The Light Railway

The Wick to Lybster Railway conformed to the Light Railway Act of 1896 which did not demand specific legislation to construct.   Reducing legal costs and enabling new railways to be built quickly, it was intended to encourage the building of new ‘light railways’ in areas of low population.  Using the powers of this Act, the Wick to Lybster Light Railway finally opened 1st July 1903 but with the new legislation came certain restrictions: the weight of the rolling stock could not exceed 12 tons on any one axle; the maximum speed was 25 mph, reducing to 10 mph on curves which had a radius of less than 9 chains; level crossings had to be approached at no more than 10 mph.

The decline of the fishing industry at Lybster and the construction of a road between Wick and Helmsdale in the 1930s signalled the end for the Light Railway which closed on 1st April 1944.  John Skene who was the driver of the first train on the opening day of the railway in 1903 steamed up the engine for the last trip in 1944.

Perhaps because of the harsh terrain and climate, perhaps because of its ‘light’ construction, little remains visible – the occasional embankment seen from the A9, the hint of a cutting through an empty field and maybe the odd stationmaster’s house, largely indeterminate from other Caithness architecture.  The wonderful exceptions are the station buildings at Thrumster and Lybster.  Following the line’s closure, Thrumster Station continued life as a Post Office, a caravan site office and finally a garage store before being acquired by the Yarrows Trust in 2003.  It is now perfectly preserved internally and externally, defiantly sited just a few feet from the busy A9, heading north to Wick.

Thrumster Station

The station at Lybster survives through simple vested interest – it is now the clubhouse for the Lybster Golf Club where the cutting heads north west through the course and the 7th whites tee box sits in the middle of the line – it is a pity that there is no longer any evidence of the platform:

Lybster Station

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15 comments

  1. Sue · 24 Days Ago

    Interesting what can still be found!

    • northumbrianlight · 24 Days Ago

      Remarkable Sue – not a place you expect to find much at all 😉

      • Sue · 24 Days Ago

        Even better then, Robin!

  2. Tish Farrell · 24 Days Ago

    What a loss, the notion of light railways for underpopulated areas – the days when things were still effected for the public good!

    • northumbrianlight · 24 Days Ago

      Indeed Tish – the collapse of the fishing industry was surely avoidable as well.

      • Tish Farrell · 24 Days Ago

        We never do get to the end of short-term, short-sighted politics. Hmph.

  3. sustainabilitea · 24 Days Ago

    Great job of preservation!

    janet

  4. J.D. Riso · 24 Days Ago

    They sure are well preserved. I’m always impressed by your knowledge of local history, Robin.

  5. Thom Hickey · 20 Days Ago

    Loved reading this! Regards Thom.

  6. a piecemeal adventurer · 12 Days Ago

    I’ve been to Thrumster. Stayed at Raymond’s BnB

    • northumbrianlight · 12 Days Ago

      You certainly get around (on 2 wheels presumably). We stayed at Thrumster House – excellent place, recommend it – a once grand house now beginning to show its age but none the the worse for that.

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