ABERDEEN TO MACDUFF, BANFF & CULLEN
(Via Old Meldrum)
Old Meldrum 18
King Edward 42
Leave Aberdeen northwest via Great Northern Road and Auchmill Road to Bucksburn. Taking the A947 throughout.
Bucksburn: Corruption of Brock = Badger + Burn = stream. As well as being an important turnpike was also the first main station after Aberdeen. It had an extensive yard, which had its own Shunting Loco turn from Kittybrewster Depot and also served the Twin Spires Creamery, which had its own shunting spur off the mainline. The Station Hotel and bar is now known as the Staging Post and all that remains of the station is the two platform edges, where only a single line passes through, and the area that was the goods yard is now a group, of shops.
In earlier years the station pilot was a steam loco but by the time I started as a secondman at Kittybrewster in 1963/4, the pilot was a Class 8 English Electric Shunter. Having booked on around 5am, and either traveled light engine, or with a short train from Kittybrewster yard, spent the shift shunting Bucksburn Yard, plus the Creamery, as required. Breakfast was a walk to the Bakery and Butcher on Auchmill Road, and a fry up of Aberdeen Morning Rolls (Rowies) and Bacon done on the Loco's cooker. The shift ended either by going light engine to Kittybrewster Depot or working some wagons to the Yard, around 12.00 noon. It is nice to have some memories of working the yard and of the small signalbox (On the 'up' side next to the roadbridge, of Goodhope Road) that controlled the section, between Kittybrewster and Dyce Junction. There was an Intermediate block section between Kittybrewster and Bucksburn with the Distant Signal at Persley Bridge and the Stop Signal by the Children's playground at what was Woodside Station.
The A96 goes on to Kintore and Inverurie. But in the center of Bucksburn (Bucksburn Fountain) turn north on the A947 via Old Meldrum Road, where the Aberdeen Suburban Trams ran from 1872 until 1926, when the suburban section was closed and terminated at the junction of the Great Northern Road and Auchmill road (Scatterburn). This corner was also known as Cruickshank's Corner, after a local shop, which stood in the western corner. Today, at this corner, stands a replica of the lamppost, with the original fountain's base.
At the end of Bankhead Road the tram terminus represented the most northern of street running tramways in the United Kingdom, though the Cruden Bay Hotel electric tramway, near Boddam must surely have been the most northern electric tramway system.
The tram terminus was immediately in front of Bankhead Church where a short walk took you to Bankhead station, which was on the suburban train service from Aberdeen. The only remaining sign of the tramway is a short piece of (double) track, seen from behind a Chinese take-away shop, just inside Bankhead Avenue, which has been built on the sight of the tram depot.
The A96 continues through Stoneywood (Donside Paper Mills) for two miles, to Dyce. It was once a village in its own right but is now part of greater Aberdeen. Dyce Junction Station, on the main Aberdeen to Inverness main Line was the junction for the G.N.S.R. branchline to Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Boddam via Ellon and Maud junctions.
The airport was modernized during the Oil Boom and the small town expanded. Today the airport is the second busiest in the U.K. The station was closed in 1968 but re-opened in the late 80`s when the air passenger service was expanded to cover many direct flights all over the U.K. and the world. North Sea oil & gas related helicopters services take off and land at virtually one a minute. Sadly the Fraserburgh and Peterhead branches are no more but the station has a two-hourly 158 and Sprinter express service too and from Inverness with an early service going direct to Glasgow, Queen Street. Future plans are for an hourly Inverness service with some re-doubling of sections and the latest high-tech train control, which uses a modern satellite signaling systems which requires no fixed trackside signaling.
In the 50's I used to go with my brothers to watch the (RAF) Air shows. This squadron was moved to RAF Luchars (Near St. Andrews) in the early 60's. Dyce had only two industries then, paper and Lawsons' Sausage & Pie factory, but today it is an extensive Industrial estate, bringing much needed employment to the northeast.
On the A947 we go north and pass under the trackbed of the branch, at Parkhill, with the junction of the A977, which goes west to Kintore. You can just see the remains of the platform edges.
Continuing northward on the A947 we follow the trackbed, on an embankment to the north, to Newmachar. Then continue northeast past the farming community of Whiterashes. Inland, there is a lovely view over rolling farming country to Bennachie (1733') and Mither Tap (1698). Then on to Old Meldrum which is 18 miles from Aberdeen.
