Looking for a book the other day, I happened to pick up a copy of Dorothy Sayers’ Five Red Herrings, which is set in and around Kirkcudbright. I’ve read it before but not since we moved up here and it’s been interesting to re-read it now that I know the places involved. But what really struck me that I hadn’t noticed before was just how many bikes and trains there were in the book.
Could anyone these days write a book set in Dumfries & Galloway where the plot turned on who had managed to cycle to what station to catch what train? Most of the trains have long gone and so has a world in which everybody has a bicycle (or could lay their hands on one) and would think nothing of taking it eight or nine miles across country to catch a train. It was published back in 1931 and includes at the front a little map which was a revelation to me. I knew that there once were more railway lines in the area but according to the map (and she makes it clear in her preface that ‘all the trains are real’) they were everywhere – down to Kirkcudbright, up to Moniaive, Gatehouse, Castle Douglas, the lot, all now sadly gone.
Much as I’d love to see those trains back, I think that it’s pretty unlikely they’d ever be reinstated now, but it struck me that it’s left us with an opportunity in the region. One of the barriers to cycling around here is the hills and that’s one reason why old railway lines make such fabulous cycling routes. Like most cyclists, trains don’t like going uphill and they also like taking the most direct route from a to b. Dr Beeching’s axe might have robbed us of our train network but it has potentially left us with a whole new network of fantastic traffic-free and reasonably flat routes from town to town. As the photos on this post show, while there are loads of lovely quiet roads around here, they do tend to undulate a bit. But imagine being able to get from Dumfries to Castle Douglas avoiding the Old Military Road’s policy of going over every hill it can find. Imagine if families with younger kids could cycle direct to Mabie forest along the viaduct, without having to do battle on the A710 or have to load their bikes onto their car. If nothing else, imagine the tourism potential of enabling people to explore the whole county safely and easily by bike.
Perhaps it’s a pipe dream – it would cost a fortune, the lines may have long since been built over and the bridges and viaducts are crumbling away. But sometimes even pipe dreams can come true and if we don’t set our sights high, nobody else is going to do it for us.