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A Brief Factional History of the Glenmutchkin Light Railway

 As remembered by the author following a late night discussion in the Select Bar of the Commercial Hotel, Glenmutchkin.

A railway connecting remote Glenmutchkin with the rest of civilisation was first proposed in 184?. Professor W.E. Aytoun’s essay (*) recounts in detail the story of two Glasgow wide boys who made a killing during the Railway Mania by promoting a railway to capitalise on the natural resources of the glen, listed as “sheep, grouse and Cockney tourists not to mention salmon etc”. Due to the Parliamentary plan containing seventy-three fatal errors the scheme failed along with many other Railway Mania proposals.

We move on to 1896 and the Light Railways Act which provided the stimulus for the plans to be revisited. The locality rallied to the cause and a 2’ gauge light railway was proposed to connect the village of Glenmutchkin with the Highlands and Islands main line. Initial enthusiasm was unbounded and sufficient funds were subscribed by the great and good of the glen to allow the new company to obtain its Light Railway Order and construct the first five hundred yards of track bed before the money ran out. After six months of no progress the principals were on the point of despair when salvation appeared in the form of the newly ennobled Marquis of Stenhousemuir, well known toffee entrepreneur and multi-millionaire.

The Marquis was very keen to make his mark amongst his peers and to this end bought the vast estate of Upper Glenmutchkin from the receivers of the Duke of Inverkeithing. One of his first acts was to refinance the Glenmutchkin Light Railway ensuring that the scheme as originally envisaged was completed to the very highest standards in 1904. Plans were commissioned for construction of a private station for a proposed Chateau and hunting lodge. Competitive spirit was clearly involved as both the house and the railway station would have eclipsed the Duke of Sutherland’s establishment at Dunrobin. The Marquis funded the rebuilding of the famous Glenmutchkin distillery and the building of a new fishing harbour 4 miles down the coast at New Glenmutchkin. The railway was extended to the new harbour from a junction just before the original terminus.

This latter project was an attempt to secure supplies of an essential raw material for the Marquis’s main business empire but sadly he had over estimated public enthusiasm for herring flavoured "Fush Toffees". The  Marquis also travelled extensively throughout the Empire in search of new flavours. His research in North East India, where he sought the perfect "chai" recipe, brought him to Darjeeling where the performance of the DHR's B class locos made a great impression. A visit to the Calcutta headquarters of the managing agents, Gillanders, Arbuthnott & Co, resulted in the purchase for the GLR of one of the final batch of North British built locos, originally destined for the Raipur  Forest Tramway. Thus a marvellous piece of North British engineering was seen in its prime on home turf.

The Marquis became obsessed with the search for ever more exotic toffee flavours and by the time of the Great Depression of the 1930’s his enormous fortune had been squandered . The chateau and private station were never built and the Forestry Commission bought the land at a knock down price. Upon the outbreak of war, in September 1939, the Royal Navy requisitioned the Glenmutchkin harbour, while various secretive military establishments sprang up across the countryside.

 These developments brought new traffic to the railway and allowed it to re-invest in carefully selected locomotives and rolling stock from other British 2’ narrow gauge railways that were not prospering. Examples include an ex- Welsh Highland Hunslet 2-6-2T previously known as Russell and some ex Lynton & Barnstaple goods stock. The management were not afraid to experiment with new ideas such as diesels. Now in the otherwise dark days of 1941 we find the Glenmutchkin Light Railway in good health with better prospects than at any time since opening.

 * “How we got up the Glenmutchkin Railway and how we got out of it” by Professor W. E. Aytoun. If you want to read this type Glenmutchkin into a Google search and you will have a choice of several sites which make the whole text available.

 




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