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Above: A small viaduct on the LNWR's former Heads of the Valley line crosses a gully in the Clydach Gorge, seen here in October 2008. The terrain that the railway builders were up against here could hardly have been more demanding. Between Llanfoist, just west of Abergavenny, and Brynmawr, this old line now forms part of a very dramatic 8 mile railway path. This is yet another of those routes that gives the lie to the idea that 'railway walks are all flat and boring'! (Tim Hewett)

December 2009. Great British Railway Journeys. To celebrate Bradshaw's railway timetables, Michael Portillo will be embarking on one journey a week spread over five nights each week. This new series of programmes on BBC2 starts on January 4 and goes out at 6.30 p.m. As they say, this is 'nice work if you can get it' – but it does seem a little odd to be celebrating something that no longer exists and which, following its revival by British Rail, was finally killed off by Internet competition. (Ralph Rawlinson)

December 2009. Tavistock to Plymouth, Devon. Work on the new 'Drake's Trail' continues apace in Devon, with a £3.4 million viaduct over the River Walkham at Grenofen receiving planning consent from Dartmoor National Park Authority earlier this month. The new viaduct, to be known as 'Gem Bridge', will replace the original railway viaduct, which was demolished after the line closed. It is hoped that work on constructing the viaduct will start in September 2010. Click here for further details. (Jonathan Aston)

December 2009. Sandford and Banwell Station, Somerset. This station on the popular Cheddar Valley Railway Walk used to be home to a firm of stonemasons until the economic downturn put them out of business. Sheltered housing has now been constructed in the station yard, but the company behind this re-development, St. Monica, has restored the station buildings and platform, relaid track and installed a pair of wagons that used to carry stone traffic on the branch. The intention, as reported previously, is to convert the station into a museum commemorating the area's local railway; it will be opened to the public at Whitsun next year. (Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society)

December 2009. Glastonbury and Street to Wells, Somerset. Mendip District Council has just passed a planning application for housing which includes construction of a cycle trail on part of the Somerset & Dorset Railway's former branch from Glastonbury to Wells. This line was an early victim of railway economies, closing as long ago as October 1951. (Cheddar Valley District Council)

December 2009. Miller's Dale to Bakewell, Derbyshire. Many readers will recognise this as part of The Monsal Trail, which featured recently in an episode of the BBC's 'Railway Walks' series. At the end of last month, the Peak District National Park Authority announced that the four closed tunnels on this old line, one necessitating a rather difficult detour along the River Wye, are to be opened up for use by walkers, cyclists and horse rider. The project will cost £3.785 million, with work starting early next year. Further details are available here on the BBC website. (Dave White)

November 2009. Derby to Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Sustrans is converting the 7½ miles of Great Northern trackbed between Breadsall and Ilkeston into a cycle trail to be known as The Great Northern Greenway (NCN672). The first section, between Breadsall and Lime Lane (the site of Morley Tunnel) was opened officially on 22 November 2009. We understand that the route is signed from The Paddock public house in Derby, but the trackbed within the Derby conurbation has been re-developed and so the Derby-Breadsall section runs alongside local roads. It has been hinted that the impressive Bennerley Viaduct, to the east of Ilkeston, might one day be included in the scheme. Update: We have now received further details about this project, which can be read by clicking the link here. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Above: Railway enthusiasts of a certain age will see this badge and think immediately of 'British Railways' or 'British Rail'. However, this BR was the Bridport Railway, which in March 1884 opened its extension from Bridport to West Bay. The canopy seen here is at West Bay station, which has now been restored and in 2009 was in use as a tea room – a handy facility for anyone exploring this scenic line. The trackbed from here to the southern end of Bridport, near Palmer's Brewery, is now a cycle trail, while progress is being made on converting the rest of the branch from Maiden Newton into a cycle trail; see the story below for further details. 21 February 2009. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2009. Maiden Newton to Bridport, Dorset. Early progress on the project to convert this scenic GWR branch line into a 'rail trail' is promising, with recent donations and grants totalling £5,500. These will enable a start to be made on the first section of constructed path, from Toller Porcourm to Powerstock Common. Click here to read a copy of the project's latest newsletter. (Peter Henshaw)

November 2009. Coelbren to Ystalyfera, West Glamorgan. It is planned to convert all except the first half mile of the 6¾ mile Neath & Brecon Railway's Ynisgeinon Junction to Colbren Junction line into a cycle trail. The route will be be known as the 'Tawe Uchaf Trail', and a 2½ mile section between the A4221 at Coelbren and Penrhos, near Ystradgynlais, was opened in June this year; it is shown already on Sustrans' on-line mapping service (click here for an example). Note the spelling discrepancies: the railway used Ynys-y-Geinon and Colbren, whereas recent OS maps use Ynisgeinon and Coelbren.

Sustrans proposes also to create a cycle trail on a further section of N&BR trackbed from the east side of Coelbren to Cray Reservoir on the A4067 Swansea-Sennybridge Road, offering another 5¼ miles of off-road cycling. The section at the north, i.e. reservoir, end can be walked already thanks to the trackbed here being a permissive footpath. (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)

November 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. The bid to overturn plans for a £20m plan bus route on the former Fareham to Gosport line has been thrown out by the High Court. Following a two-day hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice in London last month, Judge Neil Bidder QC announced on 17th November that he would not scrap the planning permission for the new bus scheme. The Hampshire County Council legal team's claim that there would not be a 'significant degree of disturbance' to animals along the corridor was clearly upheld by the judge. Gerard Lidgey, spokesman for the Bus Rapid Transport Action Group, expressed disappointment at the decision but was not surprised. A spokesman for HCC stated that the council will press ahead with the scheme with the aim of completing it by March 2011. (Chris Bushell)

