When Inveraray (might have) had a railway

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Letters dating back to the first half of the 19th century reveal that there was once a proposed railway line to Inveraray from Dalmally.

Letters in the Inveraray Castle archives, housed at the estate’s Cherry Park, shed some light on why the seventh and eighth Duke of Argyll each opposed the building of this branch line across their lands.

In 1845, the seventh duke was ‘quite confounded at the mania of the people of Inveraray and Oban, proposing a plan of a rail road by Inveraray and Oban to all the world, to carry a few black cattle and salt herring…pray assure them of my unqualified opposition, in and out of parliament to such a wild goose plan…’

Lord Lorne, his son and the future eighth Duke of Argyll, was also unhappy about ‘this ridiculous railway scheme’. In 1847, he wrote: ‘The country presents obstacles which if superable at all are so only by an enormous outlay.

‘…I cannot conceive the difference of level between Loch Awe and the top of the Cladich hill being surmounted unless by a tunnel of most preposterous length and difficulty.

‘The traffick except during the tourist months would be chiefly if not entirely confined to sheep and cattle…and…there are already natural facilities of water carriage greater than is possessed by any county in Scotland.

‘Inveraray is resorted to chiefly on account of its beauty – which would not be improved by a railway passing up Glenaray – as to its amenity as a family residence, cutting up Glenaray would be a most serious damnification. It is now one of the most beautiful drives in the place, and as a drive it would be destroyed.’

The line from Glasgow to Oban took 15 years to build and finally opened in 1880, proving extremely popular with holidaymakers for many years. The proposed branch line from Dalmally to Inveraray was never built, despite plans to ‘hide’ the railway from the duke’s view. A plan from 1897 shows a proposed tunnel to carry the line through the duke’s policies near to the castle. This proposal, like many others, was defeated in the House of Lords.

Instead, provision was made at Dalmally for a waiting room, the ‘Duke’s Room’, at Dalmally Station where visitors arriving by train could await the arrival of a carriage in comfort.

This is just one of innumerable fascinating stories stored within the Argyll Papers, the family and estate archive of the Campbell family, dukes of Argyll.

The Friends of the Argyll Papers was established to support the development of the archive and to promote its use and enjoyment by a wide audience.

It has been described as one of the most important private archives in Britain, offering a rich resource for Scottish and British history from the 13th to the 21st centuries. Prior to the pandemic it was attracting visitors from all over the world, researching a wide range of subjects including family and local history, Gaelic studies, place names, military history, political history, economic and social history, agriculture and industry, architecture and more.

You can support the preservation and development of this important archive by joining the Friends via the group’s website, and more information is available on the Friends of The Argyll Papers Facebook page.

Article written by archivist for the Argyll Papers, Alison Diamond