THE WAVERLEY ROUTE HERITAGE ASSOCIATION – PAST, PRESENT & FUTURE
During the summer of 2001 a chance meeting occurred at Riccarton Junction. Whilst walking around the derelict site, brothers Andy & Matt Stoddon from Lancaster chanced upon Len Ashton, a resident of Whitrope, 2 miles further up the line.
Matt had spoken to Len briefly several times before, but this time it would be different – and change all their lives in doing so.
Realising that they had met on a few previous occasions whilst walking at Whitrope, a friendship was quickly formed, partly due to the brothers being ardent Liverpool supporters like Len, Liverpool born & bred.
The brothers were invited to Whitrope where they were introduced to Len’s wife Hilary, and having had similar, separate thoughts on creating an organisation for the Waverley Route, and after a chat over several mugs of coffee, a decision was made that night between the Stoddons & Ashtons to form one – eventually settling with the name “Waverley Route Heritage Association” – and being dedicated to the whole route from Edinburgh to Carlisle, not just one particular location.
Over the next few months, whilst the four set up the organisation officially, the brothers visited Whitrope regularly, stopping over in order that walks could commence early in the morning and finish late at night. The summer months were spent painstakingly scouring every inch of the trackbed between Shankend & Steele Road, using GPS software for accuracy, and logging remnants of the railway with a view to small acts of preservation here and there.
Old mileposts and intermediate posts were searched for, but most were long since gone – fine mementoes of the Waverley Route, most now standing in back gardens all over the country.
Many miles were walked, and on one particular occasion it took around 4 hours to walk through Whitrope Tunnel, partly due to filming inside the tunnel and notes being made about the lining and drainage systems.
In October 2001 Len & Hilary woke up to find Andy digging up part of their garden. Wondering what he was doing, Andy had to remind Len of the previous nights’ conversation over a beer or two, about excavating the footings of Whitrope Siding Signal Box.
Just one month later, on 10th November 2001, with snow covering the ground at Whitrope, the Waverley Route Heritage Association was officially formed & constituted. Only four months had elapsed since that chance meeting, but the seeds had already been sown for what was to come.
The group of four soon became many, although at this time the only volunteers were the four founder members. Work started to renovate some of the old bridges, with corroded handrails cleaned up and repainted. No official permission existed at this time to carry out the work, but the group just got on with it and waited for questions to be asked.
It wasn’t long before the Forestry Commission became aware that something was happening on the old railway. Small white posts had started appearing every quarter of a mile along the track, and the bridges were starting to look like new, with replica number plates attached. The local Forestry Ranger took notice and the group had their first visit from the Commission to see what was going on.
In early 2002 official permission was granted by the Forestry Commission for the Association to carry on with the works on the line, which included the erection of several full size replica mileposts between Whitrope & Riccarton.
The Waverley Route had started to come to life again.
But shortly after, disaster struck – in March 2002 Whitrope Tunnel suffered a severe collapse of lining at the south portal. The freshly formed Heritage Association had already made people aware of the situation, sensing that something was about to happen due to the changing shape of the roof and a number of minor falls. But it still came as something of a shock to see virtually the whole portal now blocked with rubble.
This was a blow to the organisation, but would lead to the eventual listing of the structure as a tribute to the men that built it.
May saw the unveiling of the Association’s 25 year plan, which would see the eventual return of a heritage railway to the Scottish Borders, running south from Whitrope to Riccarton Junction, and beyond. This plan also included the creation of a heritage centre at Whitrope, using the site of the old Whitrope Siding, with the added possibility of recreating the demolished signal box.
During the spring and summer of 2002, new signs were erected at Whitrope Summit to mark the 140th anniversary of the opening of the Waverley Route. A signpost points to Carlisle & Edinburgh, giving distances to each in miles, and a cast sign was commissioned showing the height of the summit and the dates.
On the day of the World Cup Final in 2002, June the 30th to be precise, it was teeming down with rain. Five members of the Association set off on the first organised walk – a very low turnout, but not surprising given the awful weather. Whilst passing through Riccarton a conversation was struck up with a visitor to the site. By the end of the day, after a further visit to Whitrope, the visitor had been persuaded to bring some of his items to the Waverley Route Heritage Association, including several sections of railway track and two coaches which could be used for a static display and heritage centre.
One week later, and having to act very quickly, the whole site of the railway at Whitrope Siding was scraped using a mechanical digger which happened to be in the area at the time. Planning permission was rushed through in just 6 weeks and a full site lease was acquired from the Forestry Commission.
At the beginning of September 2002 the site was ballasted, thanks to the help of the Forestry Commission, and shortly afterwards several sections of line arrived, having been stored at Coupar Angus. During the week that followed Association members got their first taste of tracklaying – which had to be done the hard way due to the severe lack of tools.
