The Talla railway was laid from the Caledonian Railway station in Broughton to the site of the construction of the Talla Reservoir at Tweedsmuir. Construction commenced in 1885 and the railway was used to transport men and materials to the reservoir site. The reservoir was formally opened on 28th September 1905. The railway was finally sold for scrap and was uplifted in 1912 despite efforts by the local populace for the railway to be retained for public use.
There have been several articles about the railway, the most notable being that of the Stephenson Locomotive Society in October 1966 when Mr David Sterrick the station -master at Broughton was the guide and also that in The Scots Magazine of November 1974 when Mr Sterrick was again the guide but also includes an interview with Mr William Anderson of Glenveg. There are also now websites that cover this story. Hence I will concentrate on particularly interesting aspects of the railway at the Tweedsmuir end that have interested me and have not been covered elsewhere. The Reservoir site is noted by The Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and is on their Canmore Archive as ID 122232 - this includes several excellent photographs including some from the air. To view these go to Canmore website and enter 6-digit code in search box.
Interesting Items include:-
Continue below for:-
- Railway extensions into the reservoir site.
- Cockiland Siding.
- Heraldic Stone Shields
- Stone Pillars
- Sheep Crossings
- Boundary fence and stock-gates at Talla Reservoir.
- Workers Accomodation
- Small-pox epidemic 1902/1903
- Railway Extensions to Linn Foots and to Reservoir site.
One of the questions regarding the railway was how far it extended from Victoria Lodge along the north bank of the reservoir.
The map on left which must date from 1902/1903 shows Victoria Lodge completed and the reservoir under construction and the railay extending the whole length of north side of the reservoir site to Talla Linn Foots. The reason for the extension of the line - must have been for the transportation of whinstone for the dam wall from the quarries in Gameshope. The quarries can still be seen in Gameshope with heaps of whinstone rocks, still in situ,that were not ultimately required. The railway would have also assisted in the removal of spoil from the digging out of the foot and sides of the site.
Quarry Site at Gameshope
The method of getting the stone from the quarries down the valley track to Talla Linn Foots is open to conjecture but my view is that horse drawn wooden sledges were used. This method was used by the local farmers for the transportation of peat. On completion of the actual dam and hence no further requirement for rocks the track of the extension would have been lifted and the track bed used for the route of the present road.
The railway must also have been extended into the actual reservoir site to facilitate the removal of the spoil resulting from the digging out of the sides and valley floor. This can be seen in the photograph of the steam digger in the Talla Reservoir Under Construction section of the Picture gallery - link at foot of page. The remnants of a small section of a railway line on the south bank of the reservoir can be found just to the south of the outfall from the Fruid system where erosion of the bank has revealed some sleepers and also evidence of ballast.
When the central core of the dam was completed a railway track was laid along the top for the delivery of the pitching stones for cladding the reservoir side of the embankment. Initially I thought that the only way that this section of track could have been connected to the main track would have been by means of a turntable situated in the area where the present day stilling pond is located. However there are photographs extant that have come to light showing that there was no turntable and that there was no direct connection. Material being transferred from wagons on the main line to wagons on the dam line by means of a large crane.
Cockieland Hill siding and quarry
On the north face of Cockieland Hill the railway track (this portion of the railway track is now part of the forestry road system) passes a small quarry. Just to the north of this was a railway siding which was thought to be connected with the quarry which was used for "rubble pitching". This possibly was the case but I believe that the siding had a second purpose and that it was designed as a safety measure to "capture" any rolling stock in the event of any brake failures on the last section of the railway towards Victoria Lodge which was on a very steep gradient. The large balustrade buffers made of railway sleepers at the end of the siding give rise to this view.
The picture to the left (1905) shows the "buffers" at the end of the siding at top right of the picture.
The picture below right (1998) shows the siding on the right of the picture. The wooden balustrade buffers of the previous picture have gone only a pile of ballast indicates where they were.
The site of the old quarry has filled with water and is now a nice scenic spot with ferns and wild flowers etc. The site is known by the locals as the "Newt Pond". Unfortunately the newts seem to have disappeared, I suspect that they were fished out by herons. There are however frogs as evidenced by frog spawn appearing during the Spring. It has been promised that the scenic area will be retained, perhaps even improved, when the trees aound the site are harvested. The site is enhanced by a nice specimen pine tree beside the water that was planted some time ago by a local resident - Mr Woodman spare that tree!
Heraldic Stone Shields
Just to the north of the Tweed bridge is a pile of large granite stones including two that are the shape of heraldic shields. The location of the stones beside the track of the railway would suggest that they had been unloaded from a train and just left there.
Pictures (1998) of stones with bridge in background, and closeup of heraldic shields.
For what purpose were these stones brought to Tweedsmuir? What is strange is that I have not found any reference to these enigmatic stones anywhere in the records apart from a reference to shields which were part of the decorations at Victoria Lodge at the opening ceremony of the reservoir in 1905. The location of the stones in the vicinity of the bridge could possibly indicate that they were originally had some connection with the bridge - were the square blocks spares for the bridge that had been imported with the main granite construction blocks that came predressed from Italy? But what of the heraldic shields? Another possibility is that the blocks and the shields were designed to form a memorial pillar to celebrate the achievement of the completion of the reservoir project but for some reason this final act of the project was never completed. One reason for this could be the exceedingly bad press the project received regarding the levels of drunkeness and large number of related industrial fatalities.
