Gretna – Rail Disaster and History Walk


Our walk started at the Famous Blacksmith Shop in Gretna Green, where marriages used to take place because of legislation which meant that English couples aged under 21 needed their parents’ consent to wed. So, where that permission wasn’t given, the young love turned up at the border of Scotland, handily Gretna Green, and got married here. The blacksmith was able to legally perform the marriage and so everyone, assuming other than the parents of the couple, were happy with the arrangement.


I was excited to discover that raspberries were growing wild, I’m more used to just seeing blackberries in hedgerows. The walk was a total of 8 miles in length and is in a figure of eight centred around Gretna Green, so it’s possible to just do half of the walk.


A memorial to the Quintinshill rail disaster which killed over 200 people, the worst ever to occur in the UK.


A little further along the walk there’s an information panel about the railway disaster as this point, with the rail line at the rear being where the accident took place. More on this in a separate post as it’s something I hadn’t really been aware of before.


The railway line plays an important part during the first section of the walk with numerous crossings under the track. What I think is an Avanti West Coast mainline train went over at a convenient time for this photo. It wasn’t overgrown at all and was quite a simple walk in technical terms.


Unfortunately, the main pub in the town didn’t open until the evening and it doesn’t serve food at any time. The Queen’s Head has been trading since 1760 and is relatively unchanged, with this being one of the pubs operated by the state between the First World War and 1971.


There’s the motorway in the background which added some brief noise to proceedings.


The motorway road sign welcoming people to Scotland.


The Old Toll Bar Cafe, noting that 10,000 marriages have been performed here since the building was opened in 1830. Originally a toll house for the new bridge, it meant that it was the first house that was reached in Scotland and was even nearer to the border than Gretna Green. In 2014, it was turned into a cafe and the historic marriage room is open to the public.


And the old road bridge which was constructed in 1830 that led to the building of the toll house.


There was a short piece of river walking which was pleasant, but notable was that this is the River Sark which is the border between England and Scotland.


After a quick lunch at the Spar, where I gorged on half price strawberries and a full price Feast ice cream, we proceeded on with the rest of the walk. There’s an information board near to this sculpture which explains that it is known as the ‘Gretna Girl’ memorial in honour of the local women who worked in the HM Factory Gretna. At its peak, there were 30,000 workers employed at the works and it was producing 1,100 tons of cordite per week, a dangerous and powerful explosive.


I felt the need to climb the steps to have a look at Gretna railway station.


Gretna’s old parish church, which was unfortunately closed so we couldn’t look in the interior. It did though have a beautiful and sizeable graveyard, more on which in a later post. The current church dates from the early nineteenth century, but was constructed on the site of an older building and the listed building record shows that there was likely a Saxon church here.


The town’s war memorial.

We were fortunate that the rain at the start of the walk died away relatively quickly, so we were faced with near perfect weather for the bulk of the expedition. It’s not a long walk, but it covers a variety of terrain and I hadn’t realised before about the scale of the rail crash that took place at Gretna Green. I was also surprised just how many people were at the Gretna Green visitor attraction, but how few left the confines of that site to visit Gretna itself. And there were no pubs open either, something which felt entirely sub-optimal to me.