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Off track: New life for abandoned railways

by Nicky Gardner

Picture above: A former Great North of Scotland Railway carriage now serves as a restaurant at Grantown East — complete with pizza oven (photo © hidden europe).


The wholesale closure of railway lines in some parts of Europe in the 1960s and 1970s has created an unexpected legacy: a network of green corridors which act as havens for wildlife and plants. Many now serve as foot paths and cycle routes.

The Promenade plantée is a walk for any season. This 4.5 km long green corridor through the heart of Paris is a chance to see the French capital from another angle. It is in fact an old railway viaduct which has been repurposed as an elevated walkway through the city. And if you tire of the view of first-floor windows, you can drop down to street level and explore the many small workshops and galleries which flourish between the gracious brick arches of the viaduct. This wonderful piece of Parisian urban planning has been imitated the world over. New York’s High Line is a similar reengineering of obsolete rail infrastructure.

Abandoned railways can be good for landscapes, good for cities and good for pizza. Close to where we regularly stay in Scotland’s Strathspey region, there’s a handsome little railway station at Grantown East. No trains for many a year, but there’s a short remaining stretch of track with a couple of heritage carriages in a classic crimson-and-cream livery — a colour scheme often referred to as blood and custard. A stone pizza oven stands on the platform connected to one of the carriages which is now a restaurant. It’s a quirky use of old railway assets.

Abandoned railways really are a wonderful incentive to get out walking.

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