Above: With its 33 spans, Hockley Viaduct south of Winchester is not an easy structure to photograph, but our correspondent did a good job by climbing up to the one vantage point in the area which provides a chance of capturing the whole thing, especially in late winter when the trees are still bare. The newly installed semaphore signal stands out particularly clearly. 3rd March 2013. (Graham Lambert)

Following Tim Chant's report of the opening of Hockley Viaduct on 26th February, I visited it today (3rd March) and cycled along the extended NCN23 from the site of Winchester Chesil station on the former DNSR to the restored viaduct and back. The new tarmac cycle path takes over from the old footpath just past the industrial site near the former goods shed via a new 'cycle friendly' double slope, nicely finished with used sleepers, and continues between the former track bed and the canalised River Itchen towards the viaduct. It passes under the former trackbed and back again to pass the car park at the bottom of St Catherine's Hill, access to the latter having benefitted from a recently upgraded path on wooden steps. The cycle path gains access to the former trackbed a couple of hundred yards before passing over Hockley Viaduct, which has been beautifully restored by cleaning and re-pointing the brickwork, fitting new blue capping stones along the full length on both sides of the structure, and lowering the brickwork in two places and inserting stainless steel bars to enable the River Itchen and the distant city of Winchester to be viewed, which was not previously possible unless travelling by train! The final touch is a home semaphore signal, permanently 'off'.

Above: The view over the water meadows of the River Itchen from one of the newly lowered sections of parapet. The lighting on this bitterly cold and overcast day did not do the view any favours, but a couple of the club's walk leaders have planned a return visit in early May when, hopefully, the weather will be more kind. 3rd March 2013. (Graham Lambert)
Above: Our intrepid reporter, seen here with his trusty folding bike, demonstrates why the restoration team decided to lower the parapets in two places to provide views from the restored viaduct. 3rd March 2013. (Graham Lambert)

Hockley Viaduct is a very lucky survivor. Back in the 1980s, army engineers offered to demolish it free of charge it for Winchester City Council as a training exercise; Railway Ramblers joined the opposition, thus making the preservation of this structure one of the club's earliest campaigns. (Smardale Gill Viaduct in Cumbria was another early campaign.) Following the army's threat to the viaduct, Dr. Edwin Course and a team of industrial archaeologists from the University of Southampton took core samples from the piers and found that, rather than being rubble-filled, they were made from concrete. This was a significant discovery, for it revealed Hockley as being one of the earliest concrete viaducts in the UK, predating those built by McAlpine's on the West Highland line in Scotland by several years. Thirty years on, it is great to see this historic structure once again serving a useful purpose.

Report by Graham Lambert