For over 100 years passengers and freight were conveyed up and down the Waverly Route between Edinburgh and Carlisle. In January 1969 the route closed to passengers, with freight continuing for another few months before the track-lifters finally moved in. In recent times a new “Borders Railway” has opened between Edinburgh and Galashiels (Tweedbank). An extension south to Hawick, and even Carlisle has been mooted, but as of yet the disused trackbed beyond Galashiels remains quiet. One of the most well known points on the Waverly Route is also one of the most hidden, lying as it does three miles from the nearest road. Riccarton Junction was a station which existed to connect the Waverly Route and the Borders Counties Railway, which ran from Riccarton to Hexham. All of those who worked at Riccarton Junction lived in the houses which sat on the hillside overlooking the station. Other than a long walk, the only way in or out was by the iron road.
I have plans to visit Riccarton Junction but today I decided to stop one station short as I made for Whitrope Sidings, about 3 miles north-west of Riccarton. Whitrope isn’t the easiest place to get to, nestling as it does in unspoilt and remote countryside between Hawick and Newcastleton. One of the real treats of a trip down this narrow, twisting road is to see the magnificent Shankend Viaduct. Even if a connection is fully restored between Edinburgh and Carlisle it’s unlikely the Viaduct will ever see another train, as any new route would likely be diverted westwards to Langholm. However, it remains a truly spectacular sight and a living tribute to the engineers and labourers who raised its 15 spans over the Langside Valley back in 1862.
A couple of hundred yards south of the viaduct is Shankend Station. Like several of the Waverly Route stops south of Hawick, the station is extremely isolated and seems to serve no visible community, other than perhaps the surrounding farms.
A mile or two south of Shankend Viaduct lies Whitrope Sidings, which these days is the site of a Heritage Railway (https://wrha.org.uk/) which has ambitious plans to run trains between the sidings and Riccarton Junction. The sidings are currently closed to the public, but having travelled 60 miles to get there, I hope nobody minded me taking a walk along the platform – there certainly wasn’t anybody around to ask or object.
The sidings are home to several locos and carriages – one of which serves as a shop and café when the site is up and running. I certainly look forward to going back when it re-opens. The hope is that Whitrope will also act as the starting point for the walk to Riccarton, as nothing beats walking over the actual trackbed.
The station after Riccarton Junction is in Newcastleton. This was the site of vociferous protests when the line closed as locals blocked the level crossing gates to stop the final train from progressing south to Carlisle. These days there is no sign of the station, but the level crossing site, trackbed and Station Master’s house are all still there to see.
After Newcastleton I made a brief stop in Kershopefoot which entailed a trip south of the Border. Thankfully Scotland doesn’t as yet have England on its quarantine list so I won’t need to self-isolate when I get home!
After Kershopefoot I made my way south and headed back to Biggar via the M74. On my next trip down the Waverly Route I will hopefully make it all the way to Riccarton Junction. When I do I will of course publish words and pictures from the day.
Thanks for reading.