Posted by: wrha | June 13, 2020

Village that owes its future to the railways

In 1912, the Railway Magazine carried an article on a Scottish community under the heading of “An Out and Out Railway Colony.” The village was Riccarton Junction which depended absolutely on the railway for everything.

In those days it didn’t even have a road. The villagers had to go everywhere by train, have their mail, groceries and clothes delivered by train, and everyone worked for or depended on the railway for a living.

This was in the days of the old North British Railway, when Riccarton Junction was a vital cog in the development of this rapidly-expanding Scots company.

Fifty years later, Riccarton Junction is STILL dependent on the railway. Names and times have changed, but everyone in the town is dependent on British Railways for a living – and still there is no proper road.

There is no cinema, no dances, no doctor, and in July there will be no school. Its 32 homes support a population of 90, of whom about 20 are children.


Charles McPhail strolls along “Main Street.” Television is an important part of the villagers’ life.

Nestling among the high Cheviots, this is a land of rabbits and foxes, a settlement where people are contented with their way of life – and where no major illness has been known among children for over ten years.

The Riccartonians are self-sufficient. They have to be. It is impossible for them to go shopping in Edinburgh for more than an hour before having to catch a train back again. Even to Hawick the services are not particularly frequent. On Saturdays, a train leaves for Hawick at 2.30pm and returns leaving Hawick at 10.50.

Life is certainly bizarre in Riccarton Junction.

To go there it was necessary to drive along a rough, three-mile foot-track – over what, in fact, used to be a railway line to Hexham in Northumberland. It was a strange feeling driving through this route cut through rocks and fields – a train driver’s view. The route began at what used to be Saughtree Station (now a house) still with a platform, and ended at the buffers at Riccarton.


At Saughtree, the station is closed, the rails gone, and a car now follows the path of the giant expresses.

There is one shop in Riccarton Junction – and fittingly enough it is on the railway platform. It is open from 9.30 in the morning until 2.30. The manager is Mr John Bradie of Hawick Co-op.


Mr John Bradie runs the only shop in the village. Fittingly enough, it’s on the railway platform.

Mrs Grant, the schoolmistress, is leaving in July, and the school closes then too. She has been in the village for 21 years. Although she loves the scenery, she admits: “I don’t think there is much future now. I remember this place when we had workshops and big sheds. I once had over 20 children and two classrooms. Now I have only eight children from two families.”


The eight young pupils at Riccarton School listen to the schools’ broadcast on the radio. In July the school closes for good.

One man a long way from home is the Station Master, Mr Alastair Farquhar, who hails from Buckie.

He said: “It is quite pleasant here. It is not so lonely as you might think. After all we have the television, and you can get into Hawick.

“There has been a running down. Of the 32 houses in the village about 14 are empty now. Some are not in very good condition, but others are fine.”


Station Master Mr Alastair Farquhar told me: “It’s not as lonely as you might think.”

Riccarton is certainly “away from it all.” I could find no one in Hawick or on the way who could tell me how to get there. One shepherd scratched his head and said cheerfully: “I don’t know if you can get there!”

Eventually copies of this paper will find their way to Riccarton. They will be tossed out of a passing train.

Hardly a more fitting way to arrive could be evolved for this village created by the railways and where the hiss of steam and the hoot of diesel is close to everyone’s heart.

‘No point’

It is a village with only railway tracks and platforms, with no streets. Some young children have seen huge locomotives hurtling though the station, but have never seen a bus.


The busy network of rails at the Junction … few of our villages are as dependent on the railways for their survival as Riccarton.

A curious Shangri-La existence. But life does not hold such a rosy future. One railwayman said: “If they take off any more trains there will be be no point Riccarton Junction continuing.”

Which would be a shame. For individuals villages are as important and as rare as individual people.

And it would be hard to find a village which could be any more individual!

This article originally appeared in The Weekly Scotsman, Thursday May 31, 1962 and is part of the M.G.Stoddon Collection
Words by Charles McPhail
Pictures by Denis Straughan
It has been reproduced here as part of our historical articles series during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prepared for WRHA by Matt Stoddon