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David McConnell and Stuart Rankin. Rails to Turnberry and Heads of Ayr: the Maidens & Dunure Light Railway and the Butlin’s branch. (Oakwood Library of Railway History No. 155)

Railway walks in the 1950s generally involved some degree of trespass, but compared with illicit visits to engine sheds this was a mild activity and the first transgression was between Yarmouth and Freshwater on the Isle of Wight when the track was still in place. The second transgression was far more exciting and took place between Culzean and Dunure when the viaducts were still in existence, but the track may have been lifted. Some of the decking may have been removed, but this could be romantic imagination. Page 282 (upper) gives some idea of what was seen. Quite what led to the expedition has been forgotten and sadly no camera was taken along, but this railway walk excelled all others. More than half a century has had to be waited to be informed more fully about this scenic route.

A similar fate followed a railway journey made on the Balerno branch (just prior to closure) which has remained, apart from possibly one or two others, the best branch line journey ever made. Features included its Hornby tank engine and smart four-wheel carriages, its sharply curved tunnel, and close accompaniment of a fast flowing river. Initial reaction to Donald Shaw’s The Balerno branch and the Caley in Edinburgh (Oakwood, 1989) was that sadly the author did not quite achieve what McConnell and Rankin have done, but this is probably grossly unfair as one was a memory of a working railway (and a working tram route) compared with something which was not encountered before its demise.

To return to the Ayrshire coast this struck me at the time, and continues to do so, as an underrated coast. The views across to Arran are superb and if the conditions are right down to Pladda and across to the Antrim coast. The harbour at Dunure is comparable with many of those far better known in Devon and Cornwall and there is a verdant countryside which is perhaps not typically “Scottish”. There are some wonderful bathing beaches including one at Culzean Castle which blends nature and garden to perfection. And of course there is golf which is now far better known thanks to international television.

It is tempting to postulate, and the authors appear to concur, that the railway was deliberately built to maximize the views probably with the creation of property to convey first class passengers up to Glasgow to form an extension of a market from places like Fairlie, Troon and Prestwick, but from a greater and more lucrative distance. In this respect the line showed similarities with the long defunct line from Cromer to Mundesley via Overstrand where the railway must have provided superb views out to sea. In Overstrand high value properties were constructed and involved major architects like Lutyens and wealthy clients like Speier. In addition the recently-opened West Highland Railway set out to exploit the scenery traversed in the hope of creating journeys for the appreciation of it. A further similarity was that all three lines adopted island platforms with chalet type platform buildings.

McConnell and Rankin have been highly successful in capturing all the information which must have ever existed on this fascinating line, including its semi-posthumous  life with limited services to the Hotel and later to the Butlin’s Holiday Camp. The latter led to some extraordinary motive power including Pacifics: including a  Peppercorn A2 Trimbush and British Railways Clan Class. The use of Duchess of Sutherland as a stationary exhibit at Butlin’s is also covered. At the other extreme Sentinel railcars were  introduced for a short time. One of the delights of the book is that the authors cannot resist stirring small nuggets of detail into the pot. For instance on page 237 they note that the fifth named Class 5 No. 5155 received the name Queens Edinburgh in 1942 and lost it in 1944.

The work is strong on personal detail (rather than true biography): thus there are portraits of James Miller, the influential architect of Turnberry Hotel and William Melville, the Engineer-in-Chief of the GSWR, as well as other leading figures, notably the Marquis of Ailsa.

The illustrations in the main text are well reproduced and varied. Sadly the colour illustrations on the rear cover are disappointing. Did Derek Cross fail to take any colour photographs of the Butlin’s trains? And if he didn’t the poster of Turnberry Hotel should have been reproduced larger. The index is somewhat cramped.  These are almost trivial blemishes in an excellent work.