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Above: On the face of it, these preserved Bedford OBs have nothing to do with old railways … but they do. They are KJH 731, which was new to Kirby's of Bushey Heath, Hertfordshire, in 1949, and GDL 667, which was new to Paul's Tours of Ryde, Isle of Wight, in 1950. These vehicles are now operated by Alexcars of Cirencester, who will provide one of them for a club event on Saturday 18th April organised jointly by the South & West Midlands and South Western groups. This will feature elements of road, water and rail, comprising in a ride in a Bedford OB, a walk along part of the Thames & Severn Canal (including the Cirencester branch), and finally a walk along part of the Midland & South Western Junction Railway. 19th December 2014. (Jeff Vinter)
'Flying High' by Graeme Bickerdike. We recommend this fascinating and beautifully filmed documentary about disused viaducts in the north of England. A number of these structures, including Bennerley, Conisbrough, Hewenden and Torksey, all belong to Railway Paths Ltd, which works with sister charity Sustrans to open them up for re-use as part of trackbed-based multi-use trails. This is sanity-restoring viewing for those occasions when the TV schedules induce profound despair. Click here for another interesting 'short', also by Graeme, about the work of Railway Paths Ltd.

December 2015. England. On 19th November, Sustrans launched the charity's latest campaign to influence the UK government to provide funding for walking and cycling in England (outside London) from April 2016, when the Local Sustainable Transport Fund comes to an end. Decisions about how the Department for Transport will allocate its funds are taking place right now, so people need to write to their MPs and tell them how important it is that funding for walking and cycling continues. To accompany the campaign, Sustrans has released a media story (click here) which highlights the fact that MPs want to see more spent on cycling. We expect that the MPs' view has been influenced by the rising number of accidents and fatalities affecting cyclists on the UK's roads, which should be generating calls for action from their constituents. RoSPA's 2013 statistics for cyclist accidents can be viewed here; the 2014 figures are not yet available. (Sustrans Ltd)

December 2015. Hamworthy to Hamworthy Goods, Dorset. On the very last day of the year, news arrived that the new bridge over the Hamworthy freight line was finally complete and open for business. Pat Bullock, Chairman of the Friends of Hamworthy Park (which can now be reached easily), said: 'It's a nice bridge and it's nice to have it finished after all these years and all the promises. A lot of people have already used it and are well chuffed with it.' (Trust the journalist from the Bournemouth Echo to pick up a remark like that in connection with a railway bridge!) The new crossing is already proving popular with residents, which is hardly surprising: Hamworthy Park is an attractive facility in a scenic waterside location. (Tim Chant)

December 2015. Keswick to Threlkeld, Cumbria. Flood water from Storm Desmond has washed away one of the distinctive bowstring girder bridges on this popular part of NCN71. Within days, Sustrans was working on a temporary diversion, although the charity recommends that walkers and cyclists avoid this route pro tem. (One has only to look at photographs of the damage on social media to see why this is a good idea.) We hope that, in due course, the bridge will be replaced, as happened with the Navvies Bridge in nearby Workington – the original of which fell victim to similar flooding in 2009. (Mike Knight and Jeff Vinter)

December 2015. Bangor to Carmarthen, Wales. Possibly encouraged by Scotland's Borders Railway, the Trawslink Cymru (TRAWS) project to link Bangor and Carmarthen via Afon Wen, the Cambrian Coast line, Aberystwyth and Lampeter is gaining momentum after the recent publication of the 'Scoping Study for Phase I (Aberystwyth to Carmarthen)' commissioned by the Welsh Assembly Government (WAG). The study revealed the cost might be in the range £500-£750 million despite 97% of the 56 miles of trackbed being clear of development. Two major issues are the possible need for a tunnelled southern approach to Aberystwyth (to avoid several houses built on the trackbed near Trefechan) and a long deviation north of Carmarthen to avoid the Gwili Railway (which occupies the trackbed for several miles) and to improve the low speed alignment. Even so, the proposed end result appears to be akin to the present Heart of Wales line with a line speed of just 50 mph though far fewer intermediate stations. Click here to read the study. If this rail link is re-established, it could mean the loss of two popular and scenic rail trails: Lôn Eifion from Caernarfon to Bryncir, and The Ystwyth Trail from Aberystwyth to Tregaron. On the other hand, it would make for a very scenic railway journey. (Chris Parker)

December 2015. Wales. Sustrans has now supplied detailed reports to the Welsh Assembly on two major tunnel re-use schemes:

Collectively, 12 tunnels were found to be unsuitable for use on trails but 5 were deemed suitable for other use, while 5 were described as looking 'promising' as potential future walking and cycling routes. These last 5 were Abernant (between Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare), Tregarth (at Bethesda), Pennar (at Pontllanfrath) , Usk and – most significantly – the huge tunnel at Rhondda. The existence of high quality connecting routes either side of a tunnel was an important factor in these evaluations. In passing, we believe that Tregarth Tunnel is already open as part of the NCN trail from Bangor to Bethesda, as reported in March 2013. (Gwyn Smith, Sustrans Ltd)

December 2015. Rossendale, Greater Manchester. On the hills above Rossendale, there is some 20 miles of trackbed walking along various disused tramways which used to serve local stones quarries; these provided the building materials for many 19th century mills in the area. but the stone was so strong that many other uses were found for it, including as kerbstones, road-setts, flagstones and engine beds. Most of the quarries ceased to operate between the two World Wars, but most of their trackbeds have been incorporated into the local rights of way network. Full details of the tramways, quarries and inclines will be found at www.valleyofstone.org.uk/journey/heritagesites/. (Mark Jones)

December 2015. Newton Abbot to Heathfield, Devon. What future awaits this 4 mile stub of the former branch line to Moretonhampstead now? The December edition of 'Rail Express' magazine reported the branch as now 'devoid of traffic'. An HST chartered by the Branch Line Society made two runs over it on Saturday 10th October this year, but these could be the last train movements of all. (Paul Stewart)

Update: The January 2016 issue of 'Tramways & Urban Transit' (p. 31) includes this short report about the branch: 'A passenger service using Parry People Mover technology is proposed for the … Newton Abbot to Heathfield branch … subject to £100,000 being raised for a feasibility study'. It continues with a description of the Stourbridge Junction to Town arrangements, and the track access agreement for any future freight operations; 'a facility [which at Heathfield] Network Rail wishes to maintain'. (Keith Holliday)

November 2015. Hamworthy to Hamworthy Goods, Dorset. Further to our report in March this year, the Borough of Poole has produced some good photographs of the new Hamworthy Bridge and its components arriving on site and being craned into position; The Bournemouth Echo has published a couple of them on its website here. The bridge will span the mothballed freight line from Poole Harbour and should open before the end of the year. Also, if Poole Harbour Commissioners have their way, freight could yet return to the rails. (Tim Chant)

