Taking a railway trip down memory lane

Passengers waiting at Rosslyn Castle Station to go on an outing
Passengers waiting at Rosslyn Castle Station to go on an outing

With the re-opening of the Waverley line imminent and talk of trams going to Penicuik, I started thinking about how our grandparents or even great, great grandparents used to travel to work or on holiday by rail, writes Winnie Stevenson.

From the 1850s they could travel to Roslin by train.

The first line to open was the Peebles Railway in 1855, but because the station in Penicuik was more than a mile from the town centre and up a steep incline, neither the paper mill owners nor the residents were happy.

Following discussions, the Penicuik Railway Company was formed with the intention of building another line into the town.

The proposed route was from Hawthornden Station on the Peebles Railway to near the Valleyfield paper mills. Construction was difficult as it had to cross the River North Esk seven times in a two-and-a-half-mile section, and required a ten-arch viaduct and two tunnels, but it opened in 1872.

This line served the paper mills in Penicuik and also the gunpowder mills and carpet factory in Roslin Glen with sidings at Rosslyn Castle Station.

Most workers could not afford to go on holiday so valued their works outings, sometimes a day trip to Rothesay on the Clyde, a long day away or sometimes just a day on Portobello beach.

You can see that they took these short holidays seriously. One gentleman is wearing his bowler hat, another is in top hat and tails – on the beach…!!

Another branch line was built, terminating in Polton, in 1867 to serve the paper mills there and in Lasswade.

There were a number of engineering difficulties on this route including the Broomieknowe tunnel and a high, six-arch viaduct at Lasswade.

On the other bank of the North Esk, a line was laid into Roslin itself in 1874 crossing the Bilston viaduct. It served the Moat Pit and was later extended to Glencorse in 1877 to serve the Mauricewood Pit and Glencorse Barracks. Sadly, the beautiful Glencorse viaduct was demolished in 1987.

On Saturday June 6, 1914, parties from the gunpowder mills, carpet factory and the Sunday school all left Roslin Station for their annual outings, while 750 visitors arrived in Roslin for the day.

With all these railways with stations at Hawthornden, Rosslynlee, Rosslyn Castle (nowhere near the Castle), in Roslin itself and at Polton, all claiming to take tourists to Roslin, it must have been a little confusing. In the early days, it is said that there was often great consternation when people took the train from Edinburgh to Rosslyn Castle Station only to find they were more than a mile away from their intended destination. To add insult to injury, they then found if they wanted to travel back from Roslin Station, their return ticket was not valid, the two lines being run by different companies . but the different railways soon became part of the same company.

I doubt if first-class travel was the height of luxury, so what could fourth class have been like?

Guide books soon became available to assist tourists in their enjoyment of the area.

One written in the early 1800s said, “To go to Roslin to pick strawberries is one of the proper things to be achieved by an inhabitant of Edinburgh during the summer months. Whatever might be the antiquarian, architectural, and natural attractions of the spot, they are in a measure secondary to the allurements of the delicious fruit.”

One popular route was to take a train to Hawthornden Station to visit Hawthornden Castle.

A walk in the grounds then took visitors to a beautiful footbridge over the river and a path on the other side to Rosslyn Castle.

Another short walk to Rosslyn Chapel and then the return to Edinburgh from Roslin Station.

Carriages were available for hire at the stations. Remember, this was at a time when ladies wore long dresses and smart shoes, not jeans and hiking boots or trainers.