links with the trains. After some not so successful experiments with CB radio we were however sufficiently encouraged to buy our own short wave radios and each operating locomotive now has its own set and an overall listening watch is maintained at Craignure.

We struggled for many years without mains electricity but in 1993 a suitable scheme became available into which we could link.  It enabled us to at last have decent light in our workshop areas and be able to use more than one power tool at a time. 1993 also saw an enormous leap forward in our maintenance facilities.  To coincide with the arrival of our new steam locomotive Victoria, we built a new shed that contained a high level track for the maintenance of both locomotives and rolling stock. For those who had been used to managing with ground level  maintenance which someone commented was more difficult than trying to milk a goat, this was a complete transformation and more than welcome.


Into the future

We celebrated the year 2000 by the installation of mains electricity at Craignure station, our Chairman having found a means of getting connected at a much more reasonable price than had been quoted previously. In 2001. at the time of writing, what then does the future hold? We do have lots of ideas and only finance or more accurately, lack of it, will limit their implementation. We want to further improve the facilities at Craignure station where things are somewhat inadequate for present visitor numbers. We would like a sister locomotive for Victoria, so that like her she could take over 100 passengers up the 1 in 52 gradient over Beattock.... and so it goes on.

We would very much like to see our supporters' organisation grow. They could then do more to support and publicise our railway, which, with its links to Caledonian McBrayne, makes Torosay arguably a unique destination within the UK, if not Europe.

We certainly believe that Mull Rail has that uniqueness, despite its small gauge, and there is no doubt that the panoramic views of sea and mountains are very special and help in making it so. We are very proud of what has been achieved here at Torosay and hope that you have been intrigued and interested by this brief account of our history. We hope you will enjoy your journey.