November 2015. Near Balquhidder to Craggan, Central (Stirling). In the past, the club has publicised an ex-railway route from Balquhidder to Glenoglehead which follows the start of the Crieff branch for half a mile, but then ascends a zigzag path to gain the trackbed of the higher Balquhidder-Crianlarich line. Our correspondent has pointed out that this is the lower route between Balquhidder and Glenoglehead, and that a higher alternative exists which starts at NN 575214 and leads to the top of the zigzag at NN 584233 above Craggan, a distance of 1½ miles. He writes: 'Visitors unfamiliar with the Scottish Highlands shouldn't be deterred by the formidable gates on this section; they are the height they are in order to be effective against deer, and all open very easily. Signs requiring dogs to be kept on leads indicate that walkers are expected, and with a surface that is suitable for estate vehicles the route is cyclable with a mountain bike. For cyclists, this upper route has the advantage of a more even gradient with avoidance of the zigzags and undulating sections on the non-railway parts of the lower option, but at the expense of having to dismount to operate gates. For everybody, though, the big plus is that it is 100% trackbed!' (Keith Potter)

November 2015. Lyne to Peebles, Borders. We have learned recently that the 2¼ mile trail from Lyne to Neidpath Bridge, which re-uses part of the Caledonian Railway's former line from Symington to Peebles, has been extended through the curved and unlit South Park Tunnel to the south western edge of Peebles before housing encroaches on the trackbed. The Grade B listed tunnel is 600 yards long but the curve means that no light can be seen from the other end, so anyone planning to walk through requires a powerful torch. The end points of the trail are now NT 209401 at Lyne and NT 244403 near South Park Crescent in west Peebles, which brings the length of the whole up to 2¾ miles. On arrival at Peebles, by diverting through streets around the site of the former Caledonian Railway's station (situated at NT 250403 but now built over), one can follow a further section of trackbed, now a tarmacced path, which uses the old railway bridge under the A7062 and continues along the south bank of the River Tweed as far as the former river bridge at NT 254402; its loss causes no hardship thanks to the 1905 Priorsford suspension bridge, which leads across to the north bank. The CR's Symington-Peebles branch is included in the Upper Tweed Railway Path Project, part-financed by the Scottish Government and the EC, which David Gray and John Grimshaw are working on; their 2013 interim report can be viewed here. (Keith Potter)

Above: A view looking east along the old Caledonian Railway's trackbed from Muirkirk towards Glenbuck and Lanark. This is an old trackbed pretty much au naturel, for the establishment of the path – from a physical as opposed to negotiating point of view – seems to have required only that the trackbed was declared open to walkers! For further details, see the story below. 20th August 2007. (Elliott Simpson, used under the terms of this Creative Commons licence)

November 2015. Upper Wellwood to Muirkirk and Glenbuck Loch, Strathclyde (East Ayrshire). Thanks to the River Ayr Way, one can now walk just under 5 miles of the old railway through Muirkirk, where branches of the Caledonian and Glasgow & South Western Railways used to meet at an end-on junction. The on-trackbed section starts at grid reference NS 675254 and continues to NS 750287, although there is a ¾ mile detour around Muirkirk golf course and Kames Motorsport Circuit, west of the town's station site (NS 696266). The trail ends at Glenbuck Loch, which is the source of the river. The River Ayr Way is promoted as one of Scotland's Long Distance Walks, so obviously has been designed for walkers only. (Keith Potter)

November 2015. Southcote Junction to Coley Park Goods, Reading, Berkshire. It is a pleasant surprise to be able to report a railway walk in Berkshire, a county with very few such facilities, although it sounds as if this is a railway path more by common usage than official design. The trackbed in question runs from near Southcote Junction (grid reference SU 699719) to Coley Park Goods (SU 715731). Access at the Southcote Junction end is via a public footpath which heads west from Wensley Road at SU 699719. Within ca. 40 yards, the footpath crosses the trackbed which can then be followed on a long curve south of Reading as far as the A33 at SU 712721, a distance of just under a mile. It takes a little bit of 'weaving' to get from the A33 to Coley Park Goods (click here), but the walk is not without interest and ends up adjacent to the attractive Kennet & Avon Canal. (Alan Monk)

November 2015. Scotland. Our correspondent has delved into the recent archives of RR Scotland and supplied the following details of several routes not previously featured by the club:

  • Biggar to Broughton, Borders (South Lanarkshire). This 5 mile trail, once part of the Symington, Biggar & Broughton Railway, runs from grid reference NT 043372 to NT 112360. You can access the start via a track off Boghall Road, Biggar, which starts at NT 038370 and heads east. This isn't the most interesting of railway walks, with few relics, structures or even substantial earthworks, but Biggar Water (a burn) is to blame, for the railway followed its shallow valley. At the west end, the route is used by farm vehicles, but it should be 'cyclable' throughout on a mountain bike. The Heritage Paths website includes a useful description here.
  • Arbroath (St. Vigeans) to Colliston, Tayside (Angus). This 2¾ mile trail, known as St. Vigeans Nature Trail and part of the Arbroath path network, runs from NO 639424 to NO 619459, which is the site of the former Colliston station. It is not surfaced but should be manageable for all but the most highly-strung road bikes. It may well be good for horses too, but riders would need to persuade their steeds to pass through narrow anti-motorbike barriers. Apart from a very short section at St. Vigeans, it is true to the trackbed throughout.
  • Callander (Bridge of Keltie) to Drumvaich, Central (Stirling). Despite local hopes of a rail trail from Callander to Doune (dashed, perhaps, by Stirling Council's poor record on providing rural cycleways), 1¾ miles of this line are accessible between NN 649069 and NN 668049. This section of the old railway served for many years as the haul road for a now apparently closed gravel quarry at Cambusbeg, and is now used mainly for forestry access. Signs warning of various forestry-related hazards suggest that the public are welcome to use the route. It is dead straight for almost the entire length and is easy going for walkers and cyclists, although perhaps less so for horse riders due to the hard surface. At the eastern end, one can exit the quarry to the nearby A84. A little to the south east was the non-passenger crossing station of Drumvaich where the stone building, which combined staff housing with a signal box, has been sympathetically restored as a holiday cottage; it is worth seeing.

The following short paths include interesting viaducts, which make them worth a visit:

  • Cumnock to Logan, Strathclyde (East Ayrshire). This trail of just over a mile runs from NS 573195 to NS 588203. At the eastern end, the 13 arch Cumnock Viaduct can be seen clearly from the train when travelling on the Kilmarnock-Dumfries line.
  • Dunure (north end) to Fisherton (south end), Strathclyde (East Ayrshire). This ¼ mile route includes Dunure Viaduct at NS 260164, an early reinforced concrete structure comprising a girder deck on concrete piers, which seems to be the only viaduct extant of several which once graced the former Ayr-Turnberry-Girvan line. The trail runs from NS 257160 to ca. NS 261164, where it exits west over a stile to the nearby A719. Several websites refer to it being part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path.

