COOMBE JUNCTION TO MOORSWATER
 
Above: The last train to Moorswater, hauled by Freightliner locomotive 66618, about to pass the platform of the former Moorswater station, which was originally the nearest 'railhead' to Liskeard before the main line came through and later, in 1901, the incline was opened from Liskeard station to Coombe Junction. 3rd January 2013. (Peter Murnaghan)

Thursday 3rd January 2013 was a sad day in the life of Moorswater, a location with so much history. For on that day, the last freight train ran to Moorswater. The train arrived mid-morning with twenty wagons of cement from Derbyshire, which were unloaded and returned empty to Westbury in the afternoon. This followed the established pattern of an occasional train which has run up the branch line once every few weeks.

A change of ownership of the Hope cement works in Derbyshire has brought about the cessation of this flow of rail traffic to Moorswater. It is understood that cement traffic will now arrive at Moorswater by road instead. This location has been a hive of activity since long before the arrival of the railway, when packhorses brought down minerals and stone from Bodmin Moor. In 1846, the Liskeard & Caradon Railway opened for horse drawn (or gravity worked downhill) trains from the granite quarries and copper mines on Caradon Hill. The cargo was transferred from wagons at Moorswater to barges on the Liskeard & Looe Union Canal for onward shipment from Looe harbour. Moorswater at the time reverberated with much industry, with several lime kilns and a granite dressing plant, as well as the canal basin. In 1860, the Liskeard & Looe Railway opened alongside the canal to provide much needed extra capacity for the mineral traffic, during those busy days of mining at Caradon. This meant that through trains could run down to Looe and locomotives replaced the horses, being accompanied by more substantial permanent way on the original section, an example being the level crossing at Woodhill being replaced by the overbridge that remains to the present day.

The system remained isolated from the Great Western Railway that soared overhead on the 147ft high Moorswater Viaduct. It was only in 1901, when the two mile circular line was built from Coombe Junction up to Liskeard station at a gradient of 1 in 40, that the line became linked with the rest of the network. Just after the outbreak of the Great War, pumping and underground development ceased at Phoenix United Mine and the admittedly light coal and minerals traffic to the siding there was lost. With the war going badly for the Allies in 1916, and the home railways under Government control, a number of lightly-used stretches of line were lifted temporarily and the materials thus reclaimed were redeployed for a redoubled War Effort. The Caradon branch line, from a few chains north of Moorswater Engine Shed through to Cheesewring Quarry, Sharptor and Minions Goods depots, and Phoenix United Siding, was one such.

Recent research for the Heritage Lottery funded Caradon Hill Area Heritage Project has revealed that this was not the end of the story of the Caradon Branch line, however, with evidence beginning to emerge of a partial relaying of some track. Traffic to and from the China Clay dries, opened at Moorswater in the early 1900s, kept a fragment of the Caradon line from the site of the Moorswater Canal Basin to what became Coombe Junction occupied and, in recent years, this facility has changed its operation again to a receiving station for cement from Derbyshire. Sadly, this last rail link with Moorswater has now come to an end.

Left: A scene that will not be witnessed again – the cement wagons being shunted into the terminal siding at Moorswater. (Peter Murnaghan)
 

Above: The A4 sheet displayed in the locomotive's left cab window was effectively the train's headboard. (Peter Murnaghan)

Only one further train is scheduled to work this last half mile north of Coombe – a railtour special, named ‘The Hullabala-Looe’ on 10th February, organised by Pathfinder Tours.

The soon-to-be disused railway from Moorswater to Coombe Junction Halt runs parallel to the old canal, which has its own towpath. But this is narrow and the railway trackbed would make a good all-weather track, wide enough for cyclists as well as walkers.

A future project?

Report by Peter Murnaghan