November 2009. High Marnham to Skellingthorpe, Nottinghamshire/Lincolnshire. There is currently a railway path of 4 miles from Harby to east of Skellingthorpe, near Lincoln, which is based on the former Great Central line from Clipstone Junction to Lincoln; this now forms part of NCN64. This month, contractors working for Nottinghamshire CC were encountered west of Harby, where they were extending the trail a further 5 miles back to High Marnham. It looks as if the extension will take the trail over Fledborough Viaduct, which in these parts offers a very rare crossing of the River Trent. (Bob Hipgrave and Jeff Vinter)

November 2009. Shillingstone to Stourpaine & Durweston, Dorset. We have just received news, uncorroborated so far, that a new bridge is to be installed just south of Gains Cross over the River Stour, replacing the previous bridge which was removed after closure of the famous Somerset & Dorset Railway. This will allow the current section of trailway (which starts at Sturminster Newton) to be continued southwards towards Blandford Forum. Further details will be published when available. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: This bridge at Brewers Lane, near Bedenham Sidings on the former Gosport branch, is the finest on the line and has been identified by Hampshire County Council as a structure that needs to be conserved when – or if – its rapid transit bus service is introduced here. As revealed in the report below, the future of this bus scheme is looking precarious. Note that the above photograph was taken on a club walk over the line, arranged officially with Hampshire County Council; there is no right of way here. 6 June 2009. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. Our correspondent has been monitoring the local paper for progress on this route, which in September came to a halt when a local resident served a court injunction on Hampshire County Council for alleged failings in its provision for local wildlife – since when the headline 'Badger Wars' has appeared regularly in print. Another twist in the saga came at the end of October, when it was reported that some residents were trying to get the area around Tichborne Way re-classified as a village green. (Tichborne Way is a road that crosses the old railway by the former Bedenham Sidings.) The locals claim that, if the area has been used by the local community for a period of 20 years or more, it can be re-classified as a village green and hence cannot be used as a bus route. We have no idea whether or not this is correct in law, but it suggests that locals realise that, by continually delaying the start of the scheme, they may force HCC to abandon it since completion by March 2011 (the qualification date for £20m of government grant) will be impossible to meet. Do the objections arise out of a genuine concern for local badgers, bats and putative village greens? Draw your own conclusion. If the council has to abandon the busway (which was not of the expensive 'guided bus' variety), it will be left with an unused asset that could be used to extend the Gosport-Fort Brockhurst cycle trail into Fareham; but whether the construction of that would have more success is anyone's guess at the moment. (Chris Bushell and Jeff Vinter)

October 2009. News from Sustrans. Sustrans has just published its latest editions of 'The Hub' (both national and south eastern), from which the following snippets have been gleaned:

  • Thame to Towersey, Oxfordshire. The surface on this section of the Phoenix Trail has been renewed.
  • Winchester to Hockley, Hampshire. With the support of local groups including the local authority, the company is about to develop the next section of NCN23 (Reading to Southampton), which will re-use 'the disused railway line and the famous viaduct at Hockley'.
  • Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. The company is awaiting a final decision on its planning application for the Crab and Winkle line extension and expects a decision to be made before the end of this month. The extension is the section through Whitstable, which involves the installation of replacement and entirely new bridges.
  • South Wales. The national edition of 'The Hub' includes details of the £6.7 million scheme to create more railway paths in the South Wales valleys, as reported below.

October 2009. Tralee to Fenit, County Kerry. Kerry County Council has obtained a licence agreement from CIÉ, owner of the 8½ mile long former Irish standard gauge (5ft 3ins) Fenit branch, to turn it into a dedicated walkway and cycleway directly from the heart of Tralee to the deep water port of Fenit. The Council is convinced that with views of Tralee Bay and the Slieve Mish mountains the cycle path will boost tourism and provide an important local amenity. (Ralph Rawlinson)

October 2009. Newton (nr. Chester) to Mickle Trafford, Cheshire. Until recently, the easternmost two miles of the former Mickle Trafford Loop Line had not been converted into part of the railway path between Chester, Hawarden Bridge and Connah's Quay. However, on Sunday 25 October, an extension over this section was opened officially. The extended trail includes a new pedestrian bridge over the Chester to Manchester railway line, as well as a series of local links and access points which will provide residents of Mickle Trafford and Guilden Sutton with a traffic-free route into Chester city centre. (Tim Grose)

October 2009. South Wales. £7.6 million is to be invested to finish a £16 million project producing 100 miles of new walking and cycling routes for the Valleys Cycle Network. Following former railways and tramways, the scheme will link existing routes in Swansea, Llynfi, Taff, Ely and Ebbw Valleys and will improve cycle access for areas including Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypridd, Llantrisant and Pontypool. When complete, the scheme will bring the National Cycle Network within two miles of an extra 636,000 people. For full details, click here. (Ralph Rawlinson)

October 2009. Edinburgh Canal Street to Granton, Lothian. Rodney Street Tunnel (also known as Heriot Hill Tunnel) re-opened earlier this year as part of a cyclepath – one of many in the Edinburgh conurbation. (Ralph Rawlinson)

October 2009. Hunts Cross to Aintree, Merseyside. This part of the Cheshire Lines Committee system closed in 1972, and 16 years later work began on converting it into a cycleway known as the 'Liverpool Loop Line', now part of the Trans-Pennine Trail. However, in recent years, gangs had taken over the pathway making it a 'no-go zone', but the good news is that police patrols introduced since May have drastically reduced burglaries and hooded youths have been driven away. (Ralph Rawlinson)