Given Scotland's generous access rights, more old trackbeds can be explored there than anywhere else in the UK, but the above routes are ones used by the general public for recreational purposes, as evidenced by such things as signs and waymarks, surface quality, stiles, kissing gates, easy-to-operate gates, wayside seating, sculptures and interpretive displays, and – above all – lack of flooding or thick undergrowth. (Keith Potter)

November 2015. Nationwide. The re-opening in September of the northernmost 30½ miles of the former Waverley route has prompted the Campaign for Better Transport to call for more old lines around the UK to be re-opened in order to improve the rail network generally and provide alternatives to ever greater car use. The CBT's latest 'wish list' is as follows:

  1. Ashington-Blyth-Newcastle   7. Leicester-Burton-on-Trent
  2. Portishead-Bristol   8. Fleetwood-Preston
  3. Stourbridge-Walsall-Lichfield   9. Wisbech-March
  4. The Leamside Line (County Durham)   10. Totton-Hythe
  5. Lewes-Uckfield   11. East-West Rail Link
  6. Skipton-Colne   12. Bere Alston-Tavistock-Okehampton

This list includes the whole gamut of ex-passenger-railway states from popular rail trail (much of route 12) to operational freight line (route 10) via incipient jungle (the west end of route 2). The CBT says that all of these lines have a strong economic and social case for re-opening, the last of them being Network Rail's preferred option for an alternative route from Exeter to Plymouth and Cornwall which avoids the troublesome sea wall at Dawlish. Route 5 is another important one given that the Southern Railway has warned Network Rail that the Brighton Main Line will have reached capacity by 2020: Lewes-Uckfield is seen as part of a future 'BML2'. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Here's a view which, thanks to a luxuriant growth of trees and shrubs, hasn't been seen clearly for decades: the Somerset and Dorset Railway's viaduct over the London-Bristol main line just west of Oldfield Park station. While the trackbed beneath the viaduct is being lowered (see story below), this view is definitely not accessible to any member of the public because it is within the secured construction site. However, our photographer got chatting to a young rail engineer in a 'hi vis' jacket who kindly agreed to take some photos from a much better angle than could be obtained from the adjacent road; this is the best of them. The two side arches of the S&D viaduct will be filled with concrete before the central arch is knocked out and replaced with a higher profile one, allowing sufficient clearance for the electric wires underneath. The trackbed will be lowered but not by as much as NR would like because lowering it too much would cause gauging and track profile problems at the platforms of nearby Oldfield Park station. 10th November 2015. (Matt Skidmore)

November 2015. Bath, Somerset. The former Somerset & Dorset Railway's viaduct over the Bath-Bristol main line west of Bath, which runs parallel to suburban Bellotts Road, is currently closed despite having been opened as recently as 21st March last year as part of the Two Tunnels Trail from Bath to Midford. The viaduct was refurbished by Network Rail, which had expected to replace it with a new, higher one when the overhead electric wires were installed on the line below; but now it is lowering the trackbed instead, as it has done recently through Brunel's famous Box Tunnel, and not surprisingly the old S&D viaduct has been closed while this work takes place. The NR signage nearby unhelpfully fails to provide a time estimate for the works and reads as follows: 'Great Western Route Modernisation. We're working to preserve the spirit of Brunel's railway whilst modernising the Great Western mainline (sic) and bringing it into the 21st century.' Our guess is that the viaduct will be closed for a couple of months, but one can never tell with NR– it could be a lot longer. Bellotts Road, just a few yards away, provides a convenient detour, but includes what for walkers and cyclists is a rather dangerous single carriageway bridge; and it's a listed one too, as if NR didn't have enough complications at this site already. On a related subject, anyone who travelled around the west country this summer in one of First Great Western's massively overcrowded two-coach DMUs might wonder how those units 'preserve the spirit of Brunel's railway', but FGW's project to re-invent itself as the 21st century Great Western Railway promises all sorts of improvements – including extra capacity on trains. It's about time. (Matt Skidmore and Jeff Vinter)
Above: A photograph of the old trackbed between Embankment Road and almost Bembridge station site on the Isle of Wight (see story below). The local Ordnance Survey maps show this trail as nothing more than a disused railway, but in fact it does have public access thanks to its forming part of the RSPB's Brading Marshes Nature Reserve. 27th October 2015. (Brian Loughlin)

November 2015. Brading to Bembridge, Isle of Wight. When you're next on the Isle of Wight and fancy a walk along the old trackbed that heads off from near Brading station in a north easterly direction across the flood plain of the River Yar, don't stop when you reach Carpenters Road (the B3330) on the west side of St. Helens. If you walk through St. Helens via Carpenters Road, Upper Green Road and Station Road, a further section of the old Bembridge branch can be walked to the south of Embankment Road, Bembridge, between grid references SZ 631885 and SZ 640884. It's only half a mile long but has permissive access thanks to its being part of the RSPB's Brading Marshes Nature Reserve; it is shown clearly on the RSPB's Brading Marshes Trail leaflet which, curiously, does not appear to be available on the RPBB website. (Jeff Vinter and Brian Loughlin)

November 2015. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. Colliers Way, part of NCN24, currently connects Radstock West with Great Elm via a railway path which runs alongside the still in situ rails of this former GWR branch line. East of Great Elm (or more specifically Hapsford Junction), the rails remain in place but operational as part of the freight line from Whatley Quarry. Local campaign group 'Frome's Missing Link' has been working for several years to extend Colliers Way into Frome town centre, and they have just achieved a significant breakthrough with Network Rail agreeing to issue a licence to run part of the 'missing link' alongside their operational single track freight line. FML says: 'Once we have the licence, the first use of our funds will be to erect the high specification fence they [NR] require between their track and our path. Their health and safety regulations require this is done by a contractor they have approved. Once done we can get on, remove the rest of the track [i.e. between Great Elm and Hapsford Junction], clear vegetation and start construction. Without further delays we should be able to get a walkable path through to Elliotts Lane [ST 760498] by the spring [of 2016]'. That will reduce the length of the 'missing link' to just under a mile since the eastern end, from Low Water (ST 771490) into Frome town centre and railway station, is already in place. The continuing success of this project, in the face of very significant difficulties, demonstrates what can be achieved with good leadership and the support of a local community. (Frome's Missing Link)

