Model Railway in a Box I first ventured up to the West Highlands of Scotland on an LCGB rail tour in April 1982 to Kyle of Lochalsh. It started in Liverpool Lime Street and I was picked up from school by my father, he took me to Lime Street and I met up there with my brother Frank, my aunty and Grandfather.
At that age, it all seemed exciting, a weekend away sleeping on the train as you went. But from memory, the train was made up of MK1 compartment stock with a buffet car and a restaurant car which provided hot meals and snacks etc. I was too young then to enjoy the cool refreshments on offer. We had reserved two compartments, one we all used during the day to sit in and we used the two at night to sleep two in each compartment. The train was about 12 coaches long and coaches were added and taken away at various points over the weekend. I remember that you could pay extra and have a cooked breakfast in the restaurant car and as a wee nipper that was really exciting, probably the first time I had done it! When we arrived at Kyle of Lochalsh, the weather was appalling, you could see about 50ft ahead through the swirling rain and mist. We then boarded a ferry that took us on an 8 hour trip around the Isle of Skye. This was met with equally poor weather and the crew did their best to keep us entertained including trips to the bridge to see how the radar worked, more exciting stuff a 10 year old, wow, radar! I suppose these days, parents would be done for infringing a childâ€™s human rights, but it was good character building stuff to a boy of my age. When we got back to the Kyle, we had plenty of time to potter around the metropolis that is Kyle of Lochalsh, taking in the local shops and the impressive
local fish & chip shop. We explored the surrounding area and passed over one of the road bridges that were by the signal box down in the cutting on the exit of the station. I think that at that time, I’m not sure how much it was used and if it was still manned. The track had been rationalised by then to a run round on one side of the platform and a single line on the other. I remember looking down on this slightly disgruntled signal box, not at all like the shiny Hornby one I had at home. What I didn’t know then was that I had fallen in love with the area and Kyle of Lochalsh. I have been back many times over the last thirty years and every time I go, I always took a walk past the signal box to see what state it was in. it has long been out of use since the electronic token system came in. Over the years, the state of disrepair of the signal box became worse and worse. First the glass was smashed, the there was a fire, it went on and on, finally a large blue tarpaulin was placed over the box in an effort to protect it from the elements. It stayed dormant in that state for years; it was constantly threatened with demolition. Last December, I travelled up to Inverness on the sleeper with the intention of meeting up with Mrs M in Aberdeen. I had all day to play on trains and this was a good opportunity to maybe see the Isle of Skye in snow. To do this, you have to rely on the sleeper getting in to Inverness on time in the morning. But if it does, you have about a 20 minute connection for the first train to Kyle of Lochalsh. This then gives you about 50 minutes at Kyle of Lochalsh before returning to Inverness on the same train. Another short stop in Inverness and then onto Aberdeen, getting there about six o’clock in the evening. Well, the sleeper got in to Inverness on time, I made the connection and set of for Kyle of Lochalsh with the entire carriage to myself! The weather was beautiful with stunning sun and snow on the tops. The journey was sublime with herd after herd of deer passing the window. For those who don’t know the line or haven’t been on it yet, once the train heads west at Dingwall, sit on the right hand side of the train and you will be treated to a fantastic view of Loch Carron from the train window. We made it through to Kyle of Lochalsh and the helpful train crew said I could leave my things on the train. As usual, I had a potter about the place and the usual tour via the bridge next to the signal box.
Well I got the biggest surprise; I’d heard that the Friends of the Kyle Line had the signal box in its sights for potential use. Well the rumours were true. It had been completely restored as accommodation in the bottom where all the wires, pulleys etc used to be housed. It includes a double bed with a single bunk bed above it at 90 degrees. It has a toilet, shower, kitchen and seating area with a settee, table and chairs etc. then above where the lever frame used to be is a model railway which is based on the line and runs the full length of the box. What a surprise and what a transformation from dilapidated ruin to modern and unique holiday let. It is in the style of a bunk house that pops up in the Highland area at railway stations. Full details can be found on the ‘Friends of the Kyle line’ website. Bookings can be for weekends or a full week and prices and can be found on the friends of the Kyle line website.