October 2009. Chepstow to Tintern, Gloucestershire. Later this year, Sustrans will be seeking planning approval for its 'Connect2' proposal to convert the 4¼ mile Chepstow-Tintern section of the Chepstow-Monmouth line into a cycleway; click here for details. This £1 million scheme includes a replacement bridge over the Wye at Tintern, and opening up both Tintern and Tidenham tunnels. BBC Points West featured the plans on 26 June; this is the link to a video clip. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2009. Bristol to Emerson Green. Plans to convert the westernmost two miles of the immensely popular Bath to Bristol cycle trail into a bus rapid transit route have been officially 'deferred'. The council was not convinced that the scheme would have reduced significantly either pollution or congestion. In addition, it is likely that the council would have received some publicity brickbats for its efforts. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2009. Durham to Bishop Auckland, County Durham. This 9½ mile former NER branch line has been a railway path for many years – the Bishop-Brandon Walk – but the newly formed Durham Council started improvements in June, including easing the steep slope from the Broompark picnic area to the Deerness River. The steepness of the path was a direct result of the viaduct here being demolished after closure. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2009. Bere Alston to Tavistock, Devon. Recent clearance work at Shillamill Viaduct, south of Tavistock, suggests that things are starting to happen in connection with re-opening the line south from the town. However, remarks on the Internet about a cycle trail accompanying the re-opened railway are almost certainly wrong (but see update below), for Devon County Council is converting the ex-GWR line from Tavistock to Plymouth into a cycle trail and not this one, which is ex-LSWR. The old GWR line is to be revived as 'Drake's Trail', and much work for the benefit of walkers and cyclists has been completed already. Club members will find full details of the open sections in the online gazetteer. If you want to know more about the Tavistock rail project, the link here opens the 'masterplanning' document by Kilbride Community Rail, which contains everything you could wish to know – even the proposed timetable on page 46 of this PDF document. Update: The rail re-opening project from Tavistock to Bere Alston does indeed include provision for a cycle trail after all – our thanks to John Skinner for alerting us to this. (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)

September 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. Further to our reports in March and April (click here), the Fareham-Gosport rapid transit bus scheme has run into major problems as a local resident and wildlife campaigner has served a court injunction on Hampshire County Council on the grounds that the environmental and wildlife issues have not been properly addressed. All work has stopped and, apart from increased ground vegetation, the line is in the same state as in June this year. HCC have to complete Phase 1 of the project by March 2011, otherwise the £20 million from the government will not be available. This court injunction gives HCC a serious problem and there is now a real possibility that the scheme will be abandoned. The motivation for the injunction is ostensibly the protection of wildlife, but a dedicated bus route at the end of one's garden is likely to depress property values much more than a disused and overgrown railway. If the bus project fails, it will be hard on Gosport, for the town has been held back by poor communications for many years: the A32 into Fareham cannot cope with the traffic, and the rapid transit bus scheme offered the prospect of a genuinely fast public transport link into Fareham town and railway station. (Chris Bushell and Jeff Vinter)

September 2009. Creetown to Palnure, Dumfries & Galloway. We have just discovered that Dumfries & Galloway Council manages a 2 mile cycle trail built on a section of the old Portpatrick & Wigtownshire Joint Railway between Creetown and Palnure, which were the next two stations west of Gatehouse of Fleet. To our embarrassment, we discovered from the council's website that the route was completed in 2000! The old line can be followed between NX 469604 and NX 462631, with access at the southern end from NX 468601 off the Old Military Road north of Creetown. (Jeff Vinter)

September 2009. Spetisbury to Stourpaine, Dorset. Dorset Countryside has just reported that a 'new bridge at Stourpaine is looking likely for next summer, making 7 miles of continuous Trailway from Sturminster Newton to Stourpaine'. At the moment, about 5 miles of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway is accessible from Sturminster to Gains Cross, where further progress is barred by a missing bridge over the River Stour. Reinstatement of this will remove one of the major obstacles to reaching Blandford Forum. This club's 2008 donation to the Trailway is intended to go towards the cost of this structure, which has been estimated at ca. £300,000. (Jeff Vinter)

September 2009. Pen-y-Cae to Cray Reservoir, Powys. Part of the former Neath & Brecon Railway has been designated a 'permitted footpath' by the Brecon Beacons National Park Authority, while more of this scenic line is now on designated access land. This means that it is possible to explore the old N&BR from just east of Pen-y-Cae to the south side of Cray Reservoir, a distance of 5½ miles, although the operational Penwyllt Quarry has to be circumnavigated en route. An old tramway network which once served workings above Penwyllt Quarry is also on access land and repays exploration. (Richard Lewis)

August 2009. Tavistock to Yelverton. Part of this former GWR branch line is now open between the site of Grenofen Viaduct and Magpie Viaduct. The grid references are SX 494706 to SX 505700, a distance of 1½ miles. Access is via minor lanes from the village of Grenofen, while the southern end deposits path users on the A386 near Bedford Bridge, just north of Horrabridge. Further developments are planned, for this is part of Drake's Trail, which eventually will link Tavistock with Plymouth using disused railways wherever possible. (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)

August 2009. Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead, Devon. Further to our news item in August last year (click here for details), we are pleased to report that the necessary permissions are now in place for the first few miles of the Wray Valley Trail, which will use as much as possible of this former GWR branch line. The first section to be opened will be southwards from the former GWR terminus at Moretonhampstead, with construction due to start later this year. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2009. James May's Toy Stories. It is a disappointment to report that James May's attempt on Monday 24 August to create the world's longest model railway – a 10 mile linear route between Barnstaple and Bideford in north Devon – has failed. Problems were caused by vandals who short-circuited the track by placing 2p coins across the running rails, and by thieves who stole the track and one of the batteries used to supply power to it. According to a volunteer working on the project, one of the miniature trains also had its motor destroyed by a deliberate short circuit. However, despite the problems, a model of a Japanese Javelin train made it to within 2 miles of the Bideford terminus; some sources say 'within 3 miles', but it certainly got as far as Instow. Despite the disappointment, this run may still be enough to earn James and his team a place in the record book for the longest point-to-point model railway. Further details can be read here in a well-illustrated Mail Online article, which emphasises the negative aspects of the story. While it is true that the behaviour of some on the day did cause genuine problems – a shameful reflection on Britain's mindless minority – it may be that the task was too much for a miniature train built to a scale of 1:72. It is possible that, after some 8 hours of continuous use, the small electric engine overheated and burned out. If this is the case, then it was to everyone's advantage that this record-breaking attempt ran into the early hours of Tuesday morning, when the cool of the night may have coaxed a greater distance out of the tiny engine than could have been achieved during the heat of the afternoon – which was a scorcher. Our own photographic record of the event can be viewed by clicking the links here and here. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2009. Harpenden to Luton, Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire. On Wednesday 19 August, a new 4½ mile section of cycleway, the Upper Lea Valley Greenway (part of NCN6), was officially opened between Harpenden and Luton. Some of the route, which once formed part of the former GNR line from Hatfield to Dunstable, has been open for some years, but this development will introduce a better surface and signing, and possibly make accessible parts of the line that were previously unavailable. The local paper, Luton Today, reports that the project 'was a joint effort by Luton Borough Council, Central Bedfordshire Council, Hertfordshire County Council, St Albans District Council and the sustainable transport charity Sustrans, who were assisted by landowners and tenants along the route.' When complete, NCN6 will link London with Keswick. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Above: James May (centre) with Jenny and Jeff Vinter after recording Jeff's contribution to an episode in the next series of 'James May's Toy Stories'. For further details, see story below. (Heather Vinter)