November 2015. Ashburton, Devon. We first reported on the fight to preserve the still extant Ashburton station in December last year. The latest news is that the campaign to save the building has scored a notable victory over Dartmoor National Park Authority, thanks largely to the South Devon Railway Trust which pointed out flaws in DNPA's planning process. Campaigners now hope to convince the authority to protect the site permanently, and are warning local residents that this really is the town's last opportunity to get re-connected to the national rail network at Totnes. Given this promising development, it is sad to report that, simultaneously, DNPA has received a planning application to build 32 new 'residential units' over the trackbed to the south of the station. Click the link here to find out more about this campaign. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2015. Darvel to Strathaven, Strathclyde (East Ayrshire). A recent walk by RR Scotland found a waymarked path on the short-lived Darvel & Strathaven Railway, near to its western extremity, which runs from Darvel to just short of the site of Loudounhill (sic) station. The path starts from a missing bridge at grid reference NS 573378 which crosses the minor road that leads past Darvel Cemetery, then follows the trackbed for about 1½ miles to the very end of an embankment where a high 3-span girder bridge on sandstone piers (the latter still standing) once crossed a minor road to the south west of the iconic Loudoun Hill. (This is about 300 yards short of the former Loudounhill station, which was beyond a further demolished viaduct.) At the end of the embankment, steep ramps lead down to the road, bringing the railway part of the route to an end at NS 599376. There is a short section near the eastern end of the path where the marked route follows the south edge of a deep and rather wet cutting, but the trackbed is still walkable if preferred, although the official route provides much better views. The only other interruption is one missing small underbridge where the path descends to ground level. The surface is earth/grass throughout. There are good stiles at all fences, waymark posts in the few locations where confusion might arise, and at the Darvel end it is signposted for 'Loudoun Hill'. Of note are many fine sandstone and blue brick culverts that take minor burns beneath the embankment sections. The route is suitable for walkers but could not be negotiated by wheelchair users, etc. (Keith Potter)

November 2015. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. Further to our reports in April and March, Welsh Assembly Member Bethan Jenkins (Plaid Cymru) has called for control of the Rhondda Tunnel to be transferred to the Welsh Government, claiming that it would 'bring the decision-making process closer to the people it will affect'. She has written to Welsh Transport Minister, Edwina Hart, and Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin, urging both to work together to transfer ownership of the tunnel to Wales. The tunnel currently is owned by the Historic Railways Estate (HRE) of the former Highways Agency. It is a safe bet that the HRE would be pleased to divest itself of such a large disused structure – though it will not be disused for long if the local Rhondda Tunnel Society achieves its objective of getting it re-opened for walkers and cyclists in order to provide access from Treherbert to the network of railway-based trails in the Afan Valley. (Tim Chant)

November 2015. Chichester to Midhurst, West Sussex. For nearly 20 years, a multi use trail called Centurion Way has existed on the disused trackbed between Chichester and Lavant, extended more recently about 1½ miles north to Binderton. Now the trail has been extended still further, to just short of the south portal of West Dean Tunnel, thus bringing the length of the entire route to just under 5½ miles. The West Dean Estate is responsible for this latest extension, and hopes that the trail will encourage more visitors to its house and gardens. The trail was expected to be open by now, so presumably the delay is the result of some final planning, or health and safety, issues. Years ago, the local authority aspired to make the old railway part of a link from Chichester to the South Downs Way, but it remains to be seen whether this will happen. Given that passenger services over this branch ceased in 1935, and freight services in 1951, it is remarkable that so much has been re-used. (Phil Earnshaw and Jeff Vinter)

October 2015. Wells to Dulcote, Somerset. Further to our report in August (click here), volunteers from the Strawberry Line Association have now cleared the railway path from Wells to Dulcote. Originally constructed to a width of 3.2 metres, encroaching vegetation (and brambles in particular) had reduced the width to less than a third of that, while in places soil had built up to a depth of 7". All of this has now been removed, restoring the trail to almost 'as built' condition. (Tim Chant)

October 2015. Consett to Washington, County Durham. Sustrans and Railway Paths Ltd are now carrying out a three-year programme of maintenance work to the structures along this 18 mile former railway line, with completion set for spring 2018. The easiest maintenance tasks are being attended to first, with the more complex ones (e.g. those dependent on the results of detailed ecological surveys) coming later. At Washington, the route continues east to Sunderland, but this part is not based on an old railway. (Railway Paths Ltd)

October 2015. Princes Risborough to Thame, Buckinghamshire/Oxfordshire. Two miles before this popular route (part of NCN57) reaches Thame, it crosses Cuttle Brook via an underbridge at grid reference SP 757043. Over the years, this bridge had deteriorated, but repair work finally started in mid-August and should now be complete. (Railway Paths Ltd)

October 2015. Marlborough, Wiltshire. Anyone riding south recently on the railway path from Chiseldon will have noticed a lot of water near one of the overbridges on the approach to Marlborough. The culprit is a collapsed drain, which has been causing the path to flood whenever it rains, and in the process has washed away the surface. Sustrans now plans to excavate the path, renew the drain, and repair the damaged surface; the cost of the work will be met by funds raised from a nationwide appeal this January, which raised money not just for this but also similar projects throughout the UK. Regular readers of these pages will remember that, by April this year, the Coalition Government had left no sources of funding for path maintenance, which is essential to keep the National Cycle Network in good order – and well used. (Sustrans Ltd)

October 2015. Porthcawl, Mid Glamorgan (Bridgend County Borough). Although the branch line from Pyle to Porthcawl closed to passengers on 9th September 1963, it has not been forgotten, for the town's Station Hill area now includes some visible reminders of its railway past. Artist Nigel Talbot and landscape architect Geoff Whittington have created a wooden sculpture to represent a cluster of railway signals, and a paving scheme inlaid with coloured stones to depict the many tracks and sidings that once filled the site. The project was supported by Groundwork Wales, Porthcawl Shout (a forum that speaks for the townspeople), Bridgend County Borough Council and Porthcawl Town Council. (Tim Chant)

Above: This is a fairly recent photograph which clearly shows the altered surface on the Meon Valley Trail (see story below). It looks innocent enough, but possibly different material has been installed outside the immediate environs of the old station; it looks as if this might be the case to judge from our April photographs (click here). Local residents are certainly up in arms about it. 19th June 2015. (Brian Loughlin)

