Attention: You are using an outdated browser, device or you do not have the latest version of JavaScript downloaded and so this website may not work as expected. Please download the latest software or switch device to avoid further issues.

News > Pangbournian Stories > Book Reviews > On the Iron Road to the Isles – by John Hunt and James Shuttleworth (77-81)

On the Iron Road to the Isles – by John Hunt and James Shuttleworth (77-81)

James Shuttleworth (77-81) has had a lifelong interest in railways. Growing up in the Peak District, he has memories of the last British Rail steam engines to run on UK mainlines which ended in 1968.
15 Apr 2019
Written by Robin Knight
Book Reviews

James Shuttleworth (77-81) says that he has had a lifelong interest in railways ever “since the pram.” Growing up in Derbyshire’s Peak District, he has memories of the last British Rail steam engines to run on mainline services in the UK which ended in 1968. At the NCP his awareness only grew; OP contemporaries recall him talking endlessly about trains. He has, however, subsequently managed to fulfil the ambition of a footplate trip through Pangbourne a couple of times on a Great Western ‘Castle’ class loco as part of his job.

After a short career in the Royal Navy and a foray into London property and event organising, James started working for West Coast Railways (WCR) in 1995. This led on to an enduring relationship, now as the company’s Commercial Manager but originally as Project Manager, for the ‘Jacobite’ steam service which operates a 42-mile stretch of line that links Fort William and Mallaig in western Scotland.

Regular service steam trains returned to Mallaig on the Atlantic coast in 1984. In 1995, WCR took over responsibility for the service, with marketing support from local funding agencies, later obtaining a licence to operate the line in its own right. Today, the company runs daily services from Fort William to Mallaig in summer and occasional charters between Glasgow and Fort William (as well as many other charters throughout the UK).

Fifteen restored and distinct steam locomotives have been used on what is known as the ‘Iron Road to the Isles’ since 1984, including the most famous No 5972, a ‘Hall’ Class loco that masqueraded in bright maroon livery as Hogwarts Castle in the ‘Harry Potter’ films. Much of the filming from 2001 on for those productions took place on the Mallaig section of the line, resulting in a huge surge of popularity for the ‘Jacobite’ which continues to this day. ScotRail runs diesel services directly over the 165 miles link between Glasgow and Mallaig via Fort William.

James and his co-author John Hunt have now put this rising interest in the line to good effect with a sumptuously illustrated, limited edition coffee table book of 208 pages, full of the most superb colour and black-and-white photographs of steam trains in action along the wonderfully scenic ‘Iron Road.’ Anyone with an interest in railways or steam engine travel will value a book like this as will ‘Harry Potter’ addicts. Particularly spectacular are the spreads devoted to the iconic Glenfinnan Viaduct – 416 yards long and 100 feet high, built of mass concrete by Robert McAlpine at the end of the 19th century and a central feature of the ‘Harry Potter’ films.

James’s own first encounter with the West Highland Line dates from 1982 when, as a young RN officer, he travelled to Oban. The route was then in the hands of Class 37s (diesel electric locomotives). Soon after, the steam-hauled service was reintroduced by ScotRail only to be sold off as part of rail privatisation in 1994 at which point it was losing money. WCR then stepped in to rescue the summer service and James began to work full-time for the company as Project Manager. There were few other full-time employees, little publicity, even less money and a huge reliance on volunteers to keep going. He found himself doing anything from checking tickets to cleaning the stock and going on fire patrol. “It was hard work but ultimately great fun and paved the way to the success that ‘The Jacobite’ now is,” he recalls in the book.

With increased success have come improved facilities such as a buffet car and a 1st Class coach and a longer “season.” This now extends from Easter to the end of October plus a few special services around Christmas/New Year/Hogmanay. For those who are interested, the daily service departs from Fort William at 10:15 and arrives at Mallaig at 12:25, returning from Mallaig at 14:10 and reaching Fort William at 16:00. A second service leaves Fort William at 14:40 and arrives back at 20:25. The trains cross each other at Glenfinnan. On busy days the two trains may carry 750 passengers. Not surprisingly, they have been a major boost to the isolated Mallaig economy.

Today, buttressed by a satisfying entry in Lonely Planet magazine as one of the ‘Greatest Railway Journeys of the World,’ the West Highland steam service in its 25th year is a buoyant business with a bright future. This book is a very commendable witness to a noteworthy conservationist achievement and also a fine reminder of the railways golden “age of steam.”

by ROBIN KNIGHT (56-61)

Similar stories

A Thorn in their side.

Robin Knight reviews the intriguing story of the murder of the leading anti nuclear campaigner Hilda Murrell as told by … More...

Michael Hannon - An Accidental Life

Robin Knight reviews An Accidental Life written by OP Michael Hannon (45 - 49) who we sadly lost this year. More...

OPs have had some unusual careers, from Cornish hedger to Australian gold prospector. Keith Townson (60-64) has added an… More...

Robin Knight's book Leaders is admirable for its research assiduity and for avoiding too much Old School Tie-ism. More...

Most read

OP's on Parade

Calling all OP's - join us for a very special Event! More...

Classic Car Show

Exhibitor Booking is now open! More...

Peter & Tyler Butterworth

Read the extraordinary story of actor Peter Butterworth's WWII exploits as uncovered by his son OP Tyler Butterworth (1972 - 1977) More...

Have your say

This website is powered by