August 2009. James May's Toy Stories. I have just spent 3 hours in my garden with James May and his team, recording the introductory material for an episode in the next series of 'James May's Toy Stories'. This programme will be one of six hour-long episodes to be broadcast on the BBC from this October at 8 p.m. on Thursdays. The themes, all of which are concerned with exploring the engineering possibilities of toys, are listed below – though not necessarily in the right order!

  • Model railways: this episode will feature a ten mile long model railway - the world's largest ever - between Barnstaple and Bideford in north Devon, and (not surprisingly) is the episode in which I had a hand. The model train will travel at a real speed of about 2 kilometres per hour and will traverse a distance which, in scale terms, represents about 700 miles – the length of Britain from top to bottom. The objective is to wrest the current world record from the Germans.
  • Scalextric: James re-constructs the racing circuit at Brooklands ... using Scalextric track and vehicles.
  • Lego: can you make a real house from Lego? The answer, evidently, is 'yes' – and James then lives in it for a weekend.
  • Meccano: the team builds a bridge at Liverpool from this popular post-war construction toy.
  • Plasticine: if you saw the plasticine garden featured at this year's Chelsea Flower Show, then you saw some of the content for another episode of James May's Toy Stories!
  • Airfix: the team builds a full size model Spitfire from a huge Airfix kit.

A few years ago, member John Elson remarked to me, 'If you ever lose your boyish sense of wonder, then you have really lost something'. On that theme, James May appears to have cornered the market for programmes aimed at boys who never entirely grew up. As he explained: 'As a child, you have the imagination but not the resources. These programmes explore what might have happened if you could have had any quantity [of a toy that] you wanted.' This is wonderful, imaginative, inventive, eccentric and thoroughly British stuff, and I am sure that it will make great television. Roll on October! (Jeff Vinter)

August 2009. Buxton to Derby, Derbyshire. There has been interest recently in proposals to create a high quality cycle trail from Buxton to Derby via Bakewell and Matlock. It turns out that the driving force behind this is none other than John Grimshaw, the former engineer and chief executive of Sustrans. Patrick Davis from Sustrans' East Midlands Area Office reports as follows: 'John is progressing this tremendously exciting project on his own account with the help of Cycling England, local supporters and the Peak District National Park. He nonetheless keeps me informed of his progress of which I remain wholly supportive in principle though contributing little of my own. As to the route, I understand that much of the way between Bakewell and Buxton follows the old Midland Railway trackbed. Between Bakewell and Matlock, things are less clear cut and, though I believe that negotiations are on-going, can't tell you when an outcome may be expected or what it's likely to be.' We suspect that the Haddon Estate south of Bakewell may prove difficult, as it was for the original railway builders. The landowner eventually allowed the railway to cross his land but insisted on it going through an otherwise unnecessary tunnel, which was constructed using cut-and-cover techniques – only for it to collapse and kill a number of navvies who are buried in the local churchyard at Rowsley. Developments will not be so dramatic in the 21st century, but we will report any news, as it comes in, on these pages. (Jeff Vinter)

August 2009. Bratoft to Burgh-le-Marsh, Lincolnshire. It may not be very long at just 1¼ miles, but this short section of the former GNR line from Firsby to Louth is now owned by the National Trust and carries a sign that invites visitors to walk this section of the old railway line. Bratoft is a short distance north-east of Firsby; access to the trackbed is believed to be at grid reference TF 466651. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2009. Gobowen to Blodwel, Shropshire. The Cambrian Railway Trust and the Cambrian Railways Society have announced that an agreement for the lease of this 8 mile line has been signed with Shropshire County Council. The council also plans to construct a cycleway and footpath alongside parts of the railway. (Ralph Rawlinson)

June 2009. Boston to Lincoln, Lincolnshire. Our intrepid explorer from near Boston has been out on his bicycle again and reports that the Bardney-Lincoln section of this trail has been extended south to Kirkstead Bridge (near Woodhall Junction), thus doubling the original distance. The composition of this trail, now part of NCN1, is as follows:

  • Boston to Langrick: old railway (approx. 4 miles)
  • Langrick to Kirkstead Bridge: country lanes (approx. 13 miles)
  • Kirkstead Bridge to Lincoln: old railway (approx. 17 miles)

A local advised that BR had sold the trackbed from Woodhall Spa south towards Dogdyke because it was not part of the river/flood defences. (Robin Wade)

June 2009. Antons Gowt to Langrick, Lincolnshire. A further section of the Water Rail Way has been opened between Antons Gowt and Langrick. At 2¼ miles, the new section more than doubles the existing section from Boston to Antons Gowt, and creates a continuous railway-based trail all the way from Boston to Langrick. Approaching Langrick, the line of the railway heads towards the old Langrick station (now a café) whereas the new trail keeps nearer to the river, passing through the car park of the Ferry Boat public house and out on to the B1192. The onward section of the trail from Langrick to Chapel Hill follows minor lanes. (Robin Wade)

June 2009. Railway Re-Openings. On 15 June, ATOC – the Association of Train Operating Companies – published a report calling for the re-opening of 14 lines and about 40 stations across England in order to cope with the growth in demand for rail services. Although there is talk of building new lines, mention is also made of using old railway infrastructure, and virtually all of the places listed were once rail connected. ATOC's lists include some routes which have been preserved as railway paths, such as Cranleigh to Guildford in Surrey; some freight-only lines, such as Totton to Hythe in Hampshire; and some complete goners, such as Blyth to Ashington in Northumberland. The BBC's article on the report is accessible here, and makes interesting reading. (Note that we have converted the article into a PDF file in order to ensure that it remains available; the copyright, of course, remains with the BBC.)