October 2015. West Meon to Wickham, Hampshire. Following improvements to the old Meon Valley railway line (see here and here), now re-branded 'The Meon Valley Trail', local residents are up in arms about the new surface which they claim is 'extremely hard' with 'many of the stones … large and angular, causing horses and dogs, as well as human walkers, to experience considerable discomfort'. In fact, members of the local community are throwing the book at Hampshire County Council and the South Downs National Park Authority, claiming that they did not consult with the local community; that they have overspent public money; and that the work was unnecessary and required planning permission. The project cost a hefty £400,000 but was the most significant maintenance for decades, while the local authorities have pointed out that, as maintenance, their works did not require planning permission. Anyone who had walked this route outside high summer would be unlikely to agree that the work was unnecessary, and it is with good reason that this club described it as 'the most neglected of [Hampshire's] railway paths'. The Meon Valley Railway Line Users Group has now filed a complaint against HCC with the Local Government Ombudsman, who is expected to report within 3 to 6 months. Meanwhile, a South Downs spokesperson said: 'We remain committed to achieving a wonderful trail accessible to and enjoyed by all'. Possibly the surface now needs some remedial attention, but the trail was not 'wonderful' before, and looked more like a neglected asset – a view reinforced by the minimal number of other trail users seen over the years on a succession of club walks up and down the line. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

October 2015. Ticknall to Calke, Derbyshire. According to the National Trust's website, work on the final stage of its Derbyshire 'Tramway Project' was completed in March 2014 to create a footpath and cycleway between Calke and the Staunton Harold Estate. The tramway in question is the Ticknall Tramway, which was actually a 12½ mile network of tramways built to connect the brickyards, lime quarries and lime yards of Ticknall with the Ashby-de-la-Zouch Canal. Built between 1802 and 1804, the tramway finally closed in 1915, although the last train ran in May 1913. Following the NT's work, a new rail trail of 2½ miles now exists from grid reference SK 355237 (near Ticknall) to SK 359208 (on Heath Lane near Heath End) via Pottery House and White Hollows. Sports England and the Disability Access Fund both gave £20,000 each to the project. To conserve the underlying archaeology, a membrane was laid over the tramway remains and the new path laid on top. (David Thompson)

October 2015. Lount, Leicestershire. A short railway path of a quarter of a mile has come to light in rural Leicestershire. It is situated near Lount and runs from grid reference SK 378189 (east end) to SK 382190 (west end), where it veers north just short of the B587 to share an exit with the drive to Lountwood Farm. The Forestry Commission's website refers to a 'permissive path along the old railway line' which links Bignall's Wood and Alastair's Wood; the map here provides details. This path was once part of the Midland Railway's line from Melbourne to Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Moira and Burton-on-Trent; it is very close to The Cloud Trail from Worthington to Swarkestone. (David Thompson)

October 2015. Hallaton, Leicestershire. Another short path which has come to light is a 200 yard trackbed-based link at Hallaton, 4 miles north east of Market Harborough. It runs from SP 794966 on Horninghold Road to an east-west public footpath at SP 794968. This was part of the former joint Great Northern and London & North Western line from Market Harborough to Bottesford via John o'Gaunt – an attractive cross-country byway of which virtually no part has been re-used as a trail. (David Thompson)

October 2015. Bennerley Viaduct, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. The Heritage Lottery Fund has just approved an application from Sustrans and Railway Paths for £40,000 for the following purposes:

  • To raise awareness about Bennerley Viaduct through self-guided walks, tours, exhibitions, school sessions and interpretation;
  • To work with volunteers to improve the condition of the viaduct and its environs to bring it into better condition;
  • To conduct wildlife surveys, and improve habitat management and ecological heritage; and
  • To recruit staff and volunteers and develop a 'Friends Group' to support the delivery of activities.

This stage of the process will be branded 'Re-Discovering Bennerley Viaduct', with a larger HLF application to follow in due course. As we reported in November last year, this Grade II* listed viaduct 'stands at the heart of a plan by Sustrans to construct a cycle path network linking Nottingham, Awsworth, Ilkeston and Derby'. (Huw Davies and Bill Tomson)

October 2015. Panteg and Griffithstown Station, Gwent (Torfaen). Opened in 1879 by the Monmouthshire Railway & Canal Company, acquired by the Great Western Railway in 1880 and closed by BR's Western Region in 1965, the old station at Panteg and Griffithstown is due to be removed stone by stone and re-erected on the Dean Forest Railway. The building formerly housed a railway museum but Torfaen Council now wants to clear the site for re-development, so offered the station for removal rather than see it demolished. It is set to become the northern terminus of the DFR at Cannop, between Beechenhurst and a bicycle hire shop called 'Pedalbikeaway'; the estimated cost of dismantling and storing the building is £20,000. (Tim Chant)

Left: While we wait for Devon County Council to 'plug the gap' on the Tarka Trail between Knowle and Willingcott so as to create a continuous railway path from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe, this GWR parcel label serves as a reminder of how one used to be able to reach this north Devon holiday resort. Work on the link is continuing, but the wheels of the planning system turn slowly. (Jeff Vinter Collection)

September 2015. East Grinstead to Three Bridges, West Sussex. The remains of this old line are better known nowadays as The Worth Way, which links together surviving sections of trackbed to provide an east-west link across the northern edge of the High Weald. In September and October this year, the 1½ mile section from East Grinstead to Gullege is being closed for re-surfacing work, which is being financed by Section 106 grants as mitigation for housing developments in the area. (In other words, developers are paying for this work rather than local residents via their council tax.) The Worth Way now attracts over 90,000 visitors per year, who collectively have worn out the top dressing of the path and eroded its camber, which used to allow rainwater to run off effectively. Further Section 106 applications have been made which, if successful, will enable the local authority to extend the repair works to Crawley Down, 3 miles west of East Grinstead. A visit on Saturday 26th September showed that the work is being executed to a high standard; trail users will notice a huge difference when it is finished. (Jeff Vinter)

Note: In early 2013, West and East Sussex County Councils re-surfaced the Forest Way between East Grinstead and Forest Row to a similar standard, the Forest Way being the former railway line from East Grinstead to Groombridge. The link between East Grinstead's two rail trails could be better, but unfortunately the direct route via the old railway was re-used as a bypass for the town centre decades ago. The bypass is called Beeching Way and, as part of the A22, is no place for walkers; it's not very nice for cyclists either. (Jeff Vinter)

September 2015. Radford Semele (near Leamington Spa) to New Bilton (Rugby), Warwickshire. Further to our report in January, this ex-LNWR cross-country line has been earmarked for re-use as a trail for many years, but progress has been painfully slow. So far, only two short sections have been converted: between Radford Semele and Offchurch (SP 354649 to SP 366656, ¾ mile), and between Birdingbury station and Draycote Meadows Nature Reserve (SP 431691 to SP 449708, 1 mile). However, the trackbed generally is open all the way from Radford Semele to New Bilton, although muddy in places and waterlogged near Bondon Farm, north of Birdingbury (SP 427688). Given that one's way is unimpeded except for a single missing bridge east of Offchurch (SP 375661), it seems likely that local authorities purchased the trackbed but were unable to finance end-to-end conversion as a trail – perhaps because of the several large viaducts along the way. The section from Draycote Meadows towards Rugby is owned by Railway Paths Ltd, which has thoughtfully erected a sign which states that the old railway may be walked or cycled on a permissive basis. Approaching Cawston, a local community group has been working to clear vegetation and improve drainage, both of which are encouraging signs. On the final approach to Rugby, which is made parallel to the new A4071, a long wet cutting eventually gives way to a properly made up cycle trail which ends at the Lawford Road traffic lights (SP 489755). On the east side of these, when the trees are not in leaf, one can just spot the buffer stop at the end of the disused Rugby-New Bilton freight spur. Taking the route as a whole, this old line can be walked from SP 354649 to SP 489755, a distance of 11¼ miles. Current conditions make an end-to-end cycle ride unattractive except for those who are very fond of mud. (Jeff Vinter)

