Take a 15½-mile journey north from Perth along the Highland Main Line and just as the A9 comes alongside the railway you will arrive at the first, and one of the remotest and most charming, stations along this magnificent route, Dunkeld & Birnam.
Despite noise from the nearby trunk road, this is a peaceful spot at which to spend a couple of hours on a sunny morning and to appreciate its fine listed station building, listed signal box and the handful of semaphore signals that are all in view from the station.
The 1856 station building is described in its listing citation as “an outstanding and well-detailed example of Scottish railway architecture by renowned architect, Andrew Heiton Junior.” It is one of three Grade A listed stations on the Highland Main Line, and is a single storey, seven-bay, near-symmetrical, multi-gabled design.
Dunkeld Signal Box is also listed, and is a refurbished McKenzie & Holland design for the Highland Railway, dating from 1919 and with a 23-lever frame. One other example of this box design survives, at Boat of Garten on the Strathspey Railway.
The box today controls a total of five semaphore arms, most notable of which is the tall up starting signal DK3 on a lattice post and close to the signal box. South of this is a bracket with junction arms DK21 for platform 2 (the loop) and DK22 for access to platform 1 (photo below).
43136/021 approach Dunkeld on 3 November 2020 with the 08.35 Edinburgh Waverley-Inverness (1H07) – this service does not stop at Dunkeld
At the north end of the station, DK20 stands on a tall post and controls exit from the loop (platform 2), while at the north end of the loop stands up home signal DK2. In addition to these, there are a couple of shunting discs controlling access to a siding on the east (up) side of the line south of the station.
43150/127 depart Dunkeld and pass DK3 on 3 November 2020 with the 08.45 Inverness-Glasgow Queen Street (1T98)
There is a marvellous vantage point for photography from the station footbridge, with the signal box and three semaphores all in view to the south, while looking north there is an almost surreal view in the early morning as low hanging cloud lingers across the wooded valley (bottom photo).
LNER Azuma 800111 approaches Dunkeld on 3 November 2020 with the up “Highland Chieftain” – 07.55 Inverness-London Kings Cross (1E13)
One notable feature of Dunkeld & Birnam are its low platforms, with a number of two-step yellow wooden boxes positioned along the platforms (pictured below) that might, if you are very lucky, line up with a train door – they are too heavy to move in a hurry and the station is unstaffed.
When I first alighted from a train here four years ago I suffered a nasty fall when there was no wooden box and I failed to realise how low the platform was!
For a break from the railway action, it is well worth taking a 300-yard walk down a path from the station called Birnam Glen that leads under the A9 and takes you down to the village of Birnam.
170411 passes Dunkeld Signal Box on 3 November 2020 with the 10.10 Glasgow Queen Street-Inverness (1H09)
Along with Dunkeld, a mile to the north, these two settlements were developed following opening of the railway between 1856 and 1863 and are regarded as fine examples of a mid-19th century Highland resort in a setting of great natural beauty.
While their futures as listed buildings remains secure, a big question mark hangs over the fate of the station, as long-planned widening of the A9 would bring the road right up to the station building, requiring a re-location of the station and consequential closure of the signal box.
Confirmation of the signal box’s uncertain future came when Pitlochry station, immediately north of Dunkeld, was re-signalled early last year and control of its new colour light signalling passed not to Dunkeld, but to the signal box at Stanley Junction, mid-way between Dunkeld and Perth.
Photo below shows 43150/127 arriving at Dunkeld & Birnam on 3 November 2020 with the 08.45 Inverness-Glasgow Queen Street (1T98)