It is unlikely that the stones were always at this location. It is known that there was an interim opening ceremony at the northern abutment of the bridge when the bridge was completed and it is unlikely that an untidy pile of stones would be evident during such a proud ceremony. Hence it is probable that the stones were kept at a depot and transferred to the bridge site at the end of the project. Maybe even the last train to run from Talla dropped off the stones on this last journey.
On the western hillside of the valley opposite the railway bridge there is a distinctive stone pillar that looks as if it should be a memorial to some eminent person but is in fact a marker for the location (many metres below) of the aquaduct tunnel carrying water from the Talla Reservoir to Edinburgh. These are indicated on maps as Observation Pillars. On the OS map of 1908 two such pillars are shown between the railway bridge at Tweedsmuir and the Crook Inn. The map of 1902/1903 showing the reservoir under construction shows at least five pillars in Picture Gallery - link at foot of page. The map of 1908 also shows an Observation Tower which is obviously larger than the pillars. This was probably of timber construction with a raised viewing platform accessed by a ladder with a timber finial acting as the Observation Point. This would be similar to the present day constructions erected over Trig points where tree planting has obscured the view. These towers double as hides for stalkers, bird watchers etc.
One feature of the railway is that due to the large number of sheep in the Upper Tweed valley it was necessary to provide a sheep crossing at periodic intervals. This was done by either over-passes or under-passes depending on the terrain. Over cuttings a simple concrete/timber bridge was constructing. Sometimes it was necessary to construct a simple turf ramp (not too elaborate as these were hill sheep)parallel with the track at one side using a convenient bank at the other with a concrete/timber bridge. The underpasses varied in height depending on the height of the available embankment.
Remains of underpass sheep crossing at Glenveg looking east. Notice the metal straining posts from the original fence line in front of the pass.
Remains of an overpass near Victoria Lodge. The bank on the far side is natural, on the near side is a turf ramp. The metal straining posts indicate where the concrete bridge was located.
The railway was fenced over its entire length. And because of the number of sheep crossings there was a considerable number of interruptions in the fence lines. These metal straining posts were devised and a bit over engineered, of very high quality and very durable! The footings are splayed out and embedded in concrete and very difficult to remove hence the reason why they are still here 100 years on. The wire used for the fences was not solid but stranded ie wire rope. Remnants of the wires are still wrapped around the tensioning bolts. Some of the straining posts have been incorporated into present day fences and at one location some wire rope is still in use!
Many of the sheep crossings were destroyed by commandoes during WW2 during concrete demolition exercises. Apparantly the hard Victorian concrete was similar to that used for defensive purposes ie pill-boxes etc.
There is a complete underpass about one hundred yards north of the Crook Inn - this is unusually circular and made of concrete. A feature of this crossing is that the sheep shared the crossing with a burn and that there is a metal railing separating the burn from the sheep walk - a neat example of Victorian engineering detail.
Near Mossfennan there is the remains of a rather spectacular overhead sheep crossing comprising of six concrete piers and a long ramps at right angles to the railway track.
The photograph below taken in 1905 shows the complete sheep crossing. What was the purpose for this grandeur. Was there a secondary use for the crossing such as the centre piece for an opening ceremony of some sort?
Talla Reservoir boundary Fence and Stock Gates
The Talla Reservoir is completely surrounded by a typically Victorian elegant metal fence about three feet high. What is not elegant and again a tad over-engineered are the stock-gates where the fence crosses an inlet burn. These gates comprise of a substantial RSJ supported on two sections of 6 inch iron pipe embedded in concrete. The heavy metal gate is hung from the RSJ. The photographs have been taken when the burns are very low - after heavy rain these burns can be raging torrents probably even more so prior to afforestation. The reasons for the enclosure of the reservoir and hence the stock-gates must be the same as the reasons for the sheep crossings on the railway ie due to the large flocks of sheep in the area. The lower image shows fence/stock gate over the Glencutho Burn. In the foreground of this magical scene can be seen the rail supports for what was a footbridge. This was part of a walkway along the complete length of the south side of the reservoir that was provided for the maintenance men to "walk the reservoir".
To accomodate the large numbers of workers involved in the project - railway/aquaduct/reservoir - temporary "Huts" were erected at the dam site and also a small one at the Crook Inn. Some of the men had wives and families. By the 1901 Census there were 4 very large huts housing between forty and sixty souls each and eight smaller huts housing less than ten.
Small-Pox Outbreak 1902/1901
There was a National epidemic of small-pox during 1902/1903 and the outbreak in Scotland was traced to Talla. The following from the British Medical Journal for December 1903 -
Small-pox at the Edinburgh Waterworks
Since the outbreak of small-pox at the Talla waterworks in Peebles-shire on November 9th the disease has been steadily spreading and cases have been reported in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Lanark, Airdrie and Sanquar. The infection is believed to have been brought from the Talla centre. Ten cases have come under notice at the Talla waterworks within the last month although precautions have been taken by the sanitary and public health authorities of the county. We understand that three fresh cases were discovered in the late days of the week ending December 12th, and these have been placed in a temporary hospital. Six patients have been removed to the hospital, where one has died. There are now two cases in the small-pox hospital in Edinburgh, and both of these appear to have been traced to the Talla centre.
The temporary hospital mentioned in the BMJ report I presume was at the Talla dam site which the BMJ referred to as the Talla centre.