Bennachie: Gaelic Bein + Lachie (Archie) = Archibald's Mountain. The range sits in a forest (Spruce & Pine) reserve with paths marked out to various view points At the junction with the B9170 (north) is Meldrum House (Hotel) which lies just off the road in a lovely tree-lined park. The house is very grand with a stepped doorway. In June the Rododendrons make a fine show.
My sister and her school friend worked there for a while (in the 50's) and were given the opportunity to work in another hotel, in their chain, at Twyford (Berkshire) for what was supposed to be a six month period. They both met and married local chaps and are still living there today.
As you enter Old Meldrum, on a curve, a statue of a sailor stands at the side of the road, by the Meldrum Arms hotel.
Old Meldrum: (Gaelic: Meal Drum = Smooth ridge). While being a small town it appears quite crowded, with narrow streets and many well built granite buildings. It is mainly a farming community but also has two distilleries, one in the town and another at Fingasg, which was connected to the railway. The line was on a short branch line from Inverurie. The station was on the lower ground to the west of the village by the A920 junction, which runs east to west from Ellon to Dufftown.
While the branch lost its passenger services in November 1931 it remained a freight line, serving the whisky distillery and local farming community until 1965. I worked over the line in 1964. Today, as you leave Inverurie station there are little remains to show that the branch departed just beyond the station to the north. The first halfmile has been ploughed into fields.
Old Meldrum (Town & Station 1999)
I Had Passed through Old Meldrum a number of times over the years since leaving Aberdeen but had never stopped to enjoy the town or search out what had become of the station sight. In August 1999 while on annual leave I decided to deliberately take the bus to Old Meldrum and spend an hour or two looking around.
The bus stops virtually in the center of the town, which has a pleasant group of granite buildings. The main road enters the square passing the Meldrum Arms Hotel and bar, which has a statue of a sailor, just outside.
The station was about half a mile south west of the town on the road to Inverurie and Huntly. I recall working into the station with the goods and whisky train and shunting in the yard. There was a clear view westwards to Benachie and the line was an easy one traversing the floor of the valley towards Fingask Platform and Lethenty where there was a connection with the local distillery. A turntable on the main running line allowed wagons to be turned 90 degrees and moved in and out of the distillery.
The line continued on a sweeping curve until it met the junction with the Inverness- Aberdeen mainline just short of Inverurie. Sadly there is little to be seen of the trackbed alignment once beyond the present station sight. Likewise, from Inverurie, apart from a bridge about quarter of a mile beyond the old junction most of the trackbed has been ploughed back into fields.
As a trucking business occupies the station sight and is well fenced off, I had to find the nearest office and request permission to look around and take pictures. As it turned out the office was in fact the original wooden G.N.S.R. station building which was still in excellent condition, albeit in a light blue and white colour sceme. The chap in the office couldn't have been more helpful and friendly and allowed me to look around until I was satisfied.
A walk around the sight showed the Goods shed to be in equally good condition and used as a repair shop for their trucks and vans. The goods platform was still well formed although partly hidden by discarded junk. However I was able to get up onto it and take a couple of shots, one looking towards Benachie and another showing where the line went off towards Inverurie.
Luckily as most G.N.S.R. platform were built with granite stones, providing no one deliberately lifts or damages them they will stand forever. For the same reasons the passenger platform is in excellent condition, with the station building giving a good sense of what it was like when trains used the station. Standing part way up the platform I was able to look westwards and picture the scene when I took a B&W shot from the loco (a Class 8 Shunter) looking towards Benachie. This was back in 1ate summer of 1964 and the memory came flooding back. The only things missing were the tracks and the train. I took a shot somewhere approximate to my original B&W one in the hope of having a "Then & Now" recording on the scene.
Having gone back to the station building to thank the staff for allowing me to look around. It was interesting to go into the building, which still oozed 'railways'. It was a surprise to be told that if I had turned up the following week I would not have been able to se anything of the station building and goods yard as the complete sight was being demolished and completely new buildings erected. I expressed my concern about the station building but was considerably relieved when told that the building had been bought by the Dufftown Railway Society and was to be rebuilt somewhere on that line. Likewise, just inside the door there was a fine B&W 'framed' print of a train on the line. I asked what was to become of it and they didn't really know. All I could suggest was that they take good care of the picture, as it would disappear very quickly during closure and demolition. I took a shot of it just for the record.
