Single to Stobs Please

Bruce McCartney

This article first appeared in the January 1989 issue of The Railway Magazine.

Tickets and labels: Single to Stobs please ... (see related article click here). Bruce McCartney 04/01/1969

It was Saturday, January 4, 1969. Only a few hours remained for the Waverley line as a through route. On Monday the section between Hawick and Longtown would be closed entirely, leaving freight only branches to Hawick from Millerhill, and to Longtown from Kingmoor. Having lived all my life in Hawick, I was determined that I would have one of the last tickets sold from Hawick as a small memento; being an impecunious student at the time, my obvious choice of tickets was a single from Hawick to Stobs, 4 miles to the south.

I made arrangements with a motorcycling friend to collect me at Stobs Station. As I went up to the ticket office, a sudden thought occurred; why not buy a first and a second single to Stobs? I laid out the 2s 11d (14 ½ pence) needed, waiting the few minutes for the bewildered young clerk to write out the tickets. 'Two singles to Stobs. One a first class did you say?' Then, for the last time, I made my way through the subway under the mainline to the up platform.

Soon, the 17.54 from Edinburgh arrived. I found the first-class compartments and made myself comfortable at the window for the 10-minute journey to Stobs. As we pulled up the grade out of Hawick to Whitrope, I caught sight of the lights of my friend's motorbike flashing round the corner of the road to Newcastleton near Lynwood Viaduct. No problem about my lift back to Hawick.

I looked up from the dark forbidding countryside outside the window to see a long-lost fellow enthusiast from Carlisle pass the compartment door. He did a 'double take,' and slid the door open to join me. 'Travelling in style tonight,” he quipped, his eyes glancing round the first-class trimmings. It didn't take long before he, in his broad Cumbrian accent, and I were catching up on the last few years.

We were interrupted for a moment as the guard opened the door, muttered something incoherent, and went on. A jerk indicated that we were approaching Stobs Station: I excused myself, as we shook hands in a farewell gesture, and I rushed out. At the end of the carriage, I quickly lowered the door-window, recoiling for an instant as the icy blast caught my face.

Looking over Stobs Viaduct, I caught sight of the headlights of the Velocette appearing just underneath. 'Not long to wait in this freezing cold,' I thought. However, the second man in the locomotive shone his handlamp along the deserted platform - saw there were no passengers to board tonight (or ever again) - while a green signal came from the guard's lamp, and the engine of the type '4' locomotive roared as it accelerated without stopping!

'Ho hum! What now?' I mused. I made my way back to the guard, proffered my two singles to Stobs, and said, 'You never stopped.' The guard, obviously recognizing me, explained that on opening the compartment door he had said to both of us 'Carlisle”, but on hearing the broad accent of my friend and not receiving any protest from me he assumed that we were both continuing to the Border City.

In a gesture of goodwill, the guard suggested that he let me off at the next station, Shankend, free of charge. (Would my motorcycling friend know to carry on? I feared not.) I suggested that I travelled to Riccarton Junction to wait for the Carlisle to Edinburgh train and catch it there to get back to Hawick. With unparalleled generosity, the guard agreed and promptly suggested that he write out the excess fare ticket from Riccarton to Hawick to cover my return journey. I was about to protest, then thought, 'Well, it would be a unique final ticket.' I handed over the excess fare.

I made my way back to my first-class seat, to the astonishment and then ill-concealed amusement of my Cumbrian friend.

The guard and train crew repeated their lighting display at Shankend Station: no halt was necessary - there were no other maniacs afoot that night. Soon the total darkness of Whitrope Tunnel engulfed us for a minute. After breasting the summit and rattling over the disused crossover at Whitrope Siding (no unadvertised halt tonight) the train's speed reduced as the bay platform of Riccarton Junction came into view round the corner where the old North signal box used to be. It was time to alight at Riccarton Junction.

No one left the train to join me on the platform. A few faces, with incredulous expressions, pressed against windows as I made my solitary, lonely way in the light from the carriage windows to the waiting rooms. In no time at all, after a farewell hoot, the train pulled out, leaving only the moonlight glistening on the frosty platforms to show me my way.

Riccarton Junction: a ghost village. Well, almost. But there were lights on in the old school house and the signal box. On a normal Saturday evening at about this time, an empty coaching stock dmu working from Carlisle to Hawick would rattle through the deserted station, but never again would the 6:41 a.m. (Monday to Friday) from Hawick to Carlisle run, so tonight there was no need for the ecs working to Hawick.

A loud crunch further along the platform had my hackles on end in a split second. 'Grow up,' I thought. Then out of the gloom of the waiting-room entrance, a body appeared! It spoke first, a Midlands accent asking 'Catching the 20:21 to Edinburgh?'

'Yes,' I stuttered. 'I wanted to pay a final visit to Riccarton,' said the voice of the other traveller. ' We've a minute or two to wait. Do you want a whisky?'

Relieved that I had met another human, I agreed. We spent some time reminiscing about the route, he bemoaning the fact that it used to be a real railway with 'V2' class locomotives pounding up the grade: I complaining that the closure left us all very isolated in the Borders.

Telegraph bells rang out clear and loud in the bitterly cold, still air of the night: the Carlisle train was in section from Newcastleton. The lights in the box went out and before long the signalman joined us on the platform. The distant, throaty rumbling of the class '24' as it climbed the gradient below Arnton Fell became louder. The three of us fell silent: memories surrounded us all: I'm sure it wasn't just the cold that made the tears roll down the railwayman's cheeks.

On arrival back at Hawick, I spent a brief moment underneath the tall signal box chatting to a BR friend before leaving the station building. 'Ticket please!' I was reminded as I went through the gate. 'Please may I keep it?' I asked, as I handed over the paper ticket the guard had made out. 'No!' It was crumpled up and transferred to his other hand where he had the half-dozen stubs from the other passengers.

Argument was superfluous. I shook my head (although, I wondered, if I were being made redundant in a day's time would I have been obliging?) and went into the gloom of the night.

The red tail lights disappearing at the foot of the station 'brae' indicated that my friend had given up waiting for me. Perhaps I had a mile walk home, but at least I had three tickets to show for my journey to Stobs that night!

Now, 20 years later, I live in Langholm, 22 miles to the south of Hawick. I still use the train to go to Edinburgh, but it's not the same, catching an electric train at Lockerbie and obtaining a credit-card-sized computer-printed ticket. I often wonder whether there would still be a line through the Borders if, south of Hawick, the railway had been built via Eskdale and Langholm not Liddesdale and Newcastleton, back in 1859...