Strathpeffer Station

 

The Highland Museum of Childhood

Strathpeffer Station was built by Murdoch Paterson for Highland Railways in 1884, opening on 3 June 1885. He worked with Joseph Mitchell, successor to Thomas Telford and government engineer for roads, bridges and harbours in the Highlands. Paterson’s Culloden viaduct shows his engineering skills. His Strathpeffer station shows a different side with its delightful timber station with glass canopy. But he also designed staff cottages, signal boxes, goods sheds, gates and of course the numerous bridges the railways needed.

The timber station design is similar to that at Dingwall railway station which was also designed by Paterson. At Strathpeffer the building is composed of 11 bays with a bay window extending out on the north side. The Ross-shire Journal article of 29 May 1885 was reserved in its judgement, saying ‘though not elaborately formed, [the station] is not destitute of elegance’. However the stationmaster’s house (now called Ulva) and other fittings were pronounced to be in harmony with the station.

The gates leading into the station were forged at the Rose Street Foundry in Inverness.

image of gate

Only the main station and a part of the platform survive today. The OS map from 1904 shows the original layout of the station. Three additional sidings were built, one leading directly into the goods shed, a smaller one to the north of that and the longest one terminating in a weighing machine (W.M. on the map) near where a crane was situated.

OS map

(Map ©National Library of Scotland)

The large building on the northernmost siding was a cattle shed, reminding us that not only spa visitors made use of the station. It was still in use into the 1950s when it was used to store coal but its date of demolition is not known. The crane was also still there in the 1950s.

In the detail below of a postcard from the early 1900’s you can see the cattle shed and pens as well as the signal box and the goods shed.

station showing cattle shed

As the postcard clearly shows, one rail siding went into the goods shed. Later, after the Highland Railway was taken over by London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMS), a platform was constructed at right angles to the station building at its eastern end. It protruded out towards the western end of the goods shed.

In the late 1940s and until early 1970s the station was a coal yard, with coal stored in the goods shed, the cattle shed, and towards the end of the business, even in the derelict station.

coal

(photo courtesy of Highland Railway Society/Am Baile)

The current entrance to the museum is housed in the Stationmaster’s office. Then the double doors lead to what was the ticket office which was next to his office, and on the other side to the waiting room. The bay window clearly was an important area and we speculate that this was the First Class passenger’s waiting room. The rooms to the east were probably originally used by porters. From memories and pictures we also know that a wooden Menzies news stand was situated at the western end.

menzies stall

The station closed to passengers in 1946 and then altogether in 1951. The coal business used some of the buildings and there was also an upholsterer’s workshop. But in the 1970’s it became increasingly derelict. In the late 70’s a heavy snowstorm collapsed the westernmost bay of the canopy, as the picture shows.

derelict building

(Photo ©John Rich)

Fortunately a project to restore the station was launched and in 1980 it reopened as the Strathpeffer Craft and Visitor Centre. With a cinema in what is now the museum showing a specially commissioned film about Strathpeffer and Highland natural history, and various craft shops and later a café in the rest of the station, the building provided a tourist focus for the bus tours which became more frequent. Various shops have come and gone and information about them would be very welcome so that we can provide more detailed plan of use over the years!

In the late 1980’s the open area at the eastern end was filled in to become Allister Brebner’s  woodworking  studio.

IMG_20160227_0003 - A Brebner

His cinema became the Highland Museum of Childhood in 1992 and the modern extension, The Goods Shed Education Centre and Collections Store, was added at the eastern end in 2010.

Children outside the Goods Shed Education Room

 

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The Strathpeffer Branch Line

The original railway station for Strathpeffer was in the Heights of Achterneed because Sir William Mackenzie of Coul blocked plans for the station to go through Strathpeffer and then through his lands in Contin. Ironically he died before the complete line was built and his heir supported the calls for a railway line to go directly to Strathpeffer. The branch line was built in 1884, designed by Murdoch Paterson, who was responsible for a great deal of the railway expansion in the Highlands.

The branch line to Strathpeffer at Dingwall Station had its own siding and a waiting room. The waiting room has been moved to the other side of the road bridge but still survives. Until recently the platform for the branch line was visible. This picture shows the Strathpeffer train ready to go. The waiting room is in the distance near the bridge (photo courtesy of Highland Railway Society/Am Baile)Strathpeffer train at Dingwall Am Baile

After leaving Dingwall the branch line continued straight as the Kyle line curves to head up the hill to the Heights of Achterneed. Murdoch Paterson built a house for the Signalman at Fodderty Junction. It is now a picturesque ruin held in place by the ivy.

signal mans house

The short line ran at the base of the hills. Fodderty Bridge is the only bridge to carry a road/track over the railway. It is surprising well made and has been well maintained in recent years. It now has a plaque installed by the landowner and signposting for walks.

fodderty bridge

The other bridges along the routes are cattle creeps (to allow animals to pass under) or culverts for drainage. Few survive now although stone abutments on either side can be seen. The area where the track crossed was made of concrete.

cattle creep                         inside cattle creep

On bridges which no longer survive in some cases it is possible to see where the track was bolted down and indeed was later cut off. The picture above right is taken standing inside the cattle creep, looking towards one of the abutments. Note the concrete slab supporting where the trackbed should have run over it.

Looking from above, one can still see in places the brackets to hold rails at the edge of the bridge.(in picture below)

brackets

Along the route much of the old cast iron fencing and many gates still survive. Some of the fencing is strainer posts. The large ones have the inscription: A K THE IRON WIRE FENCE Co LONDON SW WARRINGTON. The smaller intermediate posts are inscribed A K 14 LOWELL & CO   PATENT   LONDON SW.

fencing 1                               fencing 2

Near Fodderty Bridge some original twisted wire survives. Note the original bracing survives here too.   Some posts still have original gates still attached. In other places along the lines the gates have been re-used by crofters.

fencing and wire         gate.jpg

Some of the wooden posts, heavily impregnated with creosote, survive after all this time. These have a distinctive rectangular shape unlike more modern square or round posts.

creosote fence post

As one nears the Station there was originally a signal box and water tank. These are clearly shown on the 1904 OS map and some early postcards. However no traces remain of it. The signal box was made redundant in 1936 and was probably made redundant soon afterwards.

Map ©National Library of Scotland; postcard courtesy of Highland Libraries/Am Baile.

OS map

station in colour.jpg