July 2022 – Book Review – ‘Railway Paths & Byways: Scottish Borders’

Allan Foster (2022)

This is a more ambitious book than its title might suggest. It sets out sixteen railway walks in the Borders region yet also throws in a good amount of local knowledge and historical content that will, for many, enhance their reading experience.

Each walk has a set of straightforward directions, which seem easy to follow. This is followed by the modestly entitled ‘Route information’, which often includes a considerable amount of historical and other content. The hand-drawn maps are delightful and remind this reviewer of one published in RR a few years ago by another Scottish Borderer, the late Douglas McColm, of the Whitrope – Deadwater walk – a trail which is also included in this book. It is also pleasing to discover that the maps do actually include the places mentioned in the walk descriptions; not something that can be said of all such publications. Most of the walks are circular, with the option of taking the trackbed both ways, or using lanes and other paths for half the journey.

I think it only fair to say this is not a book for the enthusiast or ‘rail-trail gricer’ who wants railways, and nothing but railways. It is a mini-guidebook of Borders history, its monuments and its settlements, with a fair few forays into fancy and folklore, far from the world of trains. A little more information with regard to railway sites would however have been useful: the restored, yet private, Hassendean Station is a case in point.

Some small gripes…I found the paragraphing a little hard on the eye with no gap left between them, and some of the layout could be improved. There is also a fair bit of repetition which could have been edited out. The pictures are plentiful and useful, though inevitably therefore on the smaller side. Finally, I suppose it’s inevitable in a book written by a Scotsman that virtually all the Anglo-Scottish anecdotes relate to English defeats!

The Borders is one of this reviewer’s favourite regions, a somewhat neglected area, though all the quieter for that, and reasonably well endowed with disused railway relics. This book goes some way to putting it back on the map and the author is to be congratulated for that.

             Jonathan Dawson

‘Railway Paths & Byways: Scottish Borders’ is available from various sources including Ebay – click here