Departing from Castle Douglas, the Kirkcudbright Branch diverges to the left and heads off to a crossing of the River Dee and Bridge of Dee station. The Dee flows out of Loch Ken of which more shortly. The Stranraer line turns northwest and becomes single track. Passing in an almost straight line through flat farmland it reaches the next station at the village of Crossmichael with its unusual church. The track bed and station here have been encroached upon by new housing and should a decision to re-open the railway be taken it would probably have to be rerouted around the northeast side of the village.
From Crossmichael the line followed the shores of Loch Ken towards the hamlet of Parton which did have a station – now in use as a private dwelling. The line curved to the west here and descended to cross Loch Ken on a 3-arch Bowstring viaduct, one of the most elegant structures on the line and still there to be enjoyed from the shores of the loch.
From Loch Ken the line begins to climb steeply at around 1 in 70 up to the station at New Galloway. Actually the station was at Mossdale, a hamlet on the A762 – the Town the railway purported to serve was over 5 miles to the north! This was not an uncommon occurrence on lines struggling to find a reasonably level path through difficult terrain. The famous Settle to Carlisle route is littered with stations located far from the communities that share their name. Departing New Galloway the line continues to climb steeply, crossing the outfall of Stroan Loch, until it reaches the halt a Loch Skerrow. The halt is as you would expect, a pair of wooden platforms only capable of serving a single carriage. Why have a halt here where there are no settlements for miles around? Well, being at the summit of the climb it has two large water tanks to replenish any locomotives that are running low of that precious commodity. But the Loch itself was a tourist attraction for keen hikers so the halt did have a purpose beyond servicing the needs of thirsty locomotives!
Here, far above the plains of Dumfriesshire, I’d like to take a quick moment to discuss some of the ambience within this simulation. Firstly, the scenery is wonderful – it suggests that when the line was closed we lost a national treasure no less beautiful than the Settle and Carlisle or the West Highland lines. But there is something else. When you’re slogging up those gradients all you can hear is the breath of the locomotive, diesel or steam, deafening you to the world outside. As you hit the downslopes with the throttle closed and only the brake to mind you have the time to stick your head out of the window and enjoy the view. You can enjoy the rhythmic clank of Stanier Knock if you’re driving a Jubilee or a Black 5 and you can hear birdsong – Blackbird and Chiffchaff are readily identifiable. It’s one of those points in a computer simulation when you suddenly feel really at one with the world – it brings a moment of peace and self awareness far beyond what you’d expect from playing a game!
From Loch Skerrow Halt the line descended to cross Little Water of Fleet on a viaduct that was blown up by the military in an exercise soon after the line closed in 1965 prompting the local suspicion that this was ‘engineered’ to make sure that the line stayed shut. It then crossed the massive Big Water of Fleet Viaduct – an impressive if slightly ugly structure that still strides proudly across the landscape and is now a nature reserve as it has become home to bat colonies. The elegance of the original 20 arch structure was ruined when the pillars were strengthened with brick surrounds during the second world war to allow it to support heavier trains to and from the Navy yard at Cairnryan.
After crossing Big Water of Fleet the line climbed briefly to a summit at Gatehouse of Fleet station – this time around 6 miles from the town it was supposed to be serving! Passengers would have used the B796 and the Old Military Road to get to Gatehouse of Fleet. The station building is still in existence and once again is now a private dwelling.
From here the line descends steeply towards the station of Newton Stewart, passing through Creetown on the way. It is here that some of the most awkward speed restrictions are encountered – especially if climbing the 1 in 70 average with an east bound train. Traffic is expected to slow to 15mph through Creetown station which is itself on a steep slope – hard work in a steam engine with a heavy load and not especially easy with a diesel either! If the other stations on this section of the route have failed to provide traffic for the railway, Newton Stewart acted as a hub for local timber and livestock traffic. It was also the junction for the branch to Whithorn which closed to passengers in 1950 and was closed to freight in 1964 – that branch is not represented in the simulation.
Part 3 will cover the final (easy?) section of the line to Stranraer. As in the previous post I will leave you with a ‘what might have been’…