At 8.45am on Sunday 6th September, 2015, an historic occasion took place with the return of a passenger train service from Edinburgh to Tweedbank in the Scottish Borders.
The longest new domestic railway in Britain for more than a century was built at a cost of £294 million, completed within budget and on time.
However, it has taken nearly fifty years to reinstate part of the classic Waverley Route linking Edinburgh to Carlisle, which, afer 107 years of service, was inexplicably axed as part of the Beeching Report.
On 5th January 1969, hundreds of protestors (including a Church of Scotland minister), tried to block the passage of the last train at Newcastleton station.
The loss of this long established main line service had a profound effect on the rural communities affecting employment, the woollen mill industry, transport and tourism.
"Wear the opposition down, that's the secret!," according to Madge Elliot who has been one of the leading campaigners who tirelessly lobbied the Government to bring back the railway.
‘Breathes there a man,
with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
This is my own, my native land!’
Waverley Station, opposite the Scott Monument, and the Waverley Route were named after the first novel by Sir Walter Scott. Regarded as the father of Victorian tourism in Scotland, he was passionate about the tranquil beauty of the Scottish Borders, rich in literary heritage.
On Friday 4th September, a group of special guests, dignataries and the media was invited to experience a sneak preview of the 30 mile journey. We also had the pleasure of the company of a very smartly dressed Sir Walter! (aka Fergus John McCann).
The train is colourfully painted with an attractive livery depicting all the sights from the Forth Bridge and city skyline to the rivers and glens of Border country.
We depart from Platform 7 at 10.20am sharp, heading out to the south west of the city via Brunstane and Newcraighall to new stations at Shawfair, Eskbank and Newtongrange, now offering commuters a fast and convenient train service into the city.
Visitor attractions along the route include Rosslyn Chapel and the National Mining Museum at Lady Vic Colliery, Newtongrange. The new railway line preserves many of the original Victorian tunnels, wrought iron bridges crossing Gala Water and the Redbridge Viaduct over the Tweed.
We head south towards Stow, surrounded by rolling hills, farms and fields of cattle and sheep; the train glides smoothly over the tracks without the typical clickety-clack clatter. We speed through Galashiels and on to Eildon View station at Tweedbank.
Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s former grand residence is beautifully preserved with original furniture, artwork and library, located on the River Tweed. With tours of the house and garden, special exhibitions and a café, this is an inspiring place to visit on a day out.
Also nearby is the market town of Melrose with its ancient Abbey, excellent shops, pubs and restaurants and where the popular Borders Book Festival takes place in June each year.
The traditional textile industry of the Scottish Borders is internationally renowned for cashmere, lace, knitwear, tweed, with high quality fashion and fabrics designed by such famous brands as Pringle – founded 200 years ago - Lochcarron, Johnstons and Hawick Cashmere.
With 1,500 miles of walking and cycle paths, this is a prime location for outdoor sports - mountain biking, hiking, horse riding, fishing and golf as well as watching the famous Rugby Sevens’ tournament. With cosy old pubs, Inns, B&Bs and country house hotels, take the train to Tweedbank for a leisurely tour around.
The Borders Railway timetable is a half-hourly service (hourly on Sundays) in each direction. But the regular Scotrail train will also be enhanced by special Steam Train Excursions, which have already proved to be extremely popular, and private charters.
With the promotion of local arts, culture, heritage, festivals, food and drink and sporting events, it is expected that one million passengers will travel on the railway annually within a few years.
Hop on/Hop off buses will operate in Newcraighall and from Galashiels/ Tweedbank. Adequate bicycle storage on board is essential, while the option to rent bikes is part of innovative plans by the Tourism development programme.
The return of the railway is accompanied by investment in businesses, hospitality and new housing as part of major revitalisation of community life and work across the region.
On Wednesday 9th September, The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh will experience the journey by Steam train to commemorate the official launch of the Scottish Borders Railway. This is indeed a significant date, the very day when she will become the longest-reigning monarch in British history.
So after a gap of 46 years and 8 months, once again you can travel in the comfort of a railway carriage from Edinburgh to the heart of Border Country.
David Spaven, author of ‘The Battle for the Borders Railway’, believes this is "one of the most remarkable reversals of fortune in British railway history".
Tickets on the hour-long journey from Edinburgh to Tweedbank are £10 single, £11.20 day return, £16.00 any day return and £64 for a weeekly season ticket. At peak hours, trains will run half-hourly from Edinburgh and Tweedbank.