In an associated article on the effect of the Beeching cuts in the West Midlands, Nick Higton, of consultancy firm Arup, says: 'The thing about Beeching that was indefensible was not only did he shut the lines but the government then allowed the routes of those lines to be ripped up and now when we want to put some of them back it's impossible.' This isn't quite true, because railways can be built and re-opened where there's the political will – but it's going to cost a lot more to put them back than it did to remove them. 1960s governments must have assumed that cheap petrol would last forever. On that basis, railways were clearly expendable – but how short-sighted these national planning decisions appear today. (Alan Johnston and Jeff Vinter)

June 2009. Christs' Hospital to Baystone Bridge, West Sussex. We reported in December 2008 that this short section of the former line to Guildford had been opened up to walkers and cyclists, thereby eliminating a rather long detour via local lanes – not unpleasant scenically, but rather tedious if you'd come all the way from Guildford, especially on foot. Now that the better weather has arrived, members Lionel Pilbeam and Richard Carlisle have tried out the extension, which runs through the old Guildford platform on the west side of Christ's Hospital station; see photo below. (Lionel Pilbeam)

Above: The Guidlford platform at Christ's Hospital station. This was one of those unusual places on the railway network, like Yeovil Pen Mill in Somerset and Horsted Keynes in West Sussex, where the presence of a train in the platform enabled passengers who were so inclined to treat the train as a footbridge. The running line here was a single track with a platform on either side – an arrangement which would not be encouraged in these safety conscious times, when a guard and porter would be required on both sides of the train to ensure its safe departure, at least with slam-door stock. Modern multiple units with sliding doors must eliminate this problem – presumably, the guard just shuts all the doors on one side, and then attends to the other. A recent visitor (June 2009) has advised there is no access from the station's operational up platform to the railway path, but hopefully this will be resolved. Christ's Hospital is served by trains on the Arun Valley line, most running between Bognor Regis and London Victoria, or vice versa. (Lionel Pilbeam)

June 2009. Winnall to Compton, Hampshire. Sustrans in the South East has just reported that it has received the agreement of 'partner organisations' to start on the Winnall-Winchester-Compton section of NCN23. This route coincides with the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway through Winchester, so we are hoping that this will be the trail that brings the historic Hockley Viaduct back into use; click here for our April report on this neglected structure. (Sustrans Ltd and Jeff Vinter)

Above: A sample of Sustrans' online mapping service, showing part of the 32 mile Downs Link as it skirts Henfield in West Sussex. The Downs Link was formed in 1972 from two closed railway lines – the cross-country routes from Guildford to Christ's Hospital, and thence to Shoreham. It is now one of the longest railway paths in the UK. For further details, see story below. (Sustrans Ltd)

June 2009. Sustrans has launched its online mapping service at www.sustrans.org.uk/map. Just type in your postcode, or the name of a village, town or city, and the service will display a zoomable map of the area, showing all cycle-friendly routes. The ones to look out for are coloured green – these are the off-road routes, which naturally include the country's many railway paths. (Sustrans Ltd)

June 2009. Brockenhurst to Ringwood, Hampshire. The published details are a little big vague, but it looks as if the two publicly accessible sections of the old LSWR main line across the New Forest are finally to be joined together. Currently, the trackbed is accessible from Cater's Cottage (near Lymington Junction) to the road-over-rail bridge south of Burley, and from Crow through Ringwood to the county boundary with Dorset. Sustrans' report (from The Hub - South East) reads as follows: 'When completed, this scheme will link the two halves of the Castleman's Corkscrew railway track, providing a useful and attractive link for local people and visitors to the forest. Sustrans has prepared an outline design, which has been approved by partners. We will now work up a detailed design and produce drawings for a planning application and wide consultation with interested parties in this sensitive area.' Charles Castleman was the Wimborne solicitor responsible for driving a railway from Southampton to Dorchester via Ringwood and Wimborne. It was called Castleman's Corkscrew on account of its sinuous route. (Sustrans Ltd and Jeff Vinter)

June 2009. Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. Detailed design work on the Whitstable extension to the Crab and Winkle line (the local name for the old Canterbury & Whitstable Railway) is now complete, and a revised planning application will be submitted shortly. At the same time, a new planning application will be submitted for bridges over the railway at Whitstable station, and over the town's Teynham Road. These bridges form part of the company's Connect 2 scheme, which aims to re-use the old railway as a north-south traffic-free route across the town. (Sustrans Ltd)

