THE ROAD TO RICCARTON JUNCTION
Despite some of the legends that grew up about Riccarton Junction, it did have road access to the outside world. This was built in 1963, some 5 years before the last railway employee left the village. It can be found about a mile on the Hawick side of Whitrope Tunnel, at the top of a bank. It's a private road owned by the Forestry Commission and is gated, and sometimes these gates are locked.
There is no parking at the entrance to the road, and as the main road is narrow (single track in places), parking at the side of the road is not a good idea. Anyone who has seen a timber lorry in full flight along these roads will tell you why.
So why not drive down the road if the gates are unlocked? Several reasons, really.
Firstly it has been known for the gates to be locked behind someone who has driven onto the road out of curiosity, leaving them stranded. A phone call to the Forestry Commission (whose number is displayed on a sign) will fetch someone to unlock the gates, but this is not cheap and I wouldn't guarantee a mobile phone signal up here either.
Secondly I have already mentioned timber lorries. Their driving at the best of times is not for the faint-hearted, and if you ever encounter one of them coming towards you on a single track road when the driver has no reason at all to expect someone to be coming towards him, then the encounter can be dangerous, if not fatal.
Another good reason is that you will miss out on an absolutely beautiful walk. The day I went there was in July 2008, but you wouldn't have thought so, with the low cloud and mist. But it was certainly beautiful.
Walking to the village is fairly easy, if you remember to keep an eye out for timber lorries, and if you have left your car at the Waverley Route Heritage Centre at Whitrope Tunnel and walked up the hill to the forest road (which is the course of action that I thoroughly recommend) then you will have a nice, pleasant and level walk back along the old Waverley Line to your car.
Now I reckon that in the distance here we have Arnton Fell. This is to the west of the village of Riccarton Junction (and as we are looking to the south at the moment, this means that the village is away over to the left) and stands 1467 feet above sea level.
Arnton Fell holds a very important position in Riccarton Junction folklore. One one occasion in the mid-1950s a spark from the chimney of a steam train set the heather alight, and the lengthsmen from the railway line had to chase after the fire, beating it with shovels to put it out. The chase took them all the way over the fell, and by the time they had managed to put it out, it had gone dark and they couldn't find their way back to the village.
These ruins here could well be the remains of the old Windshielknowe farmhouse - one of the old sheep farms out here on the fells. Some time in the early 1950s the owners deserted the farm for a new bungalow - also called Windshielknowe - at the side of the Newcastleton - Hawick road right by the southern entrance to the Whitrope Tunnel.
The roof slates were removed in the summer of 1954 and were used to roof an outhouse at the new bungalow.
The fells around here are also well-known for the outcrops of stone, and quite often you will find these small abandoned quarried dotted all over the Borders area. This one looks totally worked out. There isn't much stone left at all. Unless it was just the sand and not stone that they were quarrying here.
Quarries are usually a good place to go to have a good nosey around. You never know what you are likely to come across. But this one had been cleaned out.
Just around the corner from the quarry I was confronted by yet another spectacular view. Just here, the road makes a remarkable dog-leg turn round to the right. You can see the road continuing through the trees horizontally in the centre of the image.
But never mind that for now. Look at the view straight ahead. There is a truly stunning backdrop to this photograph of the road. You have to remember that this is a cool, miserable, misty day. Try to imagine this view in bright sunlight.
All over the fells there are some incredibly steep gullies with small streams rushing through them. Just like this one here.
I was half-expecting the road to be something of a switchback to take these into account, but what the builders did was to throw large, strong pipes into the bottoms for the streams to pass through, and then pile up all kinds of stones and rubble on top to make a fairly level road bed.
The height is certainly deceptive when you are actually standing on top of the bank and you can't really get a good idea of just how high up you are. But if you look to the left of the photo here, looking southwards, you can see.
Just after this "bridge" the road curves round to the right and follows along just underneath the tree line. You can see the steep bank down from the road, and this clearly shows the height of the road.