On 19th September 2002 the first piece of rolling stock moved on the Waverley Route for over 30 years. A South West Trains Mark 1 Buffet car may have looked out of place, but it didn’t matter – after all, the Association had only been established for 10 months and had now done something only talked about by others.
Several days later a Mark 2 Brake coach joined the Mark 1, and the Waverley Route Heritage Association were able to show off their bold attempt at putting the Waverley Route firmly back on the map.
The winter of 2002 set in quite hard, and it was almost impossible to get any work done outside. Efforts were concentrated on planning for the Association, and on archiving materials.
The Association had its first A.G.M. in February 2003, and the following day work started in earnest on restoring the Mark 2 BSO. With around 5 or 6 layers of paint on both the roof and the bodysides, it was not an easy task, but the decision was taken to “bottom” it back to metal ensuring the job was done correctly. After several months of paint stripping, filling and sanding down, a coat of primer was eventually applied, with the roof receiving a full coat of the correct roof paint.
All the window mountings were removed, glass removed from the frames and after all the glazing was cleaned up the frames were resealed and reinstalled. All the door hinges were replaced with brand new parts from Doncaster works, and the guard’s compartment was removed, giving the internal appearance of one long display hall.
This is yet to be fitted out, and work has been suspended internally pending the application of a grant for the heritage centre. All the paint has been acquired for the outside of the coach, and for the Mark 1 Buffet which was been rubbed down by hand, and this is yet to be applied, with both coaches to be painted in crimson lake livery.
After first submitting plans for blocking Whitrope Tunnel way back in the spring of 2002, which were initially unsuitable, the Forestry Commission finally approved a design for the blocking which got underway during a rather snowy February & March. Problems were encountered at the northern portal when it was found that one of the grilles – the last piece – did not fit. It turned out that measurements for the fabrication had been taken from the south portal only! Final checks throughout the length of the tunnel were made by three of the W.R.H.A. Committee members on what would be a rather sad occasion.
Whilst the heritage centre was being planned, work commenced in clearing the garden of the station master’s house at Riccarton Junction after submission of plans of work and the appropriate risk assessments to the Forestry Commission. After several weeks work and after the cutting down of trees, bushes & shrubs, the house once again became visible to anyone passing through Riccarton – all this work having been undertaken by the Waverley Route Heritage Association volunteers. Subsequent planned work for the restoration of the house has been suspended pending further discussions after a building inspection.
New display boards were placed at Whitrope Summit & at the north end of Riccarton in spring 2003, these being dedicated to two Waverley Route workmen who recently passed away, Bill Stitt, born in Whitrope Tunnel east cottage and raised at Riccarton, and Kit Milligan from Riccarton, author of the book “Just a few lines”, itself being republished by the Association in 2004.
The clearance of the Whitrope Tunnel south portal was aided by transportation of a digger to Whitrope. Tons of mud, shrubs and general detritus were cleared from the trackbed, leaving it at ballast level for the first time in over 20 years. The drains were rodded out to ensure the area could be thoroughly drained, with masses of tree roots being removed in the process. The retaining walls were also cleaned, allowing the brickwork to breathe once again.
In July 2003 the Association were informed by Historic Scotland that the suggested listing of several structures on the line had been formalised. It had taken nine months, since October 2002, but July 15th was a day to celebrate. Structures successfully listed were Whitrope Tunnel, Whitrope Culvert, bridge 200 at Whitrope, also known as the Golden Bridge and also Stobs Viaduct. Shankend Viaduct had been listed as early as 1971 so with these structures listed the section south of Hawick has at least been afforded some protection for the future.
The first Whitrope open day was held in August 2003, with over 300 visitors attending. The heritage trail proposed by the Association was unveiled as the “Ritson Trail”, named after the Victorian railway contractor William Ritson who built Shankend Viaduct, Whitrope Tunnel, the Golden Bridge at Whitrope and Riccarton Junction.
The route winds down the railway from Whitrope to Riccarton, then diverts back to Whitrope via a forest track, passing engineering marvels such as the Riccarton aqueduct and weir, and the limekiln used by Ritson, on the way.
Shortly afterwards, and after some negotiations, the Association found out it was to receive sections of used railway line from the Settle & Carlisle line upgrade works. The Association would have to pay for the transportation costs, but the track itself would essentially be at no cost, provided we could take it.
A haulage contractor was contacted and arrangements made with Network Rail. At the end of September and beginning of October 2003, one hundred and twenty panels of track, each sixty feet in length, were transported to Whitrope after being delivered from Smardale to the sidings at Ribblehead. At the same time, by pure coincidence, a large article appeared in the magazine “Steam Railway”, featuring the plans of the Waverley Route Heritage Association. Buoyed up by this article and the large amount of track acquired, 2003 ended in high spirits and with further work taking place on the trackbed to restore sections of the drainage systems. In just 2 years an amazing amount of work had been done to reinstate at least a small part of the Waverley Route, by what was still a relatively small group of volunteers.
