The plaque unveiled by Queen Elizabeth II last year to mark the opening of the Borders Railway is now back at Tweedbank train station and taking pride of place in a new stone sculpture.
The plaque was taken away after being given its official unveiling by the Queen, on the same day that she became Britain’s longest-serving monarch ever, accompanied by her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, but now, 14 months on, it is finally back where it belongs.
The lord-lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale, Gerald Maitland-Carew, did the honours this time round, last Friday, along with the stone setting’s sculptor, Berwickshire artist Michelle de Bruin.
The two-metre-high slab of sandstone, weighing more than 750kg was supplied by Fishwick firm Hutton Stone.
It took Ms de Bruin 200 hours to complete the sculpture, helped by apprentices Josephine Crossland and Luke Batchelor.
The Queen opened the Edinburgh-Tweedbank railway on September 9 last year, and more than a million passengers have used it since.
The opening of the 30-mile line followed almost 50 years of campaigning, launched prior to the closure of its predecessor, the Waverley Route from Edinburgh to Carlisle in Cumbria, in 1969 and still going on now in the hope of seeing that link to Hawick and England restored.
Tweeddale East councillor Graham Garvie, convener of Scottish Borders Council, said: “With the line officially opened by the Queen at Tweedbank on the same day she became Britain’s longest-reigning monarch, it was felt that a permanent tribute was required to mark this significant moment in British history, as well as the achievements of local campaigners.
“After a series of options were carefully considered, the idea of a commemorative stone, located on the spot where the Queen declared the line open, was taken forward.
“I am sure that this beautiful artwork will become a focal point of Tweedbank station for Borderers and visitors to enjoy for years to come.
“It is particularly appropriate that the unveiling was carried out by Gerald Maitland-Carew, lord-lieutenant of Roxburgh, Ettrick and Lauderdale, as he was instrumental in arranging for the Queen to open the Borders Railway line on such a historic day.”
Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker, leader of the council, said: “The opening of the Borders Railway was one of the most momentous events in the history of our region.
“The £350m project was the longest new domestic railway to be constructed in Britain for over 100 years and brought trains back to the Borders for the first time in 46 years.
“The opening of the line followed a campaign which was a triumph of a community working together to ensure that a dream which many thought was impossible could become a reality, and I am delighted their work will be permanently recognised by this commemorative stone.”
Ms de Bruin said: “The building of the Borders Railway is a rare achievement in our day and age.
“I was honoured to be asked to undertake this commemorative project, and I hope that people will feel that the final design reflects the importance of the event.”
Phil Verster, managing director of the ScotRail Alliance, said: “The Borders Railway is firmly lodged in the hearts of communities who live, work and play along the length of the line – and far beyond.
“This superb sculpture is a visible testament to its early success, and I am confident that our plans to add more carriages onto the route from 2018 will bring additional economic and social benefits.”
The Queen, 90, has been on the throne since February 1952, surpassing Queen Victoria’s reign of 63 years and 216 days last September.
VisitScotland regional director Doug Wilson added: “The Borders Railway has provided a huge boost for Scottish tourism and has helped to shine a spotlight on the Scottish Borders, Midlothian and Edinburgh.
“It is thanks to the efforts of local campaigners that it is now easier than ever before for visitors to explore the wealth of attractions on offer in the regions.
“It is fitting that the momentous reopening of the historic route by the Queen on the same day she became Britain’s longest-serving monarch is commemorated in this way, and the locally-sourced and crafted sculpture will prove an added draw for visitors to the railway line.”