This is the second in my occasional series of “Books on the Horizon” – travelogues I dream of researching and writing, though probably never will. My “Books on the Horizon” are an exercise in creativity, idle whimsy and – through any reactions I get – testing the water.
The Next Stop part 2, The Next Stop part 3, and so on.
THE ELEVATOR PITCH
Repeating my “stop by stop” rail adventure on as many other Scottish lines as takes my fancy.
THE “OVER A DRINK” PITCH
If I’m entirely candid, I’m a tiny bit disappointed that hardly anyone asked me, after publishing The Next Stop, whether I would repeat the process on other lines.
Any time I mentioned that I was going to travel the train line from Inverness to Edinburgh via every single station along the way, people would be intrigued and engaged by the idea. And I still get similar reaction when I talk about the finished book.
I think people like the idea that there are things to discover in amongst the extremely familiar, and for me the real beauty in the concept lies in the fact that it is so incredibly easy to do a stop by stop trip. Anyone can take a journey they know well and do it much more slowly, taking the time to see new things along the way. It’s a new adventure on well-stomped turf; the unfamiliar lurking among the everyday.
And I have wondered, from time to time, if I should repeat the method with one or more other lines. The options I am most drawn to are:
Inverness to Aberdeen – An obvious candidate would be a line that, like the Inverness to Edinburgh line, I travel often but whose stops I’m not entirely familiar with. There are fewer stops between Inverness and Aberdeen, though they tend to be, by Scottish standards, consistently small to medium-sized towns so probably have more to reveal than many of the rural or suburban stops on the Inverness to Edinburgh line. And there would be more of an industrial feel than the first book, taking me through towns shaped significantly by the likes of whisky or oil. There would be old or abandoned train lines to ponder over, a beach or two to explore, distilleries to visit, and a considerable sense of journey from the Gaelic influences and mountains of the west towards the heart of the Doric language and the Granite City. It would also be a trip back in time to Aberdeen, where I was at university.
Inverness to Wick – one of the most fascinating – and lengthy – train lines in Scotland is the Far North Line: four and a bit hours of slow, trundling progress northwards to Wick, near the very north of the Scottish mainland. A line with over twenty stops, they range from the industrial east coast of Ross-shire, with bustling centres like Dingwall or Invergordon, to the haunting emptiness and lonely request stops of inland Sutherland. With services often many hours apart, it would require some serious planning, a few hikes here and there to fill the time, and the occasional need to camp. It’s a journey that could inspire, excite, and seriously exhaust.
The Borders rail link – I’m also quite tickled by the idea of moving away from established lines I know well, to one which is brand new and in a part of the world I really don’t know. To me, the south of Scotland is bandit country, a blank space on the map between the central belt and England – a place to pass through distinterestedly. The reopening of the Borders line from Edinburgh to Tweedbank, closed during the infamous Beeching Axe, presents an ideal opportunity to put that prejudice to bed. What would the Scottish Borders have to show an enquiring Highlander? What difference will a brand new line make to places that have drifted off many people’s radar since Beeching? And how would I approach a journey to a part of the world I know pitifully little about?
A suburban Glasgow line – Having lived for eighteen months in Glasgow, I gained a degree of familiarity with the UK’s largest suburban rail network outside London. For some months I lived close to Hyndland station in the west end, so I got to know three or four stops between there and the city centre, on a line that stretched for several stops beyond in either direction. But the terminus stops at either end were always just names to me, and many of the destinations along the way much the same. I’m not sure which line I’d choose to do – probably one of the lines that ran through Hyndland, but there are many more to choose from. An urban take on “The Next Stop” would for me respresent a major departure (excuse the pun), but a compelling one. I can foresee a lot of wandering around city and suburban streets, but I predict no less sense of isolation and otherworldliness than the quietest, rural experiences I’ve had with the Inverness to Edinburgh line.
Because I’ve already kick-started the concept. I’ve no particular objection to anyone else doing these books, but I suspect I’d be best placed because I know the format, can imagine the style and approach I’d take, and it would create a coherent series to build on the one already published.
WHAT WOULD I BE MOST HOPEFUL OF?
Just like with the first one, getting to know yet more new parts of Scotland that have lurked at the edge of my awareness for many years, and inspiring others to explore the places under their noses.
WHAT WOULD I BE MOST FEARFUL OF?
Exhaustion and boredom.
WHAT WOULD I NEED TO WRITE THIS BOOK?
Any of these options – or indeed any other I could think of to do in Scotland – could probably be done within a week, maybe two. The Next Stop (should I start calling it “part one”?) cost me around £200 in total to travel, so I suppose a safe upper estimate would be £500 per book.
HOW LIKELY AM I TO WRITE IT?
I’ve genuinely no idea. Writing all this makes it sound so easy. A week or two off work, plus a few hundred quid scrimped and scraped, would not be enormously difficult to amass. I’m not entirely convinced my heart is in it, though, much as I love the idea on paper. This is one where (would-be) reader feedback could make the difference.
What do you think? Is this a book you’d like to read? Let me know in the comments below. And read the rest of my series of Books on the Horizon here.