September 2015. Tintern to Chepstow, Monmouthshire/Gloucestershire. There is good news about this scenic branch line down the Wye Valley, which narrowly escaped conversion into a trail at the turn of the Millennium when it was one of Sustrans' 'Connect2' projects and ca. £1 million was available, including funds to construct a new river bridge immediately south of Tintern station. At that time, the concerns of residents at nearby Brockweir – that most users of the trail would come by car and block local lanes – held sway in Monmouthshire CC, where the crucial vote on the project was lost by the narrowest of margins. Over a decade later, other local residents who actually want the trail have launched a petition in its favour which has attracted over 3,500 signatures. Sustrans is again involved (see here), but now Monmouthshire CC is singing to a different tune. Mark Hand, the council's Head of Planning, was reported in the 9th September edition of The Monmouthshire Beacon as saying: 'Monmouthshire County Council welcomes the principle of this cycle path which would help deliver the council’s aspiration to develop the county as an attractive cycling destination and grow the benefits of cycle tourism. We recently invited Sustrans to meet us to discuss ways that we can work together to move this project forward. It was a productive meeting and we look forward to working with Sustrans and other interested parties, especially given the considerable public support for this project locally.' To read The Beacon's full report, click here. (Keith Holliday/Jeff Vinter)

September 2015. Bilsthorpe to Clipstone Forest (Nottinghamshire). A new 2¾ mile leisure trail opened in May 2013 along this former colliery line, running from SK 648612 on the northern end of Bilsthorpe to SK 608607 on the southern edge of Clipstone Forest. As well as linking at Bilsthorpe with the Southwell Trail to Farnsfield and Southwell, the eastern end in Clipstone Forest links to cycle trails at Sherwood Pines Forest Park, which in turn link to Centre Parcs Sherwood Holiday Village. Arguably most useful of all, this new trail provides a safe crossing of the busy A614 at SK 638612. The local authority's press release can be read by clicking the link here. (David Thompson)

August 2015. Aberystwyth to Carmarthen, Dyfed (Ceredigion/Carmarthenshire). Traws Link Cymru is campaigning for the reinstatement of the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen and Bangor-Afon Wen railways, which were closed to passengers on various dates in 1964, 1965 and 1970. This autumn, the group plans to fly a camera-equipped microlight aircraft over the Aberystwyth-Carmarthen route, claiming that only 3% of the 56 mile long trackbed has been 'lost'. TLC's campaign has attracted over 10,000 signatures on various petitions, as well as the support of 37 AMs (Assembly Members), 5 MPs, 46 town/community councils, Ceredigion County Council, Carmarthenshire County Council and the counties' local health board, Hywel Dda. Despite successful public meetings throughout the area, the sticking point is likely to be the cost of reinstating the railway, not to mention the fact that the section between Aberystwyth and Tregaron is now used by the Ystwyth Trail, which makes its own contribution to the region by providing a largely traffic-free route for walkers and cyclists. TLC says: 'We believe that closure of these routes was a mistake which should be put right. We need a rail link to boost the economy, protect the environment and connect the nation.' Just two years ago, The Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways were talking about re-opening the 7 mile rail link between Bangor and Caernarvon in order to complete a 90 mile circular rail route around and through Snowdonia; they estimated then that the cost would be £40 million – and that was for a narrow gauge rather than standard gauge line. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

August 2015. Wells to Dulcote, Somerset. Following complaints about the poor state of the railway path from Wells to Dulcote, which re-uses part of the former East Somerset Railway's line from Wells to Shepton Mallet and Witham Friary, Somerset County Council's Highways Department has given the Strawberry Line Association the go-ahead to maintain the path with local voluntary help. The SLA's first site meeting took place on 9th July with Sustrans rangers to assess what needed to be done. (The Strawberry Line Association)

August 2015. Tunnels in South East Wales. The Welsh Government – owner of disused railway tunnels in the Clydach Gorge and at Tintern in the Wye Valley – has commissioned Sustrans to develop proposals for their re-opening as part of safe routes for walkers and cyclists. If the tunnel at Tintern is to be re-used, the corollary is replacement of the adjoining but long-lost bridge over the River Wye so that visitors to the restored Tintern station can access Tintern Abbey via a safe, traffic-free route, i.e. the trackbeds of the old railway and connecting Wire Works Branch. This work is part of a wider commission to produce 'high level recommendations … [to bring] … selected former railway tunnels in South Wales into use as walking and cycling routes, enhancing and linking into the existing active travel network in the region'. The largest of these tunnels is the 3,443 yard Rhondda Tunnel west of Treherbert station, which is reported elsewhere in these pages. (Gwyn Smith, Area Manager for South East Wales, Sustrans Ltd)

Above: There is no way to convey the sheer size of Holbeck Viaduct in a photograph taken from ground level, so we have highlighted its course on an aerial photograph taken from Google Earth; our yellow spots mark the section which the 'Holbeck Highline' group seeks to re-use. The western end of Leeds station area is just visible in the top right. For further details, see the story below. (www.google.co.uk/maps/)

August 2015. August 2015. Leeds, West Yorkshire. It's been 18 months since we last reported on the project in Leeds to re-use Holbeck (a.k.a. Farnley) Viaduct, but the community-led Holbeck Highline group is persisting, which is the key to success in such cases. Ed Carlisle, one the group's leaders, reports that talks with viaduct owner Network Rail have been 'positive', but that progress is slow. (Isn't it always with NR?) In order to increase the public profile of the project and build support, the group has launched its own website, holbeckhighline.org.uk, and – more adventurously – has engaged iSky Unmanned Systems Ltd to fly a drone along the course of the route; the resultant video can be viewed here on the website of the Yorkshire Evening Post. The disused railway which once crossed the viaduct ran for over a mile from Beeston right into the heart of the city, and was the default route for London to Leeds trains from 1st May 1967 until 11th October 1987, when its tight curves made it unsuitable for electrification; the overhead equipment wouldn't fit. The main viaduct is 1,230 yards long with 83 arches, most of which have a 24ft. span, although there are variations from 20 to 85ft. The structure also incorporates 10 girder bridges and several blind arches which result from the S bend at the east end of its route. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

