West Highland Napier
(5th March 2000)

A brief railtour description....by someone NOT on the train!
Ralph Barrett describes...

It's a wild and lonely place... And that's just Fort William station on a Sunday !

I'd driven all the way to Fort William with my neighbour, just to see and record a Deltic on the West Highland line. Surely we must be mad, especially as the forecast weather had arrived, which included horizontal rain and sleet and gale force winds. Ideal weather for standing up to your knees in mud and getting soaked to the skin, in the middle of nowhere - not.

Deltic 19 with 11 vehicles in tow, departed Fort William at 11:56 (4 early) for the long return journey to Cardiff. We immediately also departed by car along the A82 to await the train's re-appearance from Rannoch moor, down at County March summit. Climb starts at Bridge of Orchy 6 miles away, and culminates in over two miles at 1-in-55 immediately before the summit.

After a long wet wait, we eventually saw the train in the far distance, snaking its way along the side of the mountains, about to enter the famous horseshoe curve. After a further wait, we were rewarded with the sound of those twin Napiers even before the train came into view, and this was against the sound of the wind and the rain ! The more Deltic 19 runs, the louder she gets :-) I was pleased to see quite a few hardy photographers appearing from 'nowhere' at County March, all standing in a line in the pouring rain - hopefully we'll see a photograph published, even though the sun was not shining ;-) We all witnessed a spectacular thrash up the gradient, with the engine note momentarily dropping to idle due to wheelslip, just as she passed us. Then we could see and hear the Deltic powering over the summit, and off towards Tyndrum and Crainlarich.

We then drove to Glen Douglas, where there is another steep incline with about 5 miles of 1-in-55 from Arochar and Tarbert [1]. Plus some *really* tight curves with check rails. Still raining hard too. Again we could hear those twin Napiers thrashing against the gradient long before we saw the train. Deltic 19 stormed passed us on just over half power at about 20mph. I suspect that's the speed limit around those tight curves.

All this talk about Deltics not being able to climb hills at low speeds with heavy loads is 'cobblers' ;-) Once passed we could hear the exhaust note of the Deltic for several minutes until she finally cleared the summit. Whoever was driving was demonstrating some excellent skill and judgement, and knew exactly what to do to minimise wheelslip. As this was probably the first train of the day over the line, and it was pouring with rain sleet and snow, the rail-head conditions must have been poor.

Next appointment with the train was at Dunbarton Central, where we were rewarded by a station stop. A nice old station, and a nice old diesel locomotive.

According to my Northern Belle brochure, the next tour to Fort William runs on February 18/19th 2001, and costs 275 GBP (an increase of 65 quid on this year's bargain price!). Next year's tour is booked to start from Manchester in 2001 instead of Cardiff/Bristol.

[1] In Viking times you could claim a piece of land, if you could sail your longship around it. Crafty Vikings used to drag their boats over the land, between two water masses, which enabled them to claim the enclosed land as theirs! The small strips of land where they dragged their craft were known by the Vikings as a 'Tarbert'. Hence the popular Scottish place name.

Ralph Barrett

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