Looking Back and Looking forward.

This story and poem were written to commission by The Feral Choir and ‘performed’ in 2002


Rupert Brooke and a long lost love.

New Galloway Station. Where would I find it? Not in New Galloway.

Go to a place where you would think it least likely that a railway station would be. In the middle of nowhere. The middle of the country. A little hamlet, not even a village, nestling beside Loch Ken. One shop and a post office kind of place. A sunny day. You’re the only strangers. Like some kind of western adventure – High Plains Drifter, if High Plains Drifter were set in Galloway.

New Galloway Station. Where did I first hear of it? This station that never was. This Brigadoon of stations? A passing reference. A mystery leading on to other mysteries in that never-ending, chaotic journey called “research”. Rupert Brooke. So much more than a war poet. A man in love. A man obsessed with railways it seems. But only because they allowed him to, or thwarted him from, meetings with the girl he loved. Noel. Cruel Noel. Noel who never loved him. Who never met him at stations, even when she wrote to say she would. I would have met him at a station if he’d asked me. I will go to the station. I will make the assignation Noel couldn’t be bothered to attend.

Reading Rupert Brooke’s letters I came across his trip to Scotland – September 1912. Moffat on Monday 2nd. Sanquhar on Thursday 5th. Desperate letters written out – begging Noel to come camping with him, to sort things out, to prove she loved him when she claimed she didn’t. And in the midst of it all “Monday morning will find me at The Post Office, New Galloway. Some stuff about trains and stations – and I am hooked. Reading the letters between the lines. Looking at maps and finding that New Galloway Station always stayed four miles south of New Galloway – in Mossdale.

Mossdale, not big enough to bear the name of the station? Mossdale a name from an earlier age – Covenanter history not Victoriana.

So Monday morning finds us at the Post Office in Mossdale. Is it the same place? Did Rupert stand here? Into the post office. A man who in certainty we know not to be the one who served Rupert- not the one who told him that Noel hadn’t written – is helpful in the extreme to my question Where was  the railway line?

You wouldn’t know. Not from the road. There’s nothing there any more. It ran for a hundred years and in a mere forty it’s vanished. Unless you know what you are looking for. And I don’t know what I am looking for. Just who.

He answers, taking me outside and pointing “the road tends to widen down there, you can park the car. Go right. There’s nothing to the left. Have a nice walk.”

We park. The station house looks nothing like a station house. Would we have expected anything else? We go right, unconvinced. A straight path cutting through countryside, which once you know what it is you can clearly see was a railway line.

Me and the boys. A western adventure. Four sets of legs and several tails, all excited for our own reasons ranging from the mystery of Rupert Brooke to the mystery of rabbits. But really, there’s nothing there you wouldn’t find on any countryside walk – in a straight line. We are not disappointed. We are adventurers into the past.

We go left. Always the wiser choice. And it pays off soon enough. The ruins of the platform. We clamber on. Stand there, admiring the view. Looking as Rupert may have looked. Standing where Rupert may have stood. Waiting for a train as hopelessly as Rupert waited then. Waiting for Rupert. Waiting with Rupert.  A matter of prepositions.

We entertain ourselves telling train jokes. Reminiscing childhood phonecalls to random numbers “Get off the line there’s a train coming” And ponder on the meanings of “trainspotting.” And quote, where we remember, a line or two of poetry.

We feel successful. We can’t say we really sense the past as present but we feel something. We are here. For the moment here is all that matters. When you journey into the past it is better to travel hopefully after all. We don’t meet Rupert. We know we never could. But we kept an assignation. Which is more than Noel ever did.


The day the railway came to New Galloway.


Lord Dalrymple

Sir William Dunbar

The men who thought of the railway.

Thomas Nelson

Mr McNaughton

J.E. McConnell

The men who built the railway





The men who worked on the railway.


And countless Paddy’s who built the Paddy line.


W.H.Maxwell of Munches

The man who welcomed the train to Castle Douglas

And led the procession down the High Street

To the Douglas Arms Hotel on

Monday April 11th 1861.

The day the train came.


The first journey.

A special train for directors and shareholders.

Leaving Stranraer at nine a.m.

Stopping Glenluce,

Newton Stewart and

New Galloway.

Arriving Castle Douglas – dead on time –

Without mishap –

at eleven thirty precisely.

As precise as you could be on time in 1861

The railways brought precision to time.


Time changed when the railways came.

Life changed when the railways came.

Lives were lost when the railways came.

Among the countless Paddy’s who built the Paddy line.


After lunch at the Douglas Arms,  time to return.

Leaving Castle Douglas at one p.m precisely

Leaving the cheering crowds behind.

Surging through the countryside

Over the Loch Ken viaduct –

Five hundred feet long

Over water three hundred feet wide

And thirty six feet deep.

Three main bowstring girder spans

Supported by stone piers.

On each bank two stone pillars.

Not yet the scene of a crash –

Looking forward

Driving forward

A timetable to stick to.

Newton Stewart at two p.m

Stop for dinner

A three hour stop.

Sixty “gentlemen” at the assembly hall

Dining for three hours.

Congratulating themselves

And all the Paddy’s who built the Paddy line.


Five p.m precisely, left Newton Stewart Station

Leaving the cheering crowds behind.

Stopping briefly at Kirkcowan

Once more at Glenluce

And home to Stranraer before six p.m.

Journey’s end.


Until tomorrow. When public service begins.

And all the Paddy’s who built the Paddy line

And all the locals who lived their lives

In the sight of the railway

Looked to the future

And boarded the train.


As I recall, the brief was to take two time periods in the same place and compare them.

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