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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.
(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.
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.