HISTORY AND ACHIEVEMENTS
Railway Ramblers was formed in 1978 when Nigel Willis, the club's founder member, placed a small ad in The Railway Magazine asking if there were other individuals in the UK who were interested in accompanying him on walks along abandoned railways. The response was far greater than Nigel had expected – a big surprise, in fact – and, as a result, he decided to form a club: this is the result.
The club's main purpose is to bring together groups of like-minded people to explore old railways, but it has also done much to encourage the preservation of old railway lines as public footpaths and cycleways. As most railway enthusiasts know, Dr. Beeching and his successors axed about 8,000 miles of railways within the UK, but thanks to the efforts of local authorities and Sustrans (the charity behind the National Cycle Network), over 4,500 miles of this discarded network have been brought back into use as public walks and cycle trails. Happily, this mileage is increasing all the time.
Nowadays, the club has little opportunity to purchase old trackbeds since the 'political landscape' has changed immensely, and local authorities are usually offered first refusal on the freehold of a closed railway line. Most of them know exactly what to do next, and many have created some first rate multi-use trails as a result. However, the change of view of old railways – from useless wasteland to potential community resource – has meant that, for some years now, no trackbeds have come on to the market at rock-bottom prices for us to purchase.
As the possibilities for trackbed acquisition dried up, the club
began to look at other purposes to which its grants could be put. The
restoration of viaducts – the most iconic of all railway relics
– was an obvious choice. The first expression of this change was
a grant of £2,000 to the North Pennines Heritage Trust towards the
cost of repairing Alston Arches Viaduct actually in Haltwhistle,
Northumberland which was made safe for public access during 2006.
Since this project was funded by 'matched giving', our grant released
an equal amount from the Heritage Lottery Fund, which brought the effective
value of our gift up to £4,000. (Further details are available on
the 'News 2005' page.)
In the south of the country, the club supports The North Dorset Trailway, a project managed by Dorset County Council (in conjunction with North and East Dorset District Councils) which is slowly establishing a long distance multi-use path on the former Somerset & Dorset Railway from Stalbridge to Poole. Significant sections are open already with completion planned, hopefully, for 2020. The capital sums involved in this project are large, with over £200,000 having been spent in autumn 2006 on installing a new bridge over the River Stour at Fiddleford Mill; the original was removed for scrap shortly after the line closed. By today's standards, the sum of money realised for the original will have been pitiful, and it is easy to imagine that the scrap men will have argued successfully with BR that the material value of the bridge was diminished by the cost of getting to it, removing it and then cutting it up. (How times change ...)
In June 2008, following earlier donations of nearly £250 raised by the Southern Area, the club donated £2,500 to the North Dorset Trailway towards the cost of replacing a further missing bridge over the Stour, this time Hodmoor Bridge which crossed the river about a mile north west of the former halt at Stourpaine & Durweston. The total cost of the new structure was approximately £300,000, so this was a major piece of civil engineering. Clearance work started in February 2010, with the new bridge receiving its official opening on 7th November 2010 (click here for further details). Its opening created a continuous railway path between Sturminster Newton and the Stourpaine & Durweston area, with Blandford Forum as the next objective. (The link into Blandford is expected to open in early 2013.)
In summer 2011, the club provided a grant of £2,000 to Sustrans to support the development of its Ossett to Dewsbury Greenway, a route which includes some fine engineering features such as Headfield Viaduct and Earlsheaton Tunnel. Headfield Viaduct is a 14 arch masonry structure which includes a plate girder span over Sands Lane, plus two bowstring spans of 126 and 100 feet respectively over the River Calder – an impressive sight. Earlsheaton Tunnel is a 179 yard structure built on a long curve to accommodate double track: it was opened to the public on 16th January 2013, and pictures of the ceremony can be seen here. The club's £2,000 grant has been earmarked for a later phase of the project (Headfield Junction to Dewsbury Junction), which will extend the trail along the Great Northern trackbed towards Dewsbury Central station.
In May 2012, the club's AGM voted to provide a grant of £2,500 to support the conversion of Scotland's Connel Ferry to Ballachulish branch into a cycle trail, but within weeks the Scottish government changed all that by announcing that it had committed £102 million over the next 3 years (2012-15) for improving walking and cycling infrastructure within the country. The funds are split into £25 million p.a. for large scale projects, plus £9 million p.a. for local projects within the most heavily populated areas. This funding so eclipsed the modest grant that the club could make that the committee chose instead to make a pro tem grant of £495 to the Hincaster Trailway Group. This supported trackbed clearance and surfacing work on the former Furness Railway's branch line from Hincaster Junction to Arnside, and helped to provide a one kilometre extension to the existing trail, built to an all-weather standard which allows use by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and users of mobility scooters.
Currently, the club is making plans to support a railway path project in Wales, where – as at Hincaster – our grant will be used to finance re-surfacing work, etc. Some of the country's rail trails have proved so popular that they are getting worn out and require remedial work in order to support the number of people who are now using them. We are not the first organisation to have made the following remark, but this is a 'nice problem to have'!
Fortunately, the days
are gone when old railways were simply sold off to the highest bidder
and broken up piecemeal ... but there are still thousands of miles of
old trackbed waiting for a new purpose in life. Each new route encourages
healthier travel choices, helps to combat rising obesity levels, and has
the potential to reduce the number of accidents involving walkers and
cyclists on our roads. If you can, spare a few moments to read this
article and notice how many cyclists killed on our roads in 2012 were
children. There's no use for old railways? No demand for rail trails?
We don't think so ...
Another project that may receive our support in future is the Sustrans-backed railway path from Maiden Newton to Bridport, which is progressing steadily under the stewardship of a keen local ranger, with enthusiastic support from the village communities along the route. This trail needs money to help purchase materials for surface improvements since a new main to Bridport was laid under the trackbed in the early 1990s, churning up much of the railway's sub-structure. As a result, the surface is a mire of clay during the winter months. Currently, much of the route is open to walkers on a permissive basis, although it is not waymarked and one needs a knowledgeable guide to string all the bits together without getting lost. However, this project offers the chance of re-using much of Dorset's most attractive branch line, and opening up to walkers and cyclists a remote and beautiful part of this lovely county. It is a bonus that the new trail is in a popular area for holidays, close to Weymouth, Dorchester and the Jurassic Coast.
include providing support for the extension of the Cheddar
Railway Path from Cheddar to Wells, or the creation of a trail along
of the former West Somerset Mineral Railway, although Exmoor National
Park has taken the lead with this and set up a local
project to promote
and interpret the railway remains. (For further details, see the 2004
and 2005 News pages.) However, as
will strive to ensure that its support for railway path projects
is spread widely around the country. Other major projects that are
currently in progress – all with significant input from Sustrans – include The
Great Northern Railway Trail (Queensbury to Cullingworth,
Wharfedale Trail (specifically the Bolton Abbey to Addingham section,
Yorkshire) and The Great Northern Greenway (Breadsall to Ilkeston,
Derbyshire). In Scotland, a Banffshire Way has been suggested but,
at the moment, this is no more than an idea without the endorsement
of the local authority. The promoter is local resident
would welcome support for the scheme.