Left: This is the well known view from the north of Hayling Island towards Langstone and Havant. Railway authors have a slight difficulty with Langstone, because the railway insisted on calling it 'Langston' with no 'e'. While the first (i.e. 1801) edition of the Ordnance Survey used this spelling, locals preferred 'Langstone', and the OS had fallen into line by 1930, if not before. The concrete blocks stretching across the harbour are all that remains of Langston Viaduct and, according to Vic Smith and Keith Mitchell (see Branch Line to Hayling, Middleton Press, 1984, ISBN 0-906520-12-6), they are actually the original timber footings which were encased in concrete to extend their life. At the time of writing, the trackbed from the north of this structure towards Langston level crossing was still unrecovered and unimproved, but that is now set to change following an agreement between Havant Borough Council and Sustrans – see story below. January 2009. (Jeff Vinter)
June 2009. Havant to Hayling Island, Hampshire. Havant Borough Council has just given Sustrans the go-ahead to improve part of the old Hayling Island branch as a further part of NCN2, the South Coast Cycle Trail. The section concerned runs from the north side of Langstone Viaduct to the site of the former level crossing over the A3023. The route is already open, but these improvements will attract a lot more users, including cyclists. The long term aim is to turn the branch into part of a cycling route to Portsmouth, which will access the city via the Hayling Ferry, which runs from the western tip of the island beyond Sinah Common. (Sustrans Ltd)
Above: This weather-boarded cottage on the A3023 Havant-Hayling road can be used to identify the site of the level crossing traversed by southbound Hayling Island trains before they pulled up at Langston station, which was actually no more than a halt. A small taxi business used to operate from the cottage, its sign – 'Taxis for hire' – being mounted beneath the window at the top left of the building. The rails used to cross the road diagonally and, if still there today, would pass through the painted box marked 'Keep clear' (see foreground of picture). Immediately behind the photographer lies the currently unimproved trackbed which leads on to Langstone Harbour. January 2009. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2009. Shandon to Faslane, Argyll and Bute. The Faslane branch (officially known as Military Port No. 1 Railway) was built during World War 2 by German prisoners of war. It left the West Highland line from a junction near Shandon and ran for 2½ miles to Faslane Harbour, where a series of sidings served the Faslane pierheads. It was a double track line built to European standards, and featured right hand running in order to give troops valuable experience in the run up to D-Day. Although later taken over by the LNER, the branch was established by the War Department, which no doubt accounts for its historical background being rather sketchy, including the opening and closing dates – 1943(?) to 1981(?). Photographs of the Faslane branch during its final years can be viewed here. Because this line is in Scotland, exploring the line poses no trespass issues, although obviously one needs to keep away from Faslane Naval Base, which is the home of the UK's strategic nuclear deterrent. (Darrel Hendrie and Jeff Vinter)

May 2009. Rhayader to Caban Coch Dam, nr. Elan Village, Powys. There's good news for anyone wanting to walk or cycle the trackbed of the Elan Valley Railway in Powys: the disused connecting line from Rhayader has been converted into a traffic-free cycle route, which enables non-motorists to reach the Elan Valley directly from Rhayader without having to use the B4518. The new cycle trail is just under 3½ miles long and follows the course of the Cambrian Railway as far as Elan Junction before turning west on to the formation of the 1894 contractor's railway. The new route connects straight into the popular and long-established railway path that links together all the dams in the Elan Valley, and the two routes now form a continuous trail of about 9 miles along the former trackbed from Rhayader to Craig Goch, the fourth and highest dam in the valley. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2009. Bexhill West to Crowhurst, East Sussex. As a result of the Hastings-Bexhill Link Road planning application, the surviving railway overbridges at Sidley (at Woodsgate Park, the A269 Ninefield Road and Glovers Lane) are all to be demolished. Since Rother District Council demolished the last surviving building at the former Sidley station site – the goods shed – in 2008, this means that every trace of the railway in Sidley will have been eradicated by the time the new road is built. Planning permission for the road has been granted but there have been objections to the compulsory purchase orders, which have triggered a Public Enquiry to be held later this year. Additionally, the road is to cost £100m. for just 3½ miles of single carriageway road, which means that the project might not get funding in the current economic climate. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Above: This view from the bank of the River Derwent conveys a sense of the size and grandeur of Stamford Bridge Viaduct on the former NER line from York to Beverley via Market Weighton. This line may yet be reinstated – see story below. (Ralph Rawlinson)

April 2009. York to Beverley. We are a few years late with this news (at least in terms of publishing it on the website), but it is worth an airing because it has a potential impact upon the cycle trail over Stamford Bridge Viaduct, and the Hudson Way from Market Weighton to Beverley. A feasibility study published in June 2005 suggested that the 34 miles between York and Beverley could be reopened for under £200m. Late in 2006, East Riding Council was taking reinstatement seriously enough to publish maps of the route, and any areas of land that it may cross are to be safeguarded from further building. The maps show the re-positioning of track along the northern outskirts of Market Weighton, the south-west side of Pocklington , and the north eastern edge edge of Stamford Bridge. All three communities would receive new stations. The main structure on the line is the grade ll listed Stamford Bridge Viaduct, which comprises fifteen brick built arches and a central cast iron span over River Derwent. (Ralph Rawlinson)

April 2009. Hockley Viaduct, Winchester. Hockley Viaduct escaped being blown up by the Army in the 1980s, but has struggled ever since to find a purpose in life. The structure is basically sound, but vandals have damaged the parapets (where the brickwork needs re-pointing), while the trackbed needs clearing of vegetation. Now civic chiefs are talking informally to Sustrans about using the viaduct as part of a 1½ mile cycle trail from Bar End to Hockley roundabout on the southern edge of Winchester, where a new park and ride facility is being built. Apart from securing the future of the viaduct, this proposal would also bring a section of the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway back into use. At Bar End, the DNSR goods shed survives in industrial use, while Bar End tunnel now accommodates a road used by Winchester City's existing Park & Ride bus service. (Chris Cook)

April 2009. Thorndon Cross to Venndown Gates, Devon. This two mile long section of the former Okehampton to Halwill Junction line has been opened as a bridleway following extensive negotiations by Devon County Council. At Thorndon Cross, this new section conveniently joins the mile long railway-based bridleway from East Bowerland, which we reported in April 2005. All of this is intended to be part of an eventual through route from Meldon Junction to Halwill, although readers should note that these sections are bridleways, and wear appropriate footwear during wet weather. (It can be very muddy!) Beyond Halwill Junction, 2½ miles of the line towards Bude are open already as far as Cooksworthy Forest Centre. (Steve Gardner, Devon County Council)

