Bonny Blair Atholl

Spending a weekend at Pitlochry meant the chance for a Saturday (5 June 2021) visit to delightful Blair Atholl, one of the remotest stations on the Highland Main Line, and one of the route’s remaining outposts of mechanical signalling.

Blair Atholl’s attractive 1890-vintage McKenzie & Holland signal box stands just south of the station and level crossing and controls the end of a single track section of line from Pitlochry that becomes double track northwards to Dalwhinnie. 

There are four semaphores worked from the box’s 17-lever frame, with those in the down (northbound) direction being home signal BA17 on a lattice post south of a short viaduct carrying the single line over the River Tilt (seen below) and starter/section signal BA16 some way north of the station platforms.

43132/124 depart Blair Atholl with 1T98 from Inverness to Glasgow QS

In the up (southbound) direction, a motor-worked outer home signal BA6 stands to the north of BA16, while pick of the bunch is up home signal BA7, a lattice post and bracket, which stands at the end of platform 1 and immediately north of the level crossing.

43032/136 pass BA16 with 1H05 from Glasgow Queen Street (07.07) to Inverness

Passenger services though Blair Atholl – many of which don’t stop – comprise services to and from Inverness originating at either Edinburgh Waverley or Glasgow Queen Street and formed of either Class 158/170 units or HST Inter7City 2+4 units, along with the daily Caledonian Sleeper and an LNER Class 800 Azuma unit on the Inverness-King’s Cross Highland Chieftain.

LNER 800112 passes Blair Atholl with the up “Highland Chieftain” (1E13)

Photographing passing trains is very straightforward, with great vantage points from the down platform (2) looking north towards BA16 and looking south towards BA7. Down starter BA16 can also be photographed at close quarters by taking a walk away from the town along the B4079 for about 300 yards as it runs parallel to the railway, as seen below.

 170429 approaches BA16 with 1H09 from Glasgow QS (10.07) to Inverness

There are some great shots to be had too from the station footbridge towards the Tilt Viaduct, while to see a northbound service passing BA17 it is well worth taking a 15-minute walk through the town, over a bridge across the River Tilt then a right turn down Invertilt Road towards Blair Atholl Golf Club.

Here there is a great view looking north from an over-bridge next to a parking area towards the signal and bridge, as seen above, where 43028/183 pass signal BA17 with 1H07 from Edinburgh W. (08.32) to Inverness.

43036/168 approach Blair Atholl with 1H51 from Glasgow QS (12.08) to Inverness

Paying a return to Blair Atholl on Saturday, 5 June 2021, my first visit since October 2016, it was disappointing to see how encroaching vegetation means that down starter BA16 can only be partially seen from the north end of platform 1 and up home BA6 has disappeared completely.

But on a sunny day it was great to have the chance to pay a return visit to the Atholl Arms Hotel, adjacent to the station, and sample local Moulin beers from nearby Pitlochry, while it was also good to see that Blair Atholl station was a location to feature in one happy couple’s Wedding Day album!

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