August 2015. Cheddar to Yatton, Somerset. The Strawberry Line (formerly the Cheddar Valley Railway Path) will be closed between Sandford and Congresbury from Wednesday 2nd September for a fortnight to allow vehicles to convey to an adjoining field the materials necessary to construct a new 'solar farm' of photovoltaic panels. Traffic is expected on the old railway first thing in the morning and last thing at night. While trail users will not welcome this 'occupation', it may serve a useful purpose in knocking back vegetation, which always encroaches at this time of year. There is better news at the Sandford end in that a new electricity substation is planned, which will require a diversion of the Strawberry Line … away from Nye Lane (off the A368) on to the old trackbed, which it has never before been able to use at this location. The new substation is part of a re-design of the electricity supply in north Somerset, which needs to be in place before the commissioning of the new 'Hinckley C' nuclear power station on the coast west of Highbridge. (Strawberry Line Society)

July 2015. Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Now rail-less Shepton Mallet used to have two stations – one on the famous Somerset & Dorset Railway, and the other on the former East Somerset Railway from Witham Friary to Wells and beyond. Now the latter's trackbed through the town could become a traffic-free multi-use trail, following completion of a full survey and recent planning application to Mendip District Council. The driving force behind all this is the Strawberry Line Association, which aims to create a network of cycle trails in Somerset based on disused railway lines. The Shepton town route would run from grid reference ST 613432 to ST 622432, where it would join the existing Millennium Way which continues along the old trackbed on the south side of Collett Park to ST 627429 on Whitstone Road (the A37). Although only some 1,000 yards long, the combined trail would be a significant achievement in terms not only of providing a safe cross-town route for walkers and cyclists, but also of re-using a town centre trackbed which last saw a train in 1969, and has been re-developed considerably in the years following. (Tim Chant)

Update (September 2015): The development company behind plans for 13 new homes to be built partly on the trackbed at Hitchin Lane (at the west end of the old ESR station site) has included provision for the Strawberry Line to go through, albeit slightly off the trackbed. This will preserve the continuity of the route and not compromise plans for a trans-Somerset network of multi-use trails based on old railways. (Tim Chant)

July 2015. Dolgellau to Barmouth, Gwynedd. One of the crowning glories of the Mawddach Trail from Dolgellau to Barmouth is crossing the Barmouth Bridge at the western end. The modest tolls (e.g. 90p for a pedestrian and £1.50 for a cyclist with bicycle) are very reasonable when one considers the length of the alternative route and the time required to negotiate it. Unfortunately, Gwynedd Council needs to reduce its spending from April 2016 by £9 million in order to cope with reduced funding from central government, and has indicated that it might cease to pay Network Rail the £30,800 p.a. required for the public right of way over the bridge. Opponents have pointed out that the bridge is part of both NCN8 and the Welsh Coast Path, which generate considerable benefits to the local economy. Sustrans Cymru's Area Manager, Glyn Evans, remarked: 'It’s a very small cost saving but it would have a large impact on the local economy in terms of tourism. The last figures I saw showed that the Mawddach Trail attracts 90,000 users a year. If you stop those people getting to Barmouth, that will have a big effect on the economy of Barmouth.' Given the newly-elected government's intention to slash the cost of public spending, this could be the start of a trend – but it sits uncomfortably with the 2015 Infrastructure Act which obliges the Secretary of State for Transport to devise a strategy to increase walking and cycling, and fund it. How these contradictory objectives can be fulfilled remains to be seen. In the meantime, Gwynedd Council will consult the public about cuts to its services; its 'hit list' deliberately includes more options than necessary in order to offer local residents some choice. (Tim Chant)

Update: Click the link here to support the campaign to keep Barmouth Bridge open to walkers and cyclists.

July 2015. Allerton Bywater to Castleford, West Yorkshire. Further to our report in June (click here), there are proposals to extend the current Garforth-Allerton Bywater railway path, known as 'The Lines Greenway', on to Castleford using the disused stub of line which once served Allerton Bywater Colliery. The Sustrans website provides the details: 'Route 697 is currently open between Garforth and Allerton Bywater on a disused railway line. The route is proposed to continue on the railway path [i.e. trackbed] to the River Aire on the north side of Castleford ...'. This suggests that a 2006-7 scheme by Wakefield and Leeds Councils (click here) has not been entirely forgotten; presumably, it could not be delivered in 2006-7 due to the financial meltdown which started the following year. (Keith Holliday)

July 2015. Newent, Gloucestershire. Here's an unusual story – not that the one about Clapham North (see below) is in any way ordinary! Newent's old station on the former GWR line from Ledbury to Gloucester has been acquired by the Herefordshire & Gloucestershire Canal Trust. The H&G Canal was opened in 1798 and 1845, but, as so often, ran into financial difficulties which were eased in 1863 when the GWR took out a lease. The waterway closed in 1881 for conversion into a railway, which saw its southern half converted into the Ledbury & Gloucester Railway; most of this closed in 1959, although freight services hung on between Gloucester and Dymock until 1964. Newent station – long a scene of desolation – still retains its platforms, and the fact that the new owner is a canal trust (whose Chairman, incidentally, saved the original footbridge) means that a restored waterway will flow between them. To top it all, everything on the site will be elevated by one metre to permit the creation of an aqueduct over nearby Bridge Street using the surviving railway abutments. David Penny, Chairman of the Trust, said: 'We are clearing the site now and hope by the end of the summer to have exposed the platform and then we can start restoring it and the building.. Plans include providing a tearoom and visitor centre on the site; click here for an artist's impression of how it will look in future. (Tim Chant)

