Few things were more powerful than a Victorian-era duke. They shaped empires, armies, estates and cities and had a particular interest in the development of the railway network. For some, this was manifested in vehement opposition. For others, it was a promise of further riches and easier access to pleasures in both the capital and countryside. Few peers have influenced the development of a railway quite as definitively as the Duke of Sutherland, for whom we have largely to thank the northern most reaches of the British network.
After reaching the epic grandeur of the Scottish highlands, Scotland’s north-east peters away gently towards the coast. Tain, Dornoch, Golspie, Brora, Helmsdale and Wick are sandwiched between the sea to the east and desolate mountains to the west. Vital communications are provided by the A9 and the evocatively named Far North Railway.
The Far North Railway links Inverness with Thurso and Wick at the very northerly tip of Britain. The leisurely journey covers over 120 miles in 3 hours 45 minutes (to Thurso) or 4 hours 15 minutes (to Wick). The route is at first coastal before diving into the highlands to stop at Culrain and Lairg and then turning sharply westward to head back towards the sea.