As it had taken me virtually 35 years, to the month to return to the station sight. It was with much luck that I had arrived within a few days prior the station sight being completely demolished and being able to stir up a few memories of how it was back then rather than have been, disappointed looking at a completely different scene.
The next 15 miles takes us to Turriff, but on the way pass lovely rolling hills and fertile farming country. First passing the tiny hamlets of St. Katherines and Cromblet. Then on into Fyvie village (8 miles).
Fyvie Castle: is a 13th century building with five towers and includes works by Raeburn. The castle is reached via a tracked road, which turns off left, just where you turn off the A947 to go into Fyvie village.
Fyvie village, as mentioned above, is off the main road and not seen, as was the station which was on the G.N.S. branch to Macduff. It joined the Inverness main line at Inveramsay, four miles to the southeast. The remains of Fyvie station are about 3/4 a mile north of the village on the A947. At the road triangle there is a pink-granite War Memorial. It is of a Celtic-Cross design. In a field just to the south you can see the older memorial to those who fell in the first world war.
As you turn off the A947 past the Bay Hotel, by the river Ythan, watch for the out building which has been built around two old railway box vans with a wooden center-piece which appears to be used as a storage shed or garage.
The seven miles to Turriff passes through fine tree-lined undulating ground with occasional fine views over the hillside. In places the old trackbed can be seen quite clearly and follows the northern side of the road closely as you approach Turriff. In places you can follow the embankments easily as they cross from one side of the road to the other. Where the B992 meets the A947 you pass the sight of Auchterless Station. It is still well defined as a railway landmark and has a large den and glass building not unlike a railway structure. As with most of the stations on the MacDuff branch, the village of Kirkton of Auchterless lies over two miles south, on the B992.
At one spot a rusting bridge stands but with nothing beyond, as the land has been ploughed flat for the most of the way into Turriff. Seeing it like this, it is now hard to believe that I ever actually traveled over it by train.
The station was at the point where the road turns right for the climb to the town and will be described shortly.
Turriff: Possibly from the Gaelic word, Turra, referring to the village being built on a large 'clump' or hillside. It is a fine market town going back to the 9th century. The main street consists of pleasant pink-granite buildings. At the westend, to the left of the roundabout stands a small market cross. A few yards behind the cross, at the end of the street, there is an attractive old church with a nice clock and a small, twin-arched tower, with an ancient bell going back to the 16th century.
In the town center at the junction with the B9025 to Aberchirder (Main Street), stands another attractive granite building with a tall square clock tower, which today is the premises of the Clydesdale Bank. Turriff is very quiet and talking to a local publican, it would seem the town hasn't quite recovered from the loss of its railway, as indeed, like many others throughout Britain, and remains a sleepy backwater.
The station was by the A947 road turn off prior to climbing up the steep gradient to the town. All that remains today is the facing edge of the down platform and a fine granite station building. Also the stub of what was once a capstan, turnstile, possibly used for loading and unloading goods etc.
The station area is now a tourist caravan park and is nicely laid out. Along the length of the down platform are electric sockets which caravans plug into, for their mains electric supply.
To the south you can make out the remains of the trackbed as it came in from Fyvie. At the north end, the A947 once must have crossed on a bridge, but it is now on the level and separated by the new road junction, From here the trackbed can only be imagined as it is now built on by a trucking firm building, which blocks the view.
On the climb up to the town, on the left you can just see the line of the trackbed, heading north by a line of trees. A house and a couple of truck container bodies lay along the trackbed. You can follow the line further as it disappears into the distance above and behind Turriff Town's football ground.
On the right you look down on a lovely public park which is also used once a year for the famous Turriff Agricultural Show, which takes place at the end of July. You can imagine this event bringing much activity on the railway. As Alford and the Aikie Brae (on the Peterhead line, at Mintlaw) shows all took place on the same day, Aberdeen station must have been a hive of activity during these events. The "Turra Coo", a prize Bull, is part of the annual event.
