Friday 15 September 2023

Fort William Sojourn (4)

On Wednesday 13th September, the trip out was for a cruise on Loch Ness. The cruise was very informative commentary-wise; but, frankly, there was little to see. We were told about the abundance of wildlife, but only saw three wild goats and two hairy Highland cows with their two calves.

Here are a very few items of note (?). The cruise ran from Fort Augustus.

The boat was posh ...
... and very modern.

There were screens which showed pictures of fish etc and sonar maps of the loch. For fbb and many of the passengers they were impossible to see - too small. Most of the views from the boat were of the tree-lined banks 
with an occasional burst of geological variety.

A scree slope!
There was one island - the only island in Loch Ness. It was man made in ancient times and was used as a secure holding area for domesticated animals.
It is called a crannog, which sounds a bit like a Scandinavian breakfast cereal.

Two pictures taken by fbb will appear as extras in the pre-prepared blog below.

So it was worth going!

Here beginneth the blog!

Canal Competitor Collapses?
In 1903 a branch line was opened from Spean Bridge on the West Highland Line to Fort Augustus at the southern end of Loch Ness. 

It came after years of acrimonious dispute between the North British Railway and the Highland Railway; but its clear aim was to gain a large(r) share of the lucrative markets to and from Inverness.

The line was a failure and closed to passengers in 1933 and to all traffic (what little there was) in 1948. Much of the line is now invisible with a covering of undergrowth; but the tell-tale signs are still there. A scar of bushes ... 
... curves away from today's line just west of Spean Bridge station.  The station is now an unstaffed halt and the former buildings are ...
... a restaurant.
Of course they are!

The next stop at Gairlochy ...
... where the line was crossed by the B8004 ...
... is now a caravan park - but it does retain the historic name!
It was quite a reasonable stop, but not too close to the very small community which gave the station its name.
Next is Invergloy.  It was about as basic as you could get in 1903.
But next, at the foot of Loch Oich was Invergarry. This was built to serve a large estate, carrying its sheep in particular to lucrative markets further south.
It is now a base for a small but enthusiastic band of preservation volunteers who have relaid a length of track and rebuilt the signal box ...
... the original of which can be seen above, beyond the main station building. Note also that access to the platforms was via a subway; obviously keeping the crowds away from the furious frequency of four passing trains!
We continue on our journey northwards.
There is nothing left at Aberchalder except, perhaps, a pile of rough ground where the line once crossed the modern A82.
The station was about half a mile further north ...
Whist the station site is easy to spot from the air (below, upper right) ...
...the bridge and what went over it has vanished. Or t is it a farm track hidden in the trees in todays over-enlarged aerial view?
And so to Fort Augustus itself. 

The English spent a huge amount of money trying to subdue the Scots! This was a model of Fort Augustus' fort!
The main station was not quite a terminus ...
... as the grand plan was to run trains on to a pier station - called "Pier" with astounding originality.
So, even today, you can see a bridge over a local road just beyond the Caledonian Canal ...
... and some sad and lonely support piers in the river beyond that.
The "town" station was where the light coloured buildings now sit, centre left.

There were two piers on the southern tip of Loch Ness; the old pier used by MacBraynes cruises et al ...
... and the railway pier ...
... used by nobody much. The pier closed to regular services in 1906 after just three years, but was used by excursions until 1926.


After a lengthy interchange of emails with Nick Catford, boss meister of the Disused Stations on-line pages, fbb has sorted it out, hopefully. The OS map on Nick's "Pier" page was this :-
It clearly shows show TWO piers, one for the railway and one called the "Old Pier". This version makes it even more clear. 
But a modern picture of Old Pier House ...
... looks very similar to the topography of the rather unclear station picture as above. Ringed is the basis of Old Pier House in the same location ...
... and the pier is there albeit hidden in trees on the modern picture. The flat grassed area in today's colored shot is obviously where the tracks and platforms were.

A "live" snap taken from the cruise boat shows the "old pier" more clearly.
Thought? Did the "old pier" pre-date Telford's Caledonian Canal?

There only was one pier and, astoundingly, the Ordnance Survey maps are wrong. Here is a better (and later?)  map showing the line all the way to the one and only "Old" Pier.
We can insert the line on today's Google Earth aerial view. Old Pier House and the Old Pier are ringed in red.
Where the erroneous OS map showed the railway pier, the line ran atop a small but significant cliff. There would be no pier and station here!
The pier branch seemed a good idea at the time.

And a better view taken by fbb's own fair hand ...
... and a picture of the line in situ on an escarpment well above the water line at this point ...
... so no second pier!

Which leaves one burning question.  How did the line cross The Caledonian Canal before wiggling to the pier? The crossing was here ...
... but no pictures exist of the necessary swing bridge. It was hand operated. After the pier extension closed, a new terminus building was added across the tracks.
But such modernity did not save the line. The vision of a multi modal interchange at Fort Augustus never came to fulfilment. The bigger vision of a through line to Inverness was doomed from the start.

From the locks ...
... canal traffic entered Loch Ness.

The Ghostly Tale Of Maisie MacSporran
It all began with a weirdness on the fbbs' coach. When a passenger uses the very tiny toilet down terrifyingly steep steps ...
.. a red light appears.
This is repeated by a red "ladies and gents" logo above the driver.
The fbbs, you will remember, had booked seats from which they could observe the comings and goings from the incredibly small smallest room. Such excitement!

On several occasions the lights came on but no one was there


Once or twice a weirdly green protoplasmic miasma would appear from the base of the door as the light came on.
Even more scary.

So fbb started investigating. 

It would appear that, some time ago, a passenger on the coach occupied by the fbbs had disappeared during a visit to Urquart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness. The Castle can be a difficult and ominous place.
The rumour is that Maisie, a spinster of mature years, clad in shorts and shirt ready for a brisk stroll, clambered down to the waterside at the Castle. She was never seen again. 

The coach returned to the Highland Hotel with one passenger missing who "had left to go elsewhere". 

In a way, that was true.

What happened was the subject of a Government D Notice forbidding publication of any details. But one picture appeared on-line and was quickly censored and removed. The cameraman was never found.

Here is that picture, sent anonymously and published by fbb in defiance of the D Notice.
Was the picture fake? Was the whole story fake? Or was Maisie MacSporran eaten, whole, by Nessie?

She had no living relatives so no one needed to pursue her probable passing.

But fbb is adamant that those lights came on at the WC when no person was there ensconced. Was the green miasma the ghost of poor Maisie MacSporran, one time passenger on board the Lochs and Glens vehicle named "Loch Lochy"? It seems possible.

Surely the truth needs to be told?

 Next Fort William blog : Saturday 16th September