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You're- building a pipeline" the man from Yorkshire said, back in 1982 as he walked across the shoreline. "No we're not, we're building a railway". he was told. "Rubbish!" he insisted. "You're building a pipeline". Actually we then admitted that we were building a haggis farm. The ditches we were excavating with the digger were to stop them escaping, as it is well known that they do not like crossing water. He seemed more at ease with this explanation and happily went on his way. As it happened, we were building a railway - but why?
In 1975 the owners of Torosay Castle decided to open the castle and its 12 acres of gardens to the public. The problem was how to get the visitors, the great majority of which did not bring their cars, the two miles from the ferry pier at Craignure. It was too far for the young and the not-so-young to walk and the road was narrower in those days and there was no chance of getting any bus through the gate and up the drive. So, however unlikely it seemed at the time, the best solution seemed to lie in constructing some form of narrow gauge railway. An added advantage would be that the railway would be an attraction in its own right. Sitting in 12 acres of ornamental gardens, Torosay Castle is a Victorian mansion built in 1858 by the Scottish architect David Bryce. It is very much a family home, with the upper floors still lived in. The main rooms open to the public contain cabinets of various mementos and china acquired over the years, including pictures of Winston Churchill who was a frequent visitor in his younger days. Unlike the case with most historic homes, photography is permitted in Torosay Castle - and you are allowed to sit on the furniture too!
This suggestion was put to the Estate in the Spring of 1975 and, it seems nothing changes, it was over nine years later, in June 1984, before the one and a quarter miles of railway was officially opened! It would appear that the building of railways, even little ones, is no easier now than it was 100 years ago. Planning was about the only thing that went relatively easily but there were objections from neighbouring owners, the usual red tape, the nature of the terrain and the question of funding, all of which would have seemed quite familiar to a railway company operating in Victorian times
One of the promoters of the railway had noticed a track along a possible alignment on the Ordnance Survey sheet that might get us part of the way and this was mentioned to the late David Guthrie James, the then owner and father of the present laird. He explained that Campbell of Fossil, the original builder of the castle, had commissioned David Bryce, a leading architect of his day and the greatest exponent of the Scottish Baronial Style, to demolish the existing house and to design what was initially called Duart House and is now known as Torosay Castle. The building was completed in 1858 and part of the grand plan was to construct a drive down to the old stone pier at Craignure that can still be seen opposite the campsite. Campbell of Fossil reckoned without the Kirk though because when lie reached his march (boundary) with the Kirk, they refused to allow him to cross the Glebe. Subsequently, the drive had slumbered away for over 140 years until we had spotted its course on the OS sheet. Not long after this incident with the Kirk the estate was sold and the Guthrie family became involved. Around 1945, through marriage, the James family then appeared un the scene. The full story is told in the illustrated guide to the Castle and Gardens.