The line northwards, to Macduff lost it's passenger service in 1951 but freight continued until 1960 when the line was terminated at Turriff. The Turriff to Inveramsay section closed in 1966. I worked over this section of the branch in 1964. At that time traction was an 08 diesel shunting loco, with about half a dozen wagons, consisting mainly of farming equipment and a brakevan, worked by an Inverurie crew. I managed to work over the branch while being on loan to Inverurie Loco Depot, as an engine cleaner, and when they were short of a secondman to accompany the driver of the Turriff freight. It was obviously against regulation but we used to pick up a female railway clerk, en-route, at Rothienorman, who worked at Turriff Goods.
The railway is lost for a mile or so as it curved around the town in a gully with a steep climb but there is still much of the trackbed to be seen north of Turriff as the road follows it for most of it's length.
As even the buses struggle for patronage, seeing the size of the tiny farming communities we pass through, it isn't surprising the railway failed. The branch was built mainly to exploit the Fishing industries at Banff and Macduff and once the fishing diminished, passenger patronage couldn't make it pay. Though saying that, what with driver-only Sprinters and Pacers, unstaffed stations, plus Radio-Signaling who knows what these branchlines could be producing today.
The next hamlet passed is Plaidy and you can just make out the station sight and, the trackbed is obvious in some sections, but between here and equally tiny, King Edward, a large part of the trackbed, and a bridge was demolished in 1995, for road widening of the A947. However, as the trackbed carries on to the north for the rest of the way to Macduff, it should be reasonably safe for a time yet.
The North Sea isn't glimpsed until you have left the A947 and take the secondary road into the eastern outskirts of the town and come over the top of the hill and enter Macduff. Passing over, what was once a railway bridge. But the old trackbed now runs level up to the roadside and can just be seen in a field on the west side where the railway trackbed clung to the cliff face and around the headland and then curved back in on itself. With a station at Banff Bridge, overlooking the Deveron Bridge, which joins the twin towns, then into Macduff's terminal station. The road drops hard into Macduff. The station was badly placed, and must have put many people off using the railway and played its part in it's eventual closure. In earlier times it was considered building a finicular railway but this never came to anything.
Macduff: Gaelic, Mac = Son, of Dhu = Black. The road drops hard from the outskirts, passing a mix of older and modern housing estates and the odd small shop and then the Boat Building sheds before leveling out along side the harbour.
A more recent attraction is the Macduff Marine Aquarium, which is situated near the north end of the harbour at High Shore. There are large tanks with ones where you can actually touch the many sea creatures.
You join the A98, which comes from Fraserburgh. Then you pass through the center of the small fishing town and curve around the bay, below the sight of Macduff station, which is now used as a boat builder's yard. The only railway connection being the Loco shed which is still in excellent condition. There is nothing left of the station building or platform. The boat builder's shed is built on this sight. The turntable base has been filled in, though may just be imagined.
Turn right, then over the elegant pink granite Deveron bridge, which crosses the mouth of the river Deveron where it runs into the sea, between the two towns. To the west is a fine view of the river coming from the Deveron Valley, and Duff House (on the right) with its green Golf course. Duff house is an attractive Georgian building originally a country house. It is also part of the National Gallery of Scotland with some excellent displays of art.
There is a reasonable sandy beach along the river mouth from which you gain grand views of both towns as they stand on their hillsides, and watch fishing boats leave and enter both harbours. In July a travelling fair entertains on this sight.
You then enter Banff's suburbs and housing estates before coming into the narrow confines of the High Street in the center of the town, which has fine buildings which includes the attractive Toll House of 1801, and a small Market Cross. This is a long narrow street with numerous shops and a few interesting buildings which includes Banff Musium founded in 1828 with artifact going back around 2000 years.
Around the north end of the town towards the harbour, you come to Banff Castle, which is really a large house. It is in nice grounds and opens up with a fine view across to Macduff on the opposite shore where you can see the road coming down into the town and the whole of the harbour.
On the hilltop you can make out Macduff station sight and loco shed and follow the shape of the trackbed westwards to Banff Bridge station which, is well preserved. The station house is in private use. Then follow the trackbed as it disappears around the peninsula. You can almost picture and hear a train on it.
