Sitting on a hillside overlooking Firth of Forth, Bo'Ness is a portal to
the past, with Victorian steam trains, an Art Deco Hippodrome and
Scotland's only silent movie festival.
BY JIM GILCHRIST
There is a cloud of smoke, some stentorian chuffing and a whistle hoot that echoes down the years, as a green painted locomotive -- "National Coal Board No. 19 Fife Area" -- moves off from the platform, a handful of carriages in tow. Half a century after Britain's last main line trains were hauled by steam power, there remains nothing quite like the sight and sound of a steam locomotive getting underway, but at the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway, as evinced by a crowded platform and a cheerfully busy station buffet, it is commonplace.
Based at the West Lothian coastal town of Bo'ness, some 15 miles outside Edinburgh, the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway, along with the Museum of Scottish Railways, is run by the hugely industrious Scottish Railway Preservation Society (SRPS). Bo'ness -- its name a shortened version of Borrowstounness -- is a former port and mining community, now largely a commuter town for Edinburgh. And while the town offers such venerable historical attractions as Kinneil House and sections of the Roman Antonine Wall, on this particular visit we're not stepping much further back in time than the 20th century to visit not only the town's renowned steam railway, but also a motor museum (with a "007" twist) and Scotland's first purpose-built cinema, now restored to its former glory.
Arriving at the steam railway's traditionally canopied station on a late August weekday, with school terms recommenced, I expect to find it quiet, but the place is going like the proverbial fair, the buffet decanting crowds of pensioners, parents and preschool children into the waiting carriages as I'm shown round by one of the SRPS's many volunteers -- and its former chairman -- John Evans.
The full text of this article is available in the Winter 2016 issue of Scottish Life.
Click here to preview our feature article on Islands Of The Firth by Keith Aitken.
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Click here to preview our column on Scotch whisky by John Lamond.
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Photos © Neil Cave / TimeLine Events; Bo'ness & Kinneil Railway; Falkirk Community Trus