I'd been told also to keep a good look out for quarry wagons along here too. This is a quarry that is still being used today, and I was told that it is where the rock is taken from in order to make the necessary repairs to the road. If that is the case, then this material is known as "Dent stone".
There wasn't anyone about though, and of course as it is still being worked, there wasn't anything in the way of abandoned machinery either. It just wasn't my day.
It's quite clear from the condition of the quarry that a good deal of stone is being extracted, and quite recently too. Nevertheless, I was surprised to see the road in such a good condition as this.
The usual experience that one has of industrial roads in out-of-the-way places is that they are in poor condition, full of ruts and potholes, and hammered to death by the heavy vehicles that use them. Not this one, though.
It really was a pleasure to walk along this road, even though it was cold, windy and miserable. And much of the pleasure came from the good condition of the surface of the road.
The views helped too. Occasionally you would break out from the trees to catch a really good view across a clearing, or where harvesting had already taken place, or where young trees had not yet grown up to the height of their neighbours.
That's another view of Arnton Fell in the distance.
Now I was quite amused by the view that I had here, even though you might not see why. So I'll explain. What we are looking at is supposed to be a fire break.
You read of forest fires throughout the world where mile after mile of tree is burnt down in a forest fire. You might even one day have the chance to see one for yourself. In order to contain forest fires, you need to make a fire break - a gap between stands of timber that is so wide that if a burning tree were to fall down, it would not come into contact with a tree on the other side of the fire break.
It's true that given the climatic conditions here on the Scottish Border the chances of a forest fire are pretty remote. But this is a case of "lack of familiarity breeding contempt" and if we ever do have again a long dry summer such as that of 1976, the Forestry Commission might regret this. But on the other hand, fire breaks aren't productive and you don't get any income from them. And there is always the insurance, of course.
Living as I do in an environment where I'm very dependent upon the effects of wind for my electricity, I can never fail to be impressed by the power that the wind can generate. Here, a storm has roared across the fells and the trees on the edge of the road have taken the full force. They have presumably dissipated the full energy of the wind, as the ones behind are quite undamaged.
Two things can be gathered from this.
Firstly when you are cutting down stands of timber, you always start from the leeward side. If you cut from the windward side, you are exposing to the full force of the wind trees that have never experienced the wind before, as they have always had protection from the ones in front. They haven't needed to push down very deep roots in order to anchor themselves. And so the first strong wind will knock them down.
Secondly looking at the way the roots of the trees have formed, you can tell how poor and thin the soil is around here. I'm just hoping that extracting all of the nourishment out of the ground for a crop of timber isn't going to irrepairably damage it and create an ecological disaster such as the Oklahoma Dust Bowl once all of the trees have been harvested.
Suddenly you burst out from the tree into the open, and the isolation can quite take your breath away. This particular view looking eastwards was about halfway along the road to the vilage.
The area in the foreground must have been one of the first areas to have been planted back in 1963-4 when the forest was begun. The time to maturity of these trees is said to be about 40 years, and so the original trees will have gone and new plantation here that seems to have grown quite quickly.
Through the trees here looking south-west, you can see that in the distance there has been some recent felling of huge stands of timber, and it looks like they are making ready for more to go in the very near future.
Sitka spruce is probably the most common tree here as it does well in wet, peaty surroundings exposed to the wind. In the more sheltered areas of the forest the Forestry Commission went for Norwegian spruce.
The main reason why there was a policy of re-afforestation in the UK was that there was a great shortage of wood during World War II and much had to be imported, running the gauntlet of German U-boats. In wartime there is always a great expansion of demand for raw materials and in any war with the Soviet Union it was reckoned that the coalmines would rapidly increase their output and thus a large supply of pit props would be needed.