Around the back of Banff Castle the moat is still very well in evidence, though dry. You will get a few good pictures here.
Then you come to the harbour, which is below a steep drop. Then back up to road level. And further around the coast you pass the sight of the Banff railway station, which has been completely cleared and leveled, giving a fine view of the old town and its terrace of fishermen's houses running along the curve of the bay and facing the open sea. Then on towards Whitehills in the distance, at Knock Head. (Hill Head). There was also a short branch down to the harbour.
To find evidence of Banff station you have to walk along the shore road to the cottages and an opening shows a path, which leads up and under a small railway bridge. This brings you level with the back of the cottages and trackbed. The trackbed is only half its original width but still evident enough to view the trackbed as it headed westwards out of the town on to Tillynaught Junction where it connected with the Elgin - Aberdeen coast line at Carnie Junction just south of Keith. Carnie was a triangle junction with Grange station, to the north. From this same spot looking east, and below you, you are looking on to what was the station complex, but now looks a bit of a mess with odd wooden built huts straggling about.
Banff: is the county capitol. Sports available are Fishing, Golf, Tennis and Bowls. There is plenty to keep you interested for a good days visit from Aberdeen. Walks around the towns and harbours, boat building and shopping and the musiums form a hive of interest. If you don't have personal transport, Grampian Buses, in Aberdeen, run an hourly service. A 'Rover' ticket allows you to get off at any stop on the way and catch another bus later. It costs no more than a normal ticket but you can't break your journey with a normal return ticket.
Leaving Banff on the B9139 you follow the coast to Whitehills, at Knock Head, where there is a fine sandy beach and a caravan sight. You can carry on directly into Portsoy, passing the ruins of Boyne castle, but from Whitehills take the B9121, a short way southwards, and rejoin the main A98 by the remains of Ladybridge Station on the Banff to Tillynaught branch. There is little to see of the station but you follow the old trackbed for most of the way to Portsoy and get a good idea of the wild spanse of country the line ran through once it left Banff. A couple of bridges still remain and you see the trackbed disappear into the wooded distance.
Beyond the tiny hamlet of Boyndie a road sign points to Tillynaught (Junction) just a mile or so to the south. Just beyond the triangle road junction of the A95 and B9025 the road now follows the old trackbed of the "Coast Road" proper and on into Portsoy. The harbour is one of the oldest in Scotland and had a short 'steep' branch from the station. It closed back in 1885, only a few years after completion but the track wasn't lifted until 1910, but today the well build trackbed remains in excellent condition, and can be seen dropping under the main road in the middle of the town. There are also some remains of the station on the south side of the road and views continue on to Cullen.
Between Portsoy and Cullen is sheltered Sandend bay. Fine sands with a fine view to Redhythe Point, plus a large caravan sight make this a favourite holiday base.
Cullen stands above a large Bay, which runs to Portknockie. The town consists mainly of one main street, but has a number of good shops and hotels. One of the first surprises as you enter the town is the line of the old railway viaduct, which traverses the main road, with a fine view of the road dropping to the shore.
Station Road turns off to the right but there is great disappointment on finding the station sight as it has been completely built over by a new housing estate. However it is still possible to stand at platform hight and take in the same view of the coast, as most old train crews will recall.
The main railway attraction was the fine viaduct, which rose high above the town and wound its way to the western edge, by a large golf course. Thankfully this fine viaduct still stands and is well worth visiting, with a welcome visit to the attractive Royal Oak hotel, which stands on the curve of the road below the viaduct.
My own memories of working, over the line is of the fine views from the viaduct as you left or entered the town, and sea view from the station. One turn in particular was having worked the night freight to Elgin via Mulben and working the first passenger back to Aberdeen via the "Coast Road". One driver who was fun to work with was the late Jimmy Gallespie, who enjoyed singing Jolson songs for much of the journey. During this period the night freight train from Kittybrewster was hauled by an English Electric Class 20 diesel-electric locomotive. Passenger trains were worked either by a single or double-headed NBL Mann locomotives.
Cullen town itself doesn't have much of interest, though it does have a nice wide center with plenty of shops and pubs, and certainly a grand sea view. The only tourist attraction appears to be Cullen House, which lies just beyond the junction of the A98 on the B9022.