2004 started with the Association getting a new Secretary, Ian Crooks, previously the Secretary of Campaign for Borders Rail, and replacing Matt Stoddon who had acted as Secretary since it formed in 2001. Ian started his new role by drawing up a replacement for the original 25 year plan, drawn up 2 years earlier by Matt. This was replaced with a staged plan for construction of a heritage centre & railway, starting at Whitrope & heading south. The plan would include a feasibility study for the line and provide details on the business case, beneficiaries, equal opportunities & environmental costs. For this a large-scale survey was conducted throughout the Scottish Borders asking whether it was felt the area needed another tourist attraction, and if a heritage railway was built whether or not it would be well patronised.
Meanwhile, work continued “on the ground” so to speak, with several miles of fence wire arriving on site in readiness for the original posts to be straightened or replaced with new ones, donated from Network Rail.
Ditches were re-excavated both by hand and by mechanical means on top of the large cutting just south of Whitrope, which had been the scene of several large landslips since the line closed in 1969.
After a second AGM in May 2004, which would now become a standard date, Association members attended the third annual walk, this time from Riddings Junction to Penton and back. On a truly glorious sunny Sunday, seventeen members joined the villagers of Moat, who had organised the walk, over a stretch of line which is usually inaccessible due it being in England. A great day was had and hopefully this walk can be recreated in future years.
Shortly afterwards, work began in earnest to scrape away the mud & vegetation which had accumulated on the trackbed at Whitrope over the course of three decades. In just three weeks over three-quarters of a mile of double track was cleared down to the original ballast level. The whole of Ninestane Rigg Cutting at Whitrope together with the stretch between Whitrope Summit and Tunnel was cleared, allowing an unbroken run for over a mile of cleared trackbed, ready for further work on the permanent way.
All the drains were immediately set upon by the volunteers, with the majority of the drains in the cutting being useable, despite not having been serviced for over 35 years. At the summit, some of the drains required replacing. It was decided to carry out two jobs at the same time and whilst the drainage channels were excavated, several inches of ballast were removed for cleaning and grading, with the Association owning a grading machine for this purpose.
Around a thousand tons of ballast was removed, the drains replaced and the forest track over the line at Whitrope was realigned to trackbed level to facilitate the future level crossing to the car park for the heritage centre.
The heritage centre will cut diagonally into part of the hillside opposite the site of Whitrope Siding, where it will look like a bay platform. The platform for the railway will join with this, on the straight length south towards bridge 199. Together with the two coaches which will form the heritage centre, an amenity building will provide for toilet facilities, with a pathway leading down from the car park. The surrounding area is due to be fully landscaped by the Forestry Commission to provide a tranquil setting.
Most of our Committee are working behind the scenes right now to establish both the Heritage Centre at Whitrope and also the railway itself. There are other plans for the railway which will be made public at some time in the future.
We know from seeing other railway operations how much – not just financially – is required from the outset and how much is required to keep it running. That is why we’re not leaping in with anything and taking our time, ensuring that we can walk before we try running.
The crucial first step is the establishment of the Heritage Centre at Whitrope which will show not only the history of the railways in the Scottish Borders, but also the life of the navvies, contractors and all who originally built the line. We already have an extensive archive of material for this which has been collated since we’ve been established. The walks and bike trails we are forming in the area will form part of our overall attraction.
Once the centre is up and running, and ensuring all is well financially, we’ll be looking towards the creation of the railway. We are quite fortunate that several of our members are in the railway industry and so can dedicate some of their spare time to working on the permanent way, ensuring that all work is carried out in the correct manner.
The first section to have track laid is to be the stretch between Whitrope Summit and Tunnel. Carrying out tracklaying on this stretch will ensure maximum visual impact to all road users, and it is planned to install a passing loop here, on the only level part of the line for miles.
Despite creating the heritage centre and the railway, it’s easy to forget that the Waverley Route Heritage Association is not just a railway line – the WRHA was formed to preserve and protect what’s left of the Waverley Route, with membership now standing at three hundred and fifty members. As well as the listing of structures previously mentioned, we also interview, film and record the memories of those who worked the line. We have a huge photographic and source material archive and we publish books about the Waverley Route. The railway we are looking at opening is just a part of the overall organisation and will be treated as such – but sensibly so.
If you take a visit to Whitrope now you will see the signs that things are definitely happening on the Waverley Route for the first time in over 35 years, and if you are ever in the area please do call in – you’ll be more than welcome.
Written in 2005 by Matt Stoddon.