April 2009. Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable and Dunstable to East Hyde, Bedfordshire. There's nothing like visiting an area in person to pick up local developments, as your Webmaster did on Saturday 18 April. Here are a few in Bedfordshire which previously had escaped our attention:

  • Between Stanbridgeford and Dunstable, a 2 mile section of the former LNWR line from Leighton Buzzard to Dunstable now forms part of NCN6. However, the A505 has been re-located on to the trackbed from the outskirts of Leighton Buzzard to Stanbridgeford (ca. 2 miles), which effectively rules out any westward extension of this cycle trail.
  • South of Dunstable, a public footpath – part of the Icknield Way Path – runs for 1¼ miles along the southern perimeter of the old GNR line from Dunstable to Hatfield via Luton and Harpenden.
  • Between the southern outskirts of Luton and East Hyde (near Harpenden), two miles of the same GNR line are now part of the Upper Lea Valley Walk. The still extant Luton Hoo station is passed en route.

Members will find full details of the above in the online gazetteer. The trail from Stanbridgeford is new, but the others, no doubt, will be well known to locals – a reminder that we are dependent on local tip-offs, so please keep them coming in! (Jeff Vinter)

April 2009. Newbridge to Bath, Somerset. Further to previous reports about proposals to construct a guided busway along the Bristol end of the Bath and Bristol Railway Path (currently in abeyance), Bath & North East Somerset Council has published plans to construct a 'Bus Rapid Transit' scheme along the same route between Newbridge and Bath city centre. This scheme will have a very damaging impact upon the first 1½ miles of the railway path running west from Brassmills Lane; further details are available via the link here. The whole point of the path, which is a much loved local facility, is that it is free from traffic and noise, and attracts over 2 million walking and cycling journeys per year. In other words, it is already a beacon of environmentally friendly transport in the area. This club supports public transport, but this is not the place for such a scheme, which will destroy the very qualities which have encouraged so many people to use the path. Thankfully, the outcry in Bath has been huge – but when exactly are local authorities like this going to start protecting off-road walking and cycling routes, instead of regarding them as fodder for bus lanes or guided busways? One correspondent to the local paper has suggested that the availability of government cash for bus-based transport solutions is driving this process – can any reader advise on this? If so, please get in touch via the e-mail link on our Contact page. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: While the Bridport Railway's two stations in Bridport are long gone, the company's quaint little terminus at West Bay remains. On a glorious Saturday in late February 2009, builders were working on the interior, presumably prior to letting the building for the summer season. Just beyond the end of the platform, a cycle trail uses the old trackbed to reach the southern edge of Bridport. The report below contains news of how this scenic branch line may soon provide an off-road route for walkers and cyclists to access Maiden Newton on the still operational Weymouth-Bristol line. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2009. Maiden Newton to Bridport, Dorset. Further to the entry for February (see below), public consultations on proposals to create a ten mile 'rail trail' along the former Bridport branch have now been completed, and the public response has been very positive. The Bridport News reported that 'more than 250 residents attended recent consultations on the bid – and 179 of the 180 survey forms returned were in favour.' Sustrans estimates that the negotiation and conversion process will take between 3 and 4 years, with work starting later this year on the central section between Toller Porcorum and Powerstock, following completion of an ecological audit. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2009. 'Railway Walks', BBC2 and BBC4. Jeff Vinter has just received the following message from Owen Rodd, producer of last autumn's popular series on walking old railways:

'Railway Walks' has been a startling success - the third most watched programme on the channel [BBC2], believe it or not, regularly pulling in 3 million viewers. Only 'The Apprentice' and the mega-budget 'Yellowstone' have scored better. It also beat the likes of Channel 4’s 'Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares' and the ever-popular 'Grand Designs'. The BBC would be mad not to recommission the show! That’s what we [Skyworks] keep saying anyway. [We are] actively involved with discussions at this end and ... hope to have a definite answer by the end of the month.

Jeff has already started to shortlist routes for a second series and will report any further developments here in due course. (Owen Rodd and Jeff Vinter)

Above: After 40 years of neglect, William Tite's Grade II* listed Gosport station is finally on the brink of restoration, as indicated by the builders' security fencing on the left. As reported in September 2008, the station is to be 'restored as housing, offices and a community centre at a cost of £4.5 million'. This project will re-use the frontages and colonnade, which are more or less all that remains. The station was bombed by the Luftwaffe in May 1941, when the original overall roof was destroyed; the post-war replacement was an ugly affair comprising asbestos sheets mounted on a steel framework. The second roof was still in place in 1969, but was removed some time after that – possibly in 1972, when Hampshire County Council acquired the site. The above photograph was taken on 6 June 2009 during a walk arranged with HCC along the northern part of the branch, which is to become Phase 1 of the Fareham-Gosport Bus Rapid Transit scheme – see reports below. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. The project to convert this line into a dedicated bus route (basically a road for buses as opposed to a guided busway) has just been awarded funding of £20 million for Phase 1, so it is definitely going ahead. Note that vegetation along the line has been cut down rather than cleared. Thus the brambles show 'every sign of welcoming their new access to sunlight and are sprouting profusely'. (Alastair Walker)

March 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. The southern part of this line has been a popular cycle trail for many years, but the section north of Holbrook has long been an impenetrable tangle of vegetation. All that has changed now that the Fareham-Holbrook section is to be re-used as a rapid transit bus link. The vegetation has been cleared away to reveal the still extant tracks, which are due to be lifted in August; it is expected that they will be donated to a railway preservation society. In the meantime, the route south from Fareham is clear for the first time in decades, although any official access would need to be negotiated with the Estates Surveyor at Hampshire County Council. (Peter Murnaghan)

