Yesterday, on Saturday 5th September, I took a train from Waverley to Tweedbank: today you can too, for £11.20: the whole trip from the centre of Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Borders will take you 57 minutes.
A few months ago I was sitting on a bus and an advert popped up on my tablet: 35 Golden Ticket winners and their guests could win a Golden Ticket and be the first passengers to travel from Edinburgh to the Borders by the new Scottish Borders railway: just say why you want to go, in 50 words or less.
For about five years – I think from when I was about six to sometime before my 12th birthday – my parents rented a cottage in the Borders from the Buccleuch Estates. The rent was £5 a year, and the cottage had running water (which had to be turned off in the autumn, before the first frost led to burst pipes) but the only means of heating the water was to have a fire in the hearth in the living-room.
The cottage had four rooms and a bathroom. Two bedrooms, one for my parents and one in which the three of us slept – my older brother, my sister, and me, each of us on a foam mattress with our own sleeping bag: and the living-room, with an open-hearth fire and a water-tank behind the fire: the kitchen, with a stove that worked off Calor-gas cylinders and a deep sink with stained porcelain, and a scullery that was always cold on the hottest days. There was no fridge: my dad used to make scones with the milk that went sour between deliveries. (A milkvan came by, in my recollection, twice a week.) The only light in the living-room was gas, also from a cylinder, and my mum bought small lamps for the bedrooms.
In the summer holidays, we would go there and stay for days or weeks: from spring to autumn, we would stay for weekends, my mum usually driving us down on Friday night and we’d go back on Sunday night or sometimes Monday morning. The farmer who leased the land around the cottage didn’t mind us roaming so long as we remembered to shut gates and did no damage. The Tweed river was a mile away, beyond the Abbey. We waded in the river and played on the stony beach. Newtown St Boswell’s was an easy walk away across the suspension bridge by the Dryburgh Abbey Hotel and along the path by the Tweed. Scott View and the Wallace Monument were both easy walks away.
My dad scythed the long grass each year around the cottage, and over the years dug vegetable beds and planted potatoes, carrots, and onions. We learned to build fires, dig holes, climb trees: I’d lie in the grass and read book after book in the sun: it must have rained sometimes, hard enough to keep us indoors, but I don’t remember that: I do remember the smell of the green countryside after rain, when we’d gone for walks with my dad and sheltered under beech trees or bridges.
My dad, whose father and grandfather (and probably his great-grandfather and certainly all of his great-uncles) had been railway trade unionsts, used to stop under the bridges and make his voice hollow like a train station announcement: “The train from Galashiels to Dalkeith has been permanently discontinued”.
For him, then, the Beeching closures were still recent history, almost current events.
My dad died in February, but I thought: how excited he’d be, for there to be a working railway line again from Edinburgh to the Borders. How much he’d like to have been able to take that train ride, through the beautiful landscape. I wrote that down, there and then, and probably went over 50 words.
But I was one of the Golden Ticket winners: I like to think my dad would have been pleased.
After breakfast at the City Art Centre and picking up our Borders Railway lunchboxes, and listening to several unfortunately inaudible speeches, we all traipsed over to Waverley station. There was no guidance on the paperwork what platform the train was leave from, but it turned out to be 9W, the platform practically under the Fruitmarket Gallery.
Actually, the best guide was following the crowd of people clutching white bags and golden tickets, like this excited wee passenger in pink.
Though helpful ScotRail staff were there to point the way. In case anyone missed the piper or the crowd.
One, I’m not good at taking photos from a moving train, and two, the countryside from Edinburgh to the Borders just really is that beautiful. Enjoy.
I noticed shortly after we left Waverley at 9:56 that the clock was running an hour behind time: presumably still set to GMT, not summer time. Like the announcer doing a count-down from ten after the train had started moving: the journey had a pleasant sense of being a first time for staff as well as passengers.
The journey took us less than 57 minutes – no stops at any of the stations. We had a good quarter-hour to get out at Tweedbank and wander round the new station – which is mostly car park. But there’s a bus stop (and a bike park, too) and from Tweedbank, it’s not far to Scott View by bus.
Go if you haven’t already. The view called Scott’s is picture-perfect, the landscape of fields and trees to the Eildon Hills, with a glimpse of a dark pool and a couple of distant houses peeking out within the trees. Walter Scott’s home at Abbotsford is not far off: they said he used to stop his horses here, when he was driving down from Edinburgh, to admire the view, and the horses stopped there when they drew his funeral cortege, his coffin going home to Abbotsford for burial.
But we’re all still at Tweedbank Station. Despite the name of the station office, Eildon View, you can’t see the Eildons from the station.
There was a Scottish Borders tent with white bags and lunch boxes ready for the passengers who’d be taking the train for the first time in the other direction, from the Borders to Edinburgh.
I checked the bus times, of course.
The timetable shown covers three days of limited service – a large notice warns you that there will be new services operating at the station on Monday 7th September, the first day the train will be in real service for commuters.
Then we got on to the train again and went back to Waverley, arriving just before noon.
We didn’t really need a lunchbox, which was just as well, because the Borders Railway were commemorating the ancient railway-food custom of providing a vegetarian option consisting of an egg mayo sandwich on white bread, a tiny cupcake, and some boiled sweeties. Ah, tradition.
(I found out at Tweedbank that apparently there had been vegetarian lunch boxes provided, but no effort made to distribute them to vegetarian passengers. I hope they were nice.)
There were people aboard that first train from Edinburgh to the Borders who worked for British Rail back when the line closed in 1969. It was great to be part of this historical re-opening.