July 2015. Clapham North, London. In late June and early July, a lot of press coverage was given to a company called 'Growing Underground', which is about to start marketing its farm produce. The name is significant, for this 'farm' occupies the deep level tube tunnels installed below the current Northern Line in 1940-42. Although used as air raid shelters during the war, the tunnels were intended to form part of an ultra low level version of the Northern Line which would miss out many of the intermediate stations for the benefit of commuters from suburbs such as Colliers Wood and Morden. Unfortunately, the country's parlous finances at the end of the war meant that the railway scheme was abandoned, after which the tunnels struggled to find a useful purpose – until now. They are 12 storeys below ground level, which means that the temperature in them is a constant 16 degrees Celsius – ideal for growing vegetables, salad plants, herbs, etc. The tunnels have been fitted with rows of growing trays and LED lights powered by green energy, with the water supply coming from what naturally seeps through the London clay. The scheme has been pioneered by two west country entrepreneurs, who have the enthusiastic support of celebrity chef Michael Roux, who is now a partner in the enterprise; his initial reaction was that these west countrymen were crazy, but 'when I visited the tunnels and sampled the delicious produce they are already growing down there I was blown away'. Pests and the vagaries of the English weather are not an issue, and there is a lot of excitement about the farm being just a few miles from both the centre of London and Covent Garden, from where its produce can be distributed to just about anywhere in the country within 8 hours. The Daily Mail gave the project particularly good coverage, as you can see here. It has been extraordinary in recent years to see several of London's old railways, both underground and overground, in the news; it is great that such innovative uses are being found for them. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: This former railway bridge over the River Plym at Laira, Plymouth, is now part of a multi-use trail (see the story below); it looked like this before the restoration project was conceived or started. This is the view looking north west, with Pomphlett and Plymstock behind the photographer, and Plymouth Friary ahead. 15th June 2009. (Bob Spalding)
Above: This is approximately the same view now, with the pylons in the distance providing a point of reference. We have to admit that the 2009 picture is more interesting, but one cannot leave old railway structures in that state forever because, eventually, they become unsafe or beyond economic repair. In the end, it's the old, old story – 'Use them or lose them'. July 2015. (Bob Spalding)
Above: To atone for the blandness of the above picture, here's a view, again looking north west, which shows off the restoration work to good effect. The old railway parapet has been made good and re-painted, while an inner parapet has been installed to provide extra safety on the new trail; as can be seen, the gaps in the old parapet are rather large. July 2015. (Bob Spalding)

June 2015. Plymouth Friary to Turnchapel, Devon. Further to our report in March, the restored Laira railway bridge in Plymouth was opened to walkers and cyclists in May. Passenger trains last used the bridge in 1951 although freight continued until 1987, after which it began a long decline. The restoration, which started a year ago, has included grit blasting, repairs to the ironwork, a full repaint, the installation of a new deck, new parapets and street lighting, and the removal of a disused gas main. The bridge is set to become part of NCN27 but, according to Plymouth City councillor Mark Coker – cabinet member for transport – more improvements for walkers and cyclists are in the pipeline: 'We've also brought forward work to provide a new bridge over The Ride [the connecting route to Saltram House] as part of this project and, in the longer term, we plan to extend the pedestrian and cycle path further along the old railway alignment to Saltram Meadow [a new housing development on the former Plymstock Quarry] and beyond.' The cost of the bridge repairs was met largely by a £3½ million grant from the Department for Transport's Local Sustainable Transport Fund. (Greg Beecroft)

June 2015. Garforth, West Yorkshire. This town near Leeds is the start of two railway paths, namely:

  • Garforth–Aberford: 3m, SE 413338–SE 433369. This route is based on the Aberford Railway, which the Gascoigne family opened in 1834 to carry coal from their collieries near Garforth to Aberford on the Great North Road. The old railway can be picked up from the north end of Ash Lane, off the modern A624 east of Garforth station, from where it's an easy walk to Aberford thanks to a falling gradient. The section to SE 421358 is a public footpath; the rest a bridleway.
  • Garforth–Allerton Bywater: 3½m, SE 411324–SE 421280. Part of the Leeds Country Way, also NCN697, based on a section of the former NER line from Garforth to Kippax and Castleford.

The original entry in the online gazetteer conflated them. We're not sure how that happened, but the error has now been corrected. (Keith Holliday/Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. Cockermouth, Cumbria. Exploring the Ordnance Survey's new online product, 'OS Maps', it was discovered that a short section of the former Cockermouth, Keswick & Penrith Railway is now a cycle trail on the east side of the former Cockermouth station. The trail runs from grid reference NY 122303, on the west side of the River Cocker, to NY 132301, a distance of approximately one mile. At the eastern end, the trail can be accessed from a link off of Strawberry How Road. It looks as if the trail is part of NCN71. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. Kimberley to Hempshill Vale, Nottinghamshire. Continuing the trial of 'OS Maps', it was found that a cycle trail now exists east of Kimberley on part of the Great Northern's former line from Derby to Nottingham via Ilkeston. The trail starts at grid reference SK 502450 by Kimberley School and runs 1½ miles east to SK 526446 on Low Wood Road (the A6002) in Hempshill Vale. En route, the trail passes under the M1, which will be noisy, but it offers the quickest route, and a level one, into Kimberley School from the east. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. St. Budeaux, Plymouth, to Saltash, Devon/Cornwall. Here's a chance for a very different type of railway walk – probably a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. If you have a head for heights, are over 14 years of age, have £15 to spare and nothing in your diary on Sunday 12th July, then click the link here to book your place for an escorted walk over the Royal Albert Bridge, which carries the Great Western main line between St. Budeaux in Devon and Saltash in Cornwall. Network Rail, which has just completed a six year refurbishment programme on the structure, is arranging the walk for ten groups of 40 people each. (Tim Chant)

Update: All tickets have now sold out but the organisers have applied to Network Rail for a further batch to be allocated. An announcement will be made here on Wednesday 17th June. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. Lochearnhead to St. Fillans and Dalchonzie, nr. Comrie, Central/Tayside (Stirling/Perth & Kinross). It is early days yet, but funding has become available for a shared use path from Lochearnhead to Dalchonzie on the trackbed of the Caledonian Railway's former line from Balquhidder to Crieff and Perth. The distance is 11½ miles, so this will be a significant route. A community trust will be responsible for the construction and maintenance of the path, but currently the construction standards have not been finalised. The development of this trail would regularise the present informal use of the 2½ mile section between St. Fillans and Dalchonzie, while affording a connection at Lochearnhead with a 4 mile section of the Glen Ogle Trail northwards to Glenoglehead. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. Torksey, Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire. Following the granting of all planning and listed buildings approvals, Railway Paths Ltd (RPL) expected to start work on a partial restoration of Torksey Viaduct in March in order to open one span for pedestrian use. The charity has made an application to the Railway Heritage Trust for a further £200,000 to be spent on the viaduct in 2015-16; this money will be used to improve the parapet and install a sealed surface over the deck, which is necessary to prevent water ingress. The charity remains committed to opening the viaduct for cyclists, but an important planning issue must first be resolved with Lincolnshire CC: on the eastern approach to the viaduct, the former railway bridge over the A156 has been removed, and the local authority wants it reinstated to provide cyclists with a safe, grade-separated approach to the river crossing. A site inspection in February this year confirmed the difficulties at road level.

Torksey Viaduct has been an extremely difficult structure to bring back into use. Setting aside the decades of neglect before it was transferred to RPL, many statutory bodies have an interest in it: two county councils (one each side of the River Trent), two district councils (ditto), and the Canal and River Trust. Then there's the matter of its Grade II* listing, which meant that Historic England had to give approval for any improvement works; the viaduct