February 2009. Maiden Newton to Bridport, Dorset. Fifteen years after West Dorset District Council failed to convert the former Bridport line into a railway path, Sustrans is trying again. Further details are available via the link here. As a former user of this scenic line, the Webmaster wishes this project every success. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2009. Holton Heath Cordite Factory, Dorset. You may wonder why a former cordite factory is listed on this page, but it used to have an internal railway which ran along the edge of Poole Harbour; a number of members have explored this in the past. The bad news is that this network is now off limits, as explained in this report: 'English Nature manage most of Holton Heath. This is a National Nature Reserve, but because of the previous Cordite Factory, the land is contaminated with asbestos. The English nature website suggests that this land is likely to stay closed indefinitely. It is fenced off. They suggest that they hope to welcome visitors to their reserve on the harbour side at Holton Heath Station.' The good news is that Sustrans is keen to re-use this scenic line as part of a new route from Poole to Wareham, so it may be opened in due course although no date has yet been given. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2009. Coleford to Parkend, Gloucestershire. This is not a new railway path in the strict sense, but one whose existence is new to us. The westernmost part of the line, i.e. between Coleford and Milkwall , was converted into a railway path in the 1990s, but this original section now continues eastwards to Parkend, the northern terminus of the preserved Dean Forest Railway, thereby creating a continuous route of 3¼ miles. What is better is that this now links Coleford with the rest of the extensive railway path network within the Forest of Dean. The directors of the old Severn & Wye Railway, whose enterprise built most of the lines within the Forest, might be pleasantly surprised that so much of their network has survived in this way. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2009. Cheddar to Wells, Somerset. 'There is a strong moral argument that the path must be built to atone for past broken promises.' The planning application for this route, actually an extension of the existing railway path from Yatton to Cheddar, is now imminent. For further details, click here. (John Beasley, The Strawberry Line Project)

January 2009. Cambridge to St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. It will not be welcome news for many, but an April 2009 opening date is scheduled for the 15½ mile guided busway. Stagecoach is investing £3m in 20 new vehicles. At least the busway has a cycle trail running alongside. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Plymouth (Tavistock Junction) to Tavistock, Devon. Ownership of the trackbed was due to be transferred to Devon County Council by the end of 2008. No doubt, this will expedite construction of 'Drake's Trail', the railway path currently under development between Tavistock and Plymouth. Click here for further details. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Fareham to Gosport, Hampshire. Although freight services were withdrawn from Gosport in 1969, the northern end of the line between Fareham and the Royal Navy's ordnance factory at Bedenham remained in use until the 1990s. Now this surviving (but very overgrown) section is to be converted into a rapid, i.e. not guided, bus scheme. The work of cutting back the vegetation between Redlands Lane, Fareham, and Holbrook in Gosport started in November 2008 in order to establish land boundaries along the route. Completion is expected this month, when a consultation with residents will take place. A business case will then be submitted to the Government, with possible funding of £20 million to finance the first phase. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Greetland, West Yorkshire. In March 2008, work on providing a cyclepath over Stainland Viaduct was stopped because of complaints that the necessary permission had not been obtained; click here for the local newspaper's report. In November, a public meeting was held and a decision is now awaited. Our December 2007 report can be accessed here. (Ralph Rawlinson) Comment: This is another project where opponents claim that all manner of human ills will take place on and from the proposed path. We have yet to hear of a project where these fears have actually materialised, although we know of plenty where they have not. Normally, bringing derelict land back into daily use makes such places safer because the frequent passage of walkers and cyclists deprives anti-social individuals of the seclusion they crave. (Webmaster)

January 2009. Aberdeen to Peterhead, Aberdeenshire. The Peterhead Capacity Study, looking at the future expansion of Peterhead, has recommended that the former Aberdeen to Peterhead route should be protected from development as it could be re-opened in the future. The study, which looked at the development of Peterhead during the next 20 to 30 years, said that the connecting Cruden Bay line from Ellon to Boddam should also be safeguarded. The whole of the 38 miles between Dyce and Peterhead has been converted into a cycleway/footpath called the Formantine & Buchan Walkway. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Kentallen to Ballachulish, Argyll and Bute. Phase 1 of the Connel to Ballachulish section of the Oban to Fort William cycling and walking route, which comprises almost four miles between Kentallen and Ballachulish Ferry based largely on the dismantled railway, is now complete. Transport Scotland, the trunk road authority, was expected to complete the section along the A82 trunk road to Ballachulish and Glencoe village in the Autumn of 2008. Sustrans is also working on Phase 2A from the Sea Life Centre (at Barcaldine, midway between Connel and Creagan) to Creagan, and also Phase 2B from Strath of Appin to Portnacroish; the company should be on site until early spring this year. Further negotiation with landowners for Phase 3 are under way and, where this is proving particularly difficult, Transport Scotland will be commissioning options studies to guide the way forward. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Ghobbins Cliff Path, County Antrim. This is report is about something completely different – not a railway path, but a path built by a railway company to generate business. A firm has been appointed by Larne Borough Council to submit plans for the restoration of the derelict and inaccessible Ghobbins Cliff Path at Island Magee. The path was originally opened in 1902 by the Midland Railway (Northern Counties Committee) as a way to attract passengers to use their rail link between Belfast and Whitehead. In its heyday, it rivalled the Giant's Causeway as a tourist attraction, but had to be closed in 1954 due to erosion, etc. The budget for the restoration project is £6 million. Click here for further details – this link is well worth a look, since this was no ordinary cliff path. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2009. Limerick to Listowel, County Limerick. This is part of the former 53 mile Limerick to Tralee line, which is gradually being converted into the Great Southern Trail, a long distance, multi-use railway path. On 22 December 2008, Limerick County Council signed a contract to commence works on a €600,000 scheme to convert eight miles of disused railway between Newcastle West and Barnagh, and Newcastle West and Ardagh, into a railway path. When these latest sections are complete, the trail will extend from Ardagh to Abbeyfeale, a total of 17 miles. This will make it the longest railway path by far anywhere in the whole of Ireland. Click here for further details. (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)