Corrour is the highest and most remote mainline railway station in Britain. Located in the heart of Rannoch Moor, a vast plain of grass, moss and bog, the nearest road is over 10 miles away and the train is the only means of transport in or out. Today, the station, on the scenic Glasgow to Fort William West Highland Line, consists of a single island platform, protected from the encroaching moor by heavy rails of iron. The only concession to passenger comfort is an airy, wooden shelter. It is rudimentary to say the least. But when you are venturing into one of the few areas of true wilderness in Britain, the last thing you expect is luxury.
The station is a gateway to one of the country’s most spectacular and unpopulated landscapes and it is well used by walkers, climbers and anglers. When it opened in 1894, it was a vital lifeline for those who lived and worked on Corrour Estate.
Although the station is no longer manned it was for decades staffed, usually by a husband and wife team who looked after not only the coming and going of trains, but also a tiny Post Office. The job of stationmaster at Corrour was undoubtedly one of the loneliest roles in Britain, akin to manning an offshore lighthouse, but with no leave.
For 19 years from 1944, Sandy Thompson was stationmaster here, living with his family in a lonely cottage adjacent to the station. In those days, there was a booking office, siding and goods yard, originally built to serve the estate.
Sandy’s experiences at Corrour were documented in a short BBC film, The Station on the Moor, which was recorded and broadcast in 1965. The interview offers a fascinating insight into the isolated life of a stationmaster on Rannoch Moor.
Born in Joppa, on the outskirts of Edinburgh, and brought up in nearby Millerhill, Sandy left school at the age of 14 and started on the railways as a train register boy at Millerhill signal box. After a short period at Berwick, he was put in charge of his first signal box, at Esk Junction, near Edinburgh.
In 1925, he moved to Mallaig Junction, before transferring to Arrochar & Tarbert and then Crianlarich Upper where he remained until 1944 when the post at Corrour came up.
‘I was very keen to get a stationmaster’s job and had thought that if I got the position at Corrour then I would have the necessary qualifications to allow me to get a stationmaster’s job,’ he told the BBC.
‘When we got to Corrour, we got to like the place and after that I forgot all about stationmaster’s positions. We just wished to remain in Corrour.’
Sandy and his family arrived in the depths of winter – there were three feet of snow on the ground to welcome them – but soon settled into the station cottage across the rails from the platform. Alone on the moor, their nearest permanent neighbours were four miles away at Corrour Shooting Lodge. His three children attended Tulloch School, leaving home every weekday morning on the 9.14am train and returning at 4pm while his wife was employed as signalwoman.
The couple worked long days, starting at 3am and continuing until the final train of the night cleared Tulloch – the next station down the line – at 7.50pm. Before breakfast they dealt with three goods trains and a passenger service, accepting each from Rannoch Station, to the south, before handing it on to Tulloch.
At 9am, the Post Office at Corrour opened with mail – which arrived on the 9.14am train – to sort, postal orders to sell and telegrams to send. In those days, a lot of Corrour Estate’s shopping was done by post and the lodge postman would visit each morning.
The stationmaster also oversaw the loading of timber in the goods yard, the unloading of estate supplies, all of which arrived by rail, and a steady stream of passengers, the majority of whom arrived during the shooting season.
Winter was a particularly testing time at Corrour, the exposed station frequently battered by the elements.
‘It was pretty grim at times but we just had to get on with it,’ Sandy said. ‘I’ve seen five or six surfacemen and sometimes the flying squad out there to keep the points clear and let the trains through.
‘It was impossible for us really to work shifts about because there were times it was impossible for any person, especially a woman, to be working in the cabin during snow and blizzards. It was very difficult to see anything in the snowstorms. It was just blowing like smoke and it was very choking.
‘The winter of 1946/47 was a very bad one, the deer lying dead in their groups here and there down the back of the snow fences. It was just blowing a hurricane.
‘I worked 24 hours a day for almost three weeks in 1947. But the trains got through. The snow ploughs worked all night, just one after another running backward and forward between Crianlarich and Fort William.’
The family’s groceries arrived by train and there were occasional shopping trips to Fort William. If anyone in the area fell ill, word would be sent to Tulloch and the railway company would send an engine and coach with a doctor or a nurse.
Sunday was the only day off and with no church nearby the family would listen to a service on the radio before venturing outdoors.
Sandy said: ‘We would be hiking in the hills or walking round the loch (Loch Ossian). We would go to the top of Benavreich (Beinn a’Bhric) where there was a big rock called the Witch’s Chair which was shaped something similar to a chair and it was the custom to sit there and wish a wish.’
While Sandy also enjoyed shooting and fishing, his children made their own amusements, spotting wildlife, sledging on iced pools during the winter and fishing in the summer.
‘We did feel it a bit lonely at times, but we just knew we couldn’t get away and we had the wireless which kept us,’ he added.
As time passed, Sandy witnessed changes on the line, most notably the replacement of steam locomotives with diesel engines.
‘We missed the old steam engines. I think it was more homely seeing the old steam engine coming chugging round the corner,’ he recalled.
Eventually the time came to reluctantly bid Corrour farewell and in 1963, with their children grown up, Sandy transferred to the signal box at Corpach and he and his wife moved into a house in the nearby village of Caol.
‘I did like Corrour,’ he said. ‘We find it’s a big change from being in the moors by ourselves. We were never in the habit of having so many neighbours round us. We took it strange at first.’
Corrour for its part continues to welcome travellers, although the goods sidings are no more and the station has been unmanned since 1988 when the signal box closed. It served as a bunkhouse for climbers for a time – known as Morgan’s Den – and now offers boutique B&B. The station house, home to the Thompson’s for nearly 20 years, was demolished and replaced in 2000 by a Scandinavian-inspired structure which is now a restaurant.
Despite the passage of time, the station on the moor remains as remote and isolated as ever.