Each volume in the "Great Railway Journeys Through Time" series takes as its starting point a particular railway line, and John McGregor's wonderfully evocative book sets out the story of the original West Highland Line, which ran from Glasgow to Fort William.
Scotland is remarkably fortunate. Its railway network certainly suffered during the Beeching cuts of the 1960s, but what survived included, and continues to include, some of the most remote and most beautiful railway lines anywhere within these islands (or, arguably, beyond). The West Highland Line is, without doubt, one of these. From Glasgow it heads along the north shore of the Clyde Estuary and east shore of Loch Long before making the short leap to Loch Lomond, whose west shore it follows to its northern end. It then continues to Crianlarich and Tyndrum, and strikes north across Rannoch Moor before making its way west down Glen Spean and curving around to approach Fort William from the north east.
John McGregor begins his book with a small map of the West Highland Railway and connections, before leading the reader through a six page history of the line. We then enter the core of the book, which comprises old and more recent photographs of places on and aspects of the West Highland Line. As the first trains ran on the newly opened line on 7 August 1894, there are photographs available of every part of its history, and the author makes excellent use of them.
The photographic sections begin with images on the day the railway opened, alongside others taken on the day of its centenary celebrations. The next section, and by far the largest, takes you on a journey from Glasgow's Queen Street Station to Fort William using carefully selected images that help show the development of the line and its surroundings over the past twelve decades. This is a real joy for anyone who has ever taken a train along this line, or, who has ever driven through any of the places traversed by it. For us the most fascinating images were those of Fort William itself, where the original lochside station has been completely relocated, to be replaced by a dual carriageway bypass.
A section at the rear of the book covers the little known and short lived Invergarry & Fort Augustus branch of the railway, originally conceived as the start of an alternative route to Inverness. The West Highland Extension, the stunningly beautiful line west from Fort William to Mallaig, is not covered in this book as it has its own title in the series, again written by John McGregor, and published as a companion to this volume. Both are outstanding books, and both are highly recommended.