Of course, with the modern Anglo-American cowardly policy of picking on nations too weak to fight back and stealing all their raw materials, there's not likely to be the same blockade of the seas and the same demand for coal so the coalmines have all closed down and the pit props are no longer required. Much of the output now goes to the paper mills but with the digital revolution and the paperless office, this demand is dropping too. The Forestry Commission is now actively considering a policy of re-afforestation with native broad-leaved deciduous trees.
Mind you, one of the wars that the Anglo-American bully-boys are fighting is the war to steal Iraq's oil, seeing as the North Sea has run dry and the Caribbean is becoming increasingly hostile to American imperialism. The UK needs all the oil it can get, but imagine the outcry today from the NIMBYs if someone dared propose that the area was replanted with oil-producing crops to ease the UK's fuel shortage.
A mile or so back I posted a couple of photographs of one of the high banks that had been built up to carry the road over a deep gully in a fairly level fashion. Here, I encountered probably the deepest gully of them all, and thus the highest bank.
When you think about it, it took the local council here from 1946 until 1960 or 1961 to completely scotch the idea of having a road to Riccarton Junction. The cost of £20,000 (in the late 1940s) was said to be too prohibitive, even though that amounted to less than £650 per household, assuming that the railway would make no contribution at all the the costs. Once the land was sold to the Forestry Commission, the road that we are walking along was "put in in a matter of weeks" by private enterprise, regardless of cost. And you have to admit that they did a pretty efficient job of it too.
I have a feeling that I shan't be much longer in getting to the village. There on the right again is Arnton Fell, and you can see the field at its foot. That field was never planted, and I was told quite an amusing story concerning it - one that I shall recount in due course.
But I'm glad that I walked along here for the views have been stunning all the way along. It was well worth the effort. And the weather seems to be improving too.
Somewhere round about here is said to be the reservoir that was used to supply water for the needs of the railway at Riccarton Junction (drinking water for the village came from another source). I couldn't find it, unfortunately, but the aquaduct that conveys it to the village was quite easy to see.
Despite the fact that it's made of wood and on spindly metal supports, it's weathered remarkably sell in the 40 years that it's received no attention, and I was surprised to see it in such good condition all things considered.
The old sheep folds on the Borders have a special name, and I'm badgered if I can remember what it is (if you know, please ). But down there are the remains of one of them, overgrown by the encroaching forest.
It's quite sad when you consider all of the history that there would have been on fells such as this, recounting days of sheep-herding going back however many years into the mists of time, and how it was all wiped away by the plantations of the mid-60s.
A little further on is a better view of the old aquaduct. You can see that it's in a wooden box structure and supported on those spindly legs as it crosses yet another stream.
It was too difficult to scramble down there to get a good look at it, but I reckon that inside the box would be a cast iron pipe carrying the water - the box to protect the pipe from knocks bearing in mind how brittle cast iron is, and also to provide a basic form of insulation against the frost.
Here's a section that has burst open, and you can see the cast iron pipework quite clearly.
As an aside, the cast-iron pipes would most likely have been treated with Angus Smith's revolutionary method of rustproofing dating from the mid 19th Century. The pipes would have been thoroughly coated in linseed oil and then heated to allow the pores in the iron to open. Once expansion was at the maximum, the pipes would be dipped into hot tar.
The tar set so smoothly that not only did it inhibit the formation of rust, it reduced friction inside the pipes so that the water flowed quicker and smoother.
I was so busy musing on the story of cast iron pipework, linseed oil and hot tar that I was totally unprepared for this sight that I suddenly stumbled upon. I've finally arrived at the village of Riccarton Junction. This is almost all that remains.
What I've done is to continue the story of the village today on another page. There, you can see the photographs of what remains of the village and in some cases, some photographs from the same viewpoint taken 100 or so years ago, so that you can compare the two.
As I've said before, and I'll say again, grateful thanks to Frank Rutherford of Copshaw Pictures and to the Waverley Route Heritage Association for kindly letting me use their historic photos for this purpose.
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