Big opportunity on the small screen

This article has been published as a supplementary feature in conjunction with Campaign for Borders Rail’s Newsletter 62. To receive the full newsletter, please subscribe to become a member of the Campaign – details at

Back in the days before shaking hands became life-threateningly foolhardy, Simon Walton met Rob Bell, for a special edition of Britain’s Lost Railways. TV’s Mr Enthusiastic may be the persona he plays up, but proper professional broadcaster is what’s going on behind that boyish, ever-present smile, says the Campaign chair.

It’s no coincidence that several locations from the Borders feature in the opening titles for the whole series. Sweeping landscapes; aerial footage of Melrose; the restored Hassendean station, and even a still from Stobs in the production company publicity. Is it any wonder that the Channel Five schedulers saved the best until last.

Yet, holding my own when it came to toothy grins, I merrily sent Rob on his way, to walk the remaining sixty-odd miles of the line. Clever editing kept the two production Range Rovers out of shot, apparently.

Novel Competition

Before getting on my own way, I just had time to enter that Channel Five competition, the one they’ve been running to promote the Borders in every ad-break over the entire six-part series. A luxury visit to Edinburgh and the Borders, including a trip on the Borders Railway and a private dining opportunity at Abbotsford. All that’s missing from that is for Walter Scott himself to pour the tea.

What’s engaged me most about the series, is that it’s not just about railways. Far from it, and I think the Borders edition played that hand most effectively. There is just so much with which to engage, and I didn’t envy the producers in making their choices. There were bound to be some left out on the cutting room floor. Sadly, no room for rugby, reivers nor common ridings, but step forward so much more besides. Walter Scott, Stobs Camp, Tweed river, and tweed cloth, all made the final cut, and so much more besides. Yet, tying it all together, that steel thread of the Waverley Route, the lost railway in question.

Showcase the Borders

For a whole new audience, the very essence of what the Campaign strives to achieve was brought out in a whole new context. How many times did ‘railway’ make it into the script? It’s into triple figures. Yet, cut the overtly trackside elements from the show, and you’d still have a lengthy diorama of the Borders.

Rumpus Media, who made the programme, have done as much to showcase the Borders on the back of this Channel Five series as we have ourselves.  Anticipation from you, our members, and supporters all over the world, has made this far and away our most popular discussion points of the year. More than 10,000 visitors to our social media channels, and still counting.

Lost no more

Rob Bell made a really telling pay-off, when he did his closing piece to camera, down at Carlisle Citadel station. His remarks were not prompted by the Campaign, but I think that, having seen first hand the passion for the line, and the passion for Borders life, that he was in no doubt that what we’ve started we must finish. Like the man himself, as I waved Rob on his way from Tweedbank, it’s onward to Hawick and Carlisle.

You can still catch the show, online at My5, the Channel Five catch-up service. It’s there for the next three years at least. Now, who’s to say that by then, Rob’s words won’t have come true, and the Waverley Route will be a lost railway no more.

Endnote: Nostalgia while looking to the future

Campaign chair Simon Walton thanked everyone involved in our recent national television exposure, Britain’s Lost Railways on Channel Five in the UK. He says while looking back, everyone was looking forward too. “There is a vast legacy of pride in the Borders, and that pride is epitomised in the Waverley Route and all it stands for.” 

Presenter Rob Bell met real Borders ambassadors every step of the way, from Edinburgh to Carlisle. “The producers took a real interest,” said Simon. “Campaigners played a real part in making the programme the best viewed of the series.” The producers said how much everyone on the team appreciated the generous support of everyone they’d met. 

Simon was however critical of statutory bodies, who hadn’t taken advantage of the same opportunity. “I would have hoped for more from those employed to promote the very best of Scotland, and the very best of the Borders. A free hour of dedicated national television does not come around very often,” he said.