On the Iron Road to the Isles: The story of the ‘Jacobite’ steam service on the West Highland Line

By John Hunt and James Shuttleworth (hardback, The Nostalgia Collection, The Trundle, Ringstead Road, Great Addington, Kettering, Northants NN14 4BW, tel: 01536 330588, 208pp, £45, ISBN 978 1 85794 536 2).

When it comes to albums of quality railway photography, it does not and cannot get any better than this.

The West Highland Extension from Fort William to Mallaig is one of those select Network Rail routes which are ‘heritage railways via the back door.’ In this case, the route of West Coast Railways’ ‘The Jacobite’, which has become a key plank of the region’s local tourist economy, helped to some extent by its inclusion in the Harry Potter movies as the route of the ‘Hogwarts Express’.

From the early BR specials on the line to the present day, this volume brings together the finest work of 35 of Britain’s top railway photographers in capturing portraits of steam in action amid this stunning scenery in all seasons.

The large format showcases their work to maximum impact, to the point where on many pages you think you are looking out of a window overlooking the line, and for those photographers who have never visited the line, it is a treasure trove of ideas.

The volume is jointly authorised by West Coast’s James Shuttleworth, who in 1995 was appointed as project manager for the Carnforth company’s relaunch of the ‘Jacobite’ along the line.

Most of the pictures are in full colour, beginning with the Scottish Locomotive Preservation Fund’s ‘Jacobite’ railtour of June 1, 1963, using North British D34 4-4-0 No. 256 Glen Douglas and several J37 0-6-0s.

The roots to today’s service date back to a meeting in November 1983, which sought to reintroduce steam on the line for tourist purposes, and which led to ScotRail’s ‘West Highlander’ starting up the following year, later evolving to the ‘Lochaber’, under the auspices of BR’s Inter-City Special Trains section, prior to Privatisation and the coming of West Coast Railways.

You will have to have visited the route to know how commonplace are its breathtaking panoramas. It seems every steam locomotive that has worked along the route in modern times is featured, from K4 The Great Marquess to a plethora of ‘Black Fives’, and there is not one page that can be described as less than inspirational.

Regular visitors will want this volume – as near a perfect record of the route in all its upland glory as you could hope to expect. It allows you to experience and marvel at the ‘Jacobite’ from the comfort of your armchair at all times of the year, but be warned – it will leave you wanting more, which can be achieved only by taking your own camera up to Fort William!

The book might seem expensive, but in terms of quality it is cheap at the price.


Read more Reviews, Letters, News and Views in Issue 247 of HR – on sale now!

Enjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.