Musician traces the history of the Highland railway line



IT is one of the most spectacular railway lines in the world, made even more famous by Harry Potter and the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Now, a new TV documentary on New Year’s Eve reveals recently discovered photos taken during the construction of the railway line between Fort William and Mallaig.

The collection of over 100 high resolution celluloid nitrate plates was discovered at a sale in Cornwall in 2019.

Local musician Ingrid Henderson follows the history of these photographs, what they reveal about the life and people of Lochaber, and tries to find the artist behind the lens.

At the same time, she creates new music to pay tribute to the railway and the people who built it. For Ingrid, born in Mallaig, raised in Fort William and now living and working in Glenfinnan, the railroad has always been a part of her life.

On the BBC Alba show, titled Song of the Track / Ceol na Loidhne, Ingrid walks the line, stopping at stations along the route to find the locations in the photographs, and seeks inspiration for compose a new album.

Producer Annie Cheape said, “This original unpublished source material contains over 100 images of the construction project led by contractors Robert McAlpine and Sons, and includes the famous Glenfinnan Viaduct.

“Along with construction, they document the people working on the railroad and the dangerous conditions they encountered.

“These images reveal the faces of nurses caring for the wounded in makeshift field hospitals. Hundreds of men died driving this section of the railway through some of Britain’s most rugged terrain.

“Hundreds of people were injured in the blasting through the rocks, most of them Irish Marines or Scottish Isles.

“Many men were injured in the blasting, but alcohol was also a huge problem. Men have died of hypothermia after drinking too much or had accidents on Monday morning while still under the influence. As a result, McAlpine implemented an innovative licensed drinking shack program with safe whiskey.

“These images also reveal the faces of nurses caring for the wounded in makeshift field hospitals. They are smiling, looking relaxed, happy and having fun. It is unusual to see women from this period photographed in this informal way.

With the help of the Lochaber Archives Center, Ingrid tries to find the names of some of these women. She also visits Hege Hernes who lives at Glenfinnan Station, who reveals evidence suggesting the photos were taken by Tom Malcolm McAlpine, one of Robert MacAlpine’s sons.

He was the manager of a section of the line where one of the men was seriously injured while blasting concrete, and some of the photographs document his recovery.

The timing of the film is particularly magical.

The line’s popular Jacobite steam train – the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films – is due to run seven days a week for its entire seven-month season next year.

The service between Fort William and Mallaig has only operated Monday through Saturday for much of the season in previous years, with a few whole weekends at the end of the season.

But the demand for seats is such that it will also run on Sundays from Easter to the end of October next year.

For much of the new season, there will be two trains per day – one in the morning and the other in the afternoon.

This summer, because of the Covid, the train did not stop as usual at Glenfinnan and Arisaig stations.

Operators will make a decision later on what will happen next year.

Tickets will cost £ 46 round trip in standard class and £ 69 in first class, for adults. Children will pay £ 48 or £ 28.

The Jacobite Road over the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct is regularly voted one of the world’s greatest rail journeys.

And it became even more famous when the steam train starred as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films.

The train only operates normally during the summer, but the departure has been delayed this year due to Covid-19.

UK Transport Police have in the past warned fans risked death by wandering the train tracks to take pictures on The Jacobiite.

In 2015, a couple and their child were among those seen running on the train tracks.

The 2002 filming of Harry Potter and the Chambers of Secrets and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, released in 2004, took place in Glenfinnan.

Fans gather on a hill near the Glenfinnan Viaduct to glimpse the “Hogwarts Express”.

In real life, the Express is the Jacobite steam train.

The steam train crosses the railway viaduct on its 84-mile round-trip journeys along the West Highland Line.

In high season, around 2,000 Harry Potter-crazed visitors a day flock to the village.

The locomotive used to pull the Hogwarts Express in the films, the GWR 4900 Class 5972 Olton Hall, is currently located at the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

* Sgeul Media did Song of the Track / Ceol na Loidhne for BBC ALBA and it will air on Thursday December 31st tomorrow at 9pm



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