Published: 9th October 2014
He’s more accustomed to looking into the future and predicting what the weather forecast holds for us, but in a new BBC Northern Ireland series, Barra Best travels into the past to explore our golden age of rail.
Before the era of the car and road network, the rail industry flourished with numerous private operators setting up their own lines connecting people with ports, towns and industry. Even historical monuments had their own dedicated halts with companies tailoring day trips and destinations for potential passengers.
In the new three-part series, Walk The Line, starting on Monday, October 13 on BBC One Northern Ireland, Barra takes viewers on a trip back in time to uncover some of the hidden history, the landscapes and people connected with our rail heritage.
The series explores some of Northern Ireland’s lost railways from County Down to Fermanagh. It reveals the motivation behind why they were built, how they revolutionised the local areas and what signalled the end of the line for so many routes. Barra meets some of the people who remember the railway in their areas and talks to local historians and enthusiasts and uncovers places where tracks once carried packed carriages. But now, there is often little evidence left of their existence.
In the first programme, Barra travels along, what was, the Belfast and County Down line. He begins his journey at Downpatrick and visits the railway museum there. He explains how the Victorians’ fascination with ancient history meant that a halt, or stop, was especially built at Ballynoe and how even then, the railway companies were quick to spot a business opportunity.
It’s on to Ballykinler where archaeologists have uncovered a network of forgotten training trenches used to prepare soldiers before they left for the Front in World War I. Passing Dundrum, Barra reaches the final destination on the line – Newcastle. He finds out that the railway company actually built one of its main hotels. But less well-known is that the Royal County Down Golf course also owes its existence to the railway. And he reveals how a battle between two giants of the railway industry at the time, over access to the town, transformed a once genteel place of recuperation and rest for the well-to-do, into a popular holiday resort. It also left regular passengers wondering why rail staff kept changing their uniforms.
Barra will be no stranger to viewers as one of BBC Northern Ireland’s weather presenters but Walk The Line is his first foray into presenting a TV series. Barra's challenge was to find out why so many people are still fascinated by the era of the steam train and why they lament the passing of the old railways. He wanted to explore the culture, history and people connected to this once mighty industry.
“When I set out on this journey I never expected to discover some the hidden treasures we did. For example, Ballynoe Stone Circle which is our very own version of Stonehenge right on our doorstep. I was also very surprised to learn that some well-known towns such as Newcastle or Bundoran, in County Donegal, wouldn’t exist as they do today without the railways.
“The great thing about this series is you don’t have to be an expert on railways to enjoy it. We bring viewers on a journey through our wonderful landscape and we share those forgotten treasures and stories connected to our railway heritage. And as a weather presenter, it also gave me the chance to get out and enjoy it and meet some great people along the way.”
In the second programme Barra takes a journey through Armagh, finding out how a local tragedy led to new rail safety rules and takes a walk through Ireland’s longest railway tunnel. The third and final programme goes to Fermanagh.
The three-part series, Walk The Line, starts on BBC One Northern Ireland on Monday, October 13 at 7.30pm.
Issued: Thursday, October 02 2014
For further information please contact Kevin McCauley in the BBC Northern Ireland Press Office, 028 9033 8000