The Inverness Courier - Philip Murray
Special anniversary photo recreated, 20 years on
The curtain is set to come down on a momentous year for a popular Inverness attraction which has delighted generations of children and parents for decades.
The Ness Islands Railway reached its 40th anniversary this year – and as it prepares to welcome passengers on its final weekend of the 2023 season its staff have celebrated that milestone by recreating an iconic photo from its past.
Inverness man Rory Maciver (25) returned to the mini railway last week to pose alongside the tracks he stood next to as a five-year old to mark the site’s 20th anniversary back in 2003. Rory, who now works as a dentist at Raigmore Hospital, said the return visit was quite a trip down memory lane – with recollections of that special day in the early noughties coming flooding back.
"Even the sounds going round tracks and over certain bits were familiar,” he said. “It’s funny how it comes back to you.
“I’m a little older now, and none the wiser, and it’s funny now looking back at the original photo.”
His visit came about after the railway’s owners, the Highland Hospice, thought it’d be a great idea to recreate the photo marking the 20th anniversary, and reached out on Facebook to see if anyone knew where the then five-year-old Rory was now – and if he’d be willing to recreate the snapshot for the 40th.
“I came across it on Facebook after some friends spotted it. As soon as I knew what it was for and who it was for – the Highland Hospice – I agreed to come back round.”
Rory was delighted to help out, joking on the day of his visit for the 40th that “I’ll be back for the 50th – although the cake will be on me this time!”
Railway driver Brian Warrender, who has been with the Ness Islands Railway for more than 30 years, said the 40th anniversary had brought back many happy memories.
“We are very pleased that we’re still here to keep people happy – to see adults who came here as kids now back with their own kids,” he said.
“It’s pushing onto a third generation now of people coming to visit, but certainly there are many second generation visitors who came as children and are back with their own.”
Thinking of the landmark date sparked many memories for Brian, who said possibly his favourite was a comical one involving him and railway founder Ian Young – when a rogue engine accidentally became a runaway on the track.
“Ian had bought a little battery loco for fun,” he explained. “It was no use for pulling, it was just for fun.
“He took me into the shed to show me how it worked. It only had three buttons and one was for the speed control.”
Brian added that Ian turned the speed dial but nothing happened, so he cranked it some more and it suddenly sparked to life and took off out of the shed, jumping the points and racing along the tracks.
He added that he was on crutches at the time due to a leg injury, and Ian had a bad knee, and the comedy of the moment came from him and Ian trying to chase down the runaway loco while in no real state to do so.
“This blue loco shot out of the shed. Ian had a bad knee and here was me on crutches. It made a full circuit almost before we stopped it.”
Thankfully, the wee loco was soon halted with no further drama – and the pair had a funny memory to look back upon.
The 40th anniversary was a good time for a celebration, with the Highland Hospice taking on the site in 2019 – a year after Ian passed away, aged 75 – providing a level of security the facility needed at a time when its fate was uncertain.
But while the railway continues to delight generations today, it also still faces its share of challenges, with very poor summer weather hitting passenger numbers during the school holidays, and recent torrential rains flooding the site earlier this month.
It has also lodged an appeal for possible future train drivers to come aboard as its existing team of four are all getting older. The youngest of the current four is in their mid-60s – meaning there is a slim risk that without fresh blood to become the next generation of drivers, the railway could face a big problem in a few years’ time as they age further.
Brian added: “The railway has become a part of Inverness.
“Ian and his wife Jan couldn’t go on running it forever so the railway needed a big backer to take over. Thankfully the Highland Hospice stepped in and is a good fit.
“It gave us the prospect that it could keep going long term.”
Brian added: “But it’s by no means certain. We need more people to train as drivers – that’s the biggest single threat to the future of this place.”
He also said that potential train guards and people to run the shop were also very welcome. Fingers crossed some fresh blood steps forward, and the railway can continue to delight generations of visitors long into the future – to the 50th and beyond.
To enquire about helping on the railway, contact Highland Hospice’s volunteer manager Maria Cuthbert on 01463 227902 or email volunteer@ highlandhospice.org.uk