Glorious Glenwhilly

Scotland’s remotest signal box stands at a place called Glenwhilly, roughly halfway between the resort town of Girvan on the Ayrshire coast and the end of the line at Stranraer, a once bustling port that seems to be suffering badly from the loss of its ferry business to Cairnryan on the opposite shore of Loch Ryan.

Glenwhilly had a station until September 1965 though it’s hard to figure out where its passengers would have come from. There were once a couple of houses at the station and there are odd houses dotted about the wild terrain, but that is about it. Today, however, Glenwhilly remains one of three passing places on the delightful 40-mile trip south from Girvan, where drivers will exchange the unique Tyer’s Tablet for the section from Barrhill for one to Dunragit, another former station, a few miles east of Stranraer.

Nature is very important to the signallers at Glenwhilly. Using a pair of binoculars kept in the box, it is possible to see the distinctive orange-billed oystercatcher that is sitting on a nest which she and her mate have built on the ballast between the two running lines of the passing loop. The oystercatchers are long-time residents at Glenwhilly and although the mother flies off every time a train passes, she soon returns to sit on her three eggs.

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Not only is Girvan-Stranraer the last place on Britain’s railway network to control trains using Tyer’s Tablet, but the box can also boast another distinction. Signal GW1, situated almost a mile north of the box, but visible from the single track road which follows the line (pictured above), is reputedly the last working distant semaphore signal in Scotland.

Unlike Scotland’s better known scenic routes – the North and West Highland lines – the Stranraer line did not lose its signal boxes to the new technology of Radio Electronic Token Block (RETB) during the 1980s, and remains a charming quirk of signalling history. How much longer it survives remains a matter of speculation, but plans by Network Rail indicate that Barrhill may by resignalled in 2019, suggesting that time could soon be up for Glenwhilly.

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