‘This train is for Edinburgh Waverley. This train will call at Croy, Falkirk High…’
I hear this refrain with considerable regularity, the voice of Fletcher Mathers relayed across the Scotrail service I’ve just boarded bound for the capital. Waverley is the main railway station in Edinburgh, sitting in Princes Street Gardens in the shadow of the Castle and much of the city centre sitting high above. At the end of the platforms facing towards Glasgow, you can see Princes Street, the National Gallery and the Bank of Scotland offices. If heading south, you get a view of Governor’s House, the last remaining part of the old Calton Jail that once sat where St. Andrew’s House, the Scottish Government premises, are now. Governor’s House isn’t visible from Regent Road – it is the tower that sits on a rock, pretty much only visible from the eastern end of Waverley Station. An underrated perspective you get from Waverley is when you step onto Market Street. Facing you is the old Scotsman building, now a luxury hotel. The printing presses would have been juddering to life and producing the public prints just across from the station.
The first glimpse of the capital that many get on leaving Waverley is walking up Waverley Steps towards Princes Street. Many folk of course take the escalator that was recently installed when the station was tarted up. The Steps were covered over since the top was the windiest place in Edinburgh, the product of walking up from a valley onto a busy, bustling city street. At the top of Waverley Steps, look left then right. Left you get a glimpse of Edinburgh Castle high up on its rock and Princes Street stretching out with buses, trams and all else; right you get Register House, Leith Street and up to Calton Hill, the Nelson Monument and the folly. There is also the Balmoral Hotel just right there.
I have spent a lot of time in Waverley in my life. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from when I was a kid. I was diagnosed as being autistic when I was 6. It required several trips to the Royal Hospital for Sick Children (otherwise known as the Sick Kids) in Edinburgh. On one of them we were standing at the door of an intercity train when we were delayed because one of the roof tiles had smashed above us. I have memories of when my school class used to go to the outdoor education centre in Linlithgow and walking up the platform for the train, looked after by one of the older girls in the class. We also went on a magical mystery tour to Dunfermline, which I think I’ve written about here before, and came to Waverley the week before to sort the tickets.
As a day tripper, Waverley soon became even more familiar as most Saturdays, then most weeks, I darted from a (normally late) train from Dunbar across the station to a train some place else. When I started going to the football again, the spirited walks from Easter Road to Waverley in time for the train started too, this time late at night to catch the last train I could get for my connection back in Glasgow. Scotrail, naturally, put on engineering works later at night on that line last year meaning that the last train I could get back to Glasgow was not only 10 minutes earlier but went via Bathgate and Airdrie, taking longer.
The quickest, though not always the easiest, way to get from Dunbar to Edinburgh was by train. Trains were infrequent, mostly every two hours in both directions, though of course the last year or so I lived down there saw Scotrail introduce a more regular service. The last train to Dunbar on a Saturday night from the capital used to be 7pm. It is now about 10pm, I believe, though for many years, my day trips usually had to be curtailed by 7 so I could catch the last train home, an intercity train invariably full of folk heading for hen or stag dos in Newcastle. Or home from hen or stag dos in Edinburgh. Either way there were loads of drunken Geordies. Nice.
Regardless how often I’m there, arriving into Waverley gives me a great thrill every time. It’s a combination of being in a dear, familiar place, the hustle and bustle, the brightness from the glass roof and just the spirit of adventure even if my reasons for being there are prosaic and dull. The appeal continues even while I sometimes grate my teeth at the ‘Heart of Midlothian’ emblems that appear within the station. Waverley is one of very few railway stations named after a novel and to be fair they have acknowledged it well with loads of Walter Scott quotes, hence the hearts. The quotes are great, the endorsement of Ian Cathro’s mob really isnae. I think Network Rail has realised this and some of the station’s signs are now green, just to sate those of us on the side of the angels.
Edinburgh is the city I was born in so I have a special relationship with the place, even while I call Glasgow, its great rival, home and contentedly so. Undoubtedly the best way to enter our capital is by train, so you can walk up Waverley Steps and hit Princes Street, even if you might want to be off it pretty rapidly. Any station named after a novel is fine with me, especially one where you can go pretty much anywhere in the country with not much difficulty and definitely one which shows off its city to its best effect from whatever angle.