Descriptive Gazetteer Entry for Great North of Scotland Railway

Great North of Scotland Railway, a railway supplying the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, and Elgin, and part of Inverness-shire, and embracing a total of 287¼ miles of line. The history of the railway between 1846, when the first Act was obtained, and 1866 when its component parts were consolidated into one, presents the usual features of railway enterprise in Scotland, embracing a series of Acts of Parliament, and frequent additions, extensions, and internal working arrangements. The first Act authorised the formation of a railway from Aberdeen to Inverness, with a capital of £2,000, 000, but the terminus of the railway is at Keith, between which point and Inverness the Highland railway (see Highland Railway) provides the connection. In the same year Acts were passed authorising the Great North of Scotland Extension railway, reaching by two lines to Fraserburgh and Peterhead, with a capital of £533,333, and the Deeside railway, Aberdeen to Aboyne, with a capital of £293,383. Although those Acts were obtained in 1846, it was not until Nov. 1852 that the construction of the main line was begun, and the railway was opened to Huntly in Sept. 1854, and to Keith in Oct. 1856. The Deeside was re-incorporated in 1852 and constructed to Banchory, and in 1857 the extension from Banchory to Aboyne was authorised, and under an Act of 1865 the extension to Braemar was sanctioned, making 43½ miles in all. In 1866 the Deeside line was leased for 999 years by the Great North of Scotland, and in 1876 was amalgamated with that railway. At Kintore the Alford Valley line, 16 miles, branches off, and at Inverurie there is a branch to Old Meldrum, 5¾ miles. From Inveramsay the Macduff and Banff railway, 29¾ miles, leaves the main line, and a second line to Banff strikes off from Grange Junction, subdividing at Tillynaught into the Banff and Portsoy sections. Beyond Keith the railway reaches to Craigellachie and through Speyside to Boat of Garten, 48 miles in all, and the Morayshire railway, also first projected in 1846, and amalgamated with the Great North of Scotland in 1880, proceeds from Craigellachie to Elgin and Lossiemouth, a distance of 18¼ miles. The system is thus seen to be very much divided, while the Deeside, leaving Aberdeen in a south-westerly direction, is virtually a separate line. The trunk line from Aberdeen to Keith gives off so many branches that the railway has termini at ten different places, namely, on the left at Alford, Keith, Boat of Garten, and Lossiemouth, and on the right at Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Old Meldrum, Macduff, Banff, and Portsoy. From the last-mentioned town an extension is (1883) being constructed to Buckie, and in 1882 powers were obtained for the construction of a railway from Portsoy to Elgin. The railways here described were constructed as single lines, but in 1882 the doubling of the main line from Aberdeen to Inveramsay, 20 miles, was completed, and powers were obtained to double some portions of the Deeside line. At July 1882 the total capital expenditure of the company was £4,188, 496, of which there had been raised in shares £3, 174, 785 (ordinary stock £937,073, the remainder preference stocks at various rates), in debentures and debenture stock £975,889, and in premiums received on issue of stocks £24,994, with a balance of £12,826 spent in excess of the amount raised. As with many other railways, the capital is to a certain extent fictitious, so far as it can be held to represent money actually spent in the formation of the line. In 1873, when an arrear of preference dividends pressed hardly on the prospects of the company, power was obtained to convert the arrear into a preference stock, to the amount of £40, 916, and to bear 4 per cent. interest, and to be redeemed by a half-yearly payment of £500 from the revenues of the company. The result of this was at once to bring the ordinary stock into receipt of a small dividend, no dividend having been paid to the ordinary shareholders for nine years preceding. In July 1878 the ordinary shareholders ceased to receive a dividend, and the payment of a return on this part of the capital has not since been regularly resumed.

In the half year last reported, the railway carried 96,126 first class, and 864,138 third class passengers, yielding, with 648 season ticket holders, a revenue of £59, 046. For parcels and mails the company received £9931, for goods and mineral traffic £72, 875, and miscellaneous £3709, making a total revenue for the half year of £145, 562. To carry this traffic the company employed 62 locomotive engines, 280 passenger vehicles (including horse boxes, break-vans, etc.), and 2069 waggons of various descriptions. In the half year the engines traversed, with passenger trains, 322,350½ miles, and with goods and mineral trains 260,113¼, being a total of 582, 463¾ miles. The receipts per train mile amounted to 58 45d., and the working cost to 32.29d. The affairs of the company are conducted by a chairman, deputy-chairman, and 11 directors.

In the formation of the company and its connections the main object was to supply local communications, and to furnish an outlet to the S for the produce of the agriculture, the fishing, and other industries of the district; and the minute ramifications of the system, although costly financially, have realised in a large degree this object. The railway starts in Aberdeen from the joint-station, constructed for the use of the Caledonian and the Great North of Scotland railways, and proceeds by the Denburn Valley line, a railway 1¾ mile in length, constructed in 1864 to afford a through communication at a capital cost of £231,600. The first stations are Kittybrewster 1½, Woodside 2¼, Buxburn 4½, Dyce Junction 6¼, Pitmedden 8½, and Kinaldie 10½ miles from Aberdeen. At Kintore, 13¼ miles from Aberdeen, the junction of the branch to Alford, there was removed, in constructing the station, a conical mound called the Castle Hill, in destroying which several sculptured stones were discovered that are figured in the Sculptured Stones of Scotland, published by the Spalding Club. The railway partly follows the course of the Aberdeen and Inverurie Canal, a work projected in 1793, and made at a total cost of £50, 000, and which, in a distance of 18 miles, was crossed by 56 bridges, ran across 5 aqueducts and 20 culverts, and ascended 17 lochs. Its termination was Port Elphinston, named after Elphinstone of Logie Elphinston, Bart., and now a station (15½ miles) on the railway. After leaving. Port Elphinston the railway crosses the Don on a handsome granite and iron bridge, rebuilt in 1880. Inverurie, 16¼ miles, at the confluence of the Urie and Don, forms the centre of a district of great interest, embracing the Bass of Inverurie, spoken of by Thomas the Rhymer, Caskieben Castle, Roman camps, etc. Here the Old Meldrum branch runs to the right. Near Inveramsay station, 20½ miles, the junction for the Macduff branch, is the scene of the Battle of Harlaw, and near it the visitor will find Balquhain Castle, visited by Mary Stuart in 1562; and Pitcaple, the next station, 21¼ miles, is the best point from which to ascend the Hill of Bennachie, a conspicuous landmark in the district of Buchan. At Oyne station, 24½ miles, the traveller is in the immediate neighbourhood of the Gadie, famous in song. Insch is 27½ miles, and further on, where Wardhouse station, 31 miles from Aberdeen, is reached, the summit level of the line is attained. Kennethmont 32¾, Gartly 35¾, and Huntly 40¾ miles, are in the Gordon country and valley of the Bogie. Huntly stands at the junction of the Bogie with the Deveron, on a rising ground; and conspicuous in the front street are the Gordon Schools, built as a memorial of the last Duke of Gordon, and forming the entrance to Huntly Castle. The railway on leaving Huntly crosses the Deveron on a fine viaduct of 5 spans, 70 feet in height, and here enters Banffshire-Rothiemay, 45¼. miles, being the first station in that county. Traversing the valley of the Islay, and passing Grange Junction, 48¾ miles, where the Portsoy and Banff branch runs off, the main line terminates in the town of Keith, 53¼. miles from Aberdeen. The Deeside railway next claims attention as a line apart from the principal part of the system. It gives access, as its name implies, to the beautiful district of Deeside, and forms the route to Braemar and Balmoral, the favourite resort of Queen Victoria. Two miles from Aberdeen is Ruthrieston, a suburban station; Cults is 2 miles further; and Murtle, 5½ miles from Aberdeen, gives access to the hydropathic establishment at, and the Roman Catholic College of, Blairs. The succeeding stations are Milltimber 6½, Culter 7¾, Drum 10, Park 11, Crathes 14, and Banchory 17 miles from Aberdeen. From this point to Aboyne the railway leaves the Dee, taking a wide curve northward. The stations on this loop are Glassel 21½ and Torphins 24, in the valley of the Beltie, Lumphanan 27, and Dess 29½ miles from Aberdeen. Between the latter place and Aboyne (32½) the line skirts the Loch of Aboyne, and passing the latter place it traverses the Muir of Dinnet; and after passing that station (37), and Cambus O'May (39½), a magnificent portion of the district is reached, opening to view many of the finest hills of this beautiful district. Ballater, the terminus of the railway, is 43½ miles from Aberdeen. The Formartine and Buchan railway, leaving the main line at Dyce Junction, was opened to Mintlaw in 1861, to Peterhead in 1862, to Fraserburgh in 1865. Parkhill station, 1¼ mile, and New Machar station, 5¼ miles from Dyce, having been passed, the railway enters a deep cutting through the Hill of Strypes, which is a mile in length, and reaches a depth of 50 feet. We next reach Udny 8¼, Logierieve 10, Esslemont 11½, and Ellon 13½ miles from the junction. The last-named town is reached after passing a deep cutting through Woolaw Hill, and crossing the Ythan on a bridge of four arches, 50 feet high. The falling-in of this bridge in February 1861, owing to some subsidence of the foundations, considerably delayed the opening of the line. From Ellon the line strikes inland by Arnage 16¾, Auchnagatt 20¾, and Maud Junction (at the village of Bank) 25 miles from Dyce. From this junction the line to Peterhead passes Mintlaw and Old Deer station (the centre of a district of much interest) 29, and Longside 32, New Seat 34½, and Inverugie 36 miles from Dyce, reaching Peterhead, the terminus, distant 38 miles from Dyce, and 44¼ from Aberdeen. From Maud Junction the Fraserburgh section pursues a winding course northerly, passing Brucklay 1¾, Strichen 5¾, Mormond 8¼, Lonmay 10¾, Rathen 13¼, and Philorth 14½ from the second junction, and reaching Fraserburgh 16 miles from Maud, 41 from Dyce Junction, and 47¼ from Aberdeen. The Alford branch, leaving the main line at Kintore, is 16 miles long, and was opened in 1859. The stations are Kemnay 4½, Monymusk 7½, Tillyfourie 10¾, Whitehouse 13, and Alford 16 miles from the junction, and the line presents no features of constructive interest, though the district opened up is a beautiful one. The Old Meldrum branch, on the right from Inverurie, was opened in 1856, and has two stations, Lethenty 2¾ and Old Meldrum 5¾ miles from the junction. At Inveramsay the Macduff and Turriff railway and Banff Extension leave the main line. The line to Turriff was sanctioned in 1855 and opened in 1857, and the extension, authorised in the latter year, was opened in 1860. Crossing the Ury a mile from the junction, the line proceeds to Wartle 3¾, Rothie-Norman 7½, and Fyvie 10¾ miles, the station at the last-mentioned place being a mile from the village of that name. On this part of the line a bridge fell in Dec. 1882, carrying a mixed passenger and goods train, and killing five persons. We are here in another district, replete with historic and literary associations, and abounding in fine scenery. At Auchterless, 14 miles from the junction, is Towie-Barclay, an ancient castle reduced and modernised in an unhappy way. Turriff 18 miles, Plaidy 22¼, and King Edward 24¾-the latter a corruption of Kin-Edar-are passed, and the Banff station, 1½ mile from the burgh, and on the other side of the Eden, is reached. A quarter of a mile further on is Macduff terminus, 29¾ miles from the junction at Inveramsay and 49½ from Aberdeen. The Banffshire railway, proceeding on the right from Grange Junction, sanctioned in 1857 and opened in 1859, -was amalgamated with the Great North of Scotland railway in 1867, the year following the general consolidation of the system. This line is 19 miles in all, being 16½ to Banff, with a branch of 2½ miles to Portsoy. The station at Knock, 3¼ miles from Grange, takes its name from a prominent hill 1409 feet high. The other stations are Glenbarry 4¾, Cornhill 8, Tillynaught 10¼, and Lady's Bridge 13¼ miles from the junction, and Banff 16¼ miles from Grange and 65 miles by rail from Aberdeen. From Tillynaught the line to Portsoy branches off, reaching that seaport, which occupies a picturesque situation at the bottom of a fine bay. It is 2¾ miles from Tillynaught, 13 from Grange Junction, and 61¾ from Aberdeen. This line presents in itself nothing worthy of notice, but the district surrounding its two termini is not less attractive in fine ruins and historical associations than others already named.

While the through route to Inverness is at Keith carried on by the Highland railway, there extends from the latter town, starting in a south-westerly direction, railways traversing on one hand the district of Strathspey, and in another an important portion of Morayshire. The section to Dufftown, sanctioned in 1857 and opened in 1862, passes Earlsmill ¾ mile, Auchendachy 3½, and Drummuir 6¼ miles from Keith. A mile beyond the latter station the railway skirts the Loch of Park, a narrow water about a mile long, with abrupt banks, on a narrow ledge of which the line is carried. Here the summit level of this section of the line is reached. The Fiddich is crossed by a handsome bridge of two 60-feet spans leading to Dufftown station, 1 mile from the village, 10¾ miles from Keith, and 64 by rail from Aberdeen. Leaving Duftown, the Strathspey makes a rapid descent of 300 feet within 4 miles. A freestone bridge of three spans crosses the gorge of the Fiddich, and the descent is made in a series of short sharp curves, many of them supplied with guard-rails, and a series of cuttings and embankments with a deep cutting through the Corbie's Crag mark a very costly and laborious bit of railway engineering. At Craigellachie the Morayshire railway branches off, and here is seen the famous iron bridge over the Spey designed in 1815 by Telford. A short distance from the station a tunnel through Taminurie is found, itself high above the river, but topped by the post road at a higher elevation, the road at both ends of the tunnel looking down a sheer precipice to the railway. Aberlour is 3¼ miles from Craigellachie, and Carron station is 3½ miles further, the line here traversing the narrowing valley of the Spey, the scene of the ' Moray Floods ' of 1829. Knockando Burn is crossed by a viaduct of three large spans, 50 feet in height, carrying road and railway; and its foundation was a work of great difficulty. An extensive cutting is traversed, and Black's Boat station is then reached, 4¾ miles from Carron. Before reaching Ballindalloch the Spey is crossed by a lattice girder bridge with one span of 198 feet and two lesser spans. Advie station. 3¼ miles from Ballindalloch and Cromdale, is 5¾ miles further, bringing us to the ' crooked plain ' on which a struggle took place in 1690 between a body of Scots troops favourable to James VII. and King William's forces, that has been rendered famous in ballads of the time. Between Cromdale and Grantown is situated Castle Grant, belonging to the Earl of Seafield, a magnificent pile, from the tower of which a splendid range of picturesque country is visible. The station of Grantown on this line is 1¼ mile S by E of the village, which lies in a triangle formed by the two railways, the station on the Highland line being ¾ mile to the SSW. Grantown station is in Inverness-shire, the railway here traversing a projecting angle of that county; and so too is Nethy Bridge, which is 96¼ miles from Aberdeen, and which was originally the terminus of the railway. It was afterwards carried 4¾ miles further to Boat of Garten, running for some part of the distance parallel with the Highland railway, with which it here forms a junction. Here is attained the maximum distance from Aberdeen on the system, Boat of Garten being distant from the headquarters of the line 101 miles. Turning back to Craigellachie station, the Morayshire railway there branches off, crossing the Spey by a viaduct of four spans-three of 57 and one of 200 feet-on stone piers supported on concrete foundations, carried far down below the river's bed, with lattice girders of 17½ feet depth over the main span. Dandaleith station is ¾ mile from the viaduct, and at Rothes (3 miles) the line leaves the Spey and follows the Glen of Rothes, by some thought to have been originally the course of the larger river. Near Rothes there is a branch of the railway to Orton, now disused, and affording a junction with the Highland railway at Boat of Bridge. The romantic valley of the Rothes is traversed for a considerable distance before another station is reached, this being Longmorn, 9¾ miles from Craigellachie, and 3 miles further the cathedral town of Elgin is reached. The town, however, has its principal railway connection E and W by means of the Highland railway. Proceeding northwards, the Morayshire line passes the Castle of Spynie, a picturesque ruin, on the borders of the loch of Spynie, formerly an arm of the sea, and now almost entirely reclaimed and converted into fertile farms. At an expenditure of about £20, 000, land to the extent of 762 acres has been brought from the sea to cultivation. The railway terminates at Lossiemouth, on the coast, 5½ miles from Elgin, 18¼ from the junction at Craigellachie, and 86¼ from Aberdeen.

The Great North of Scotland railway is seen from the above description to consist of an intricate series of forks and branches, almost wholly local in character, but serving very fully the district over which the line extends. Excepting the struggle in 1882 with the Highland company for the right of supplying new railways in the coast district between Portsoy and Lossiemouth, and the competition naturally existing between the two companies for the traffic from the Elgin and Keith districts to the S and through portions of Morays hire, the Great North of Scotland possesses a monopoly of the railway traffic over an extensive and important territory. Many important fishing towns are touched on the north-eastern point of Central Scotland, and the favourite tourist district of Deeside is only accessible over this system of railway. Over the whole extent of the railway there are to be met many picturesque spots, with castles, churches, and fortalices innumerable, each famous in song or legend or historical reminiscence, and presenting an infinite attraction to the artist and the antiquary. The trains on the railway are leisurely, and the traveller must not grumble at delays that in a busier district, yielding better traffic results, would not be tolerable. See The Great North of Scotland Railway, by W. Ferguson of Kinmundy (1881).

(F.H. Groome, Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1882-4); © 2004 Gazetteer for Scotland)

Linked entities:
Feature Description: "a railway"   (ADL Feature Type: "railroad features")
Administrative units: Aberdeenshire ScoCnty       Banffshire ScoCnty       Inverness Shire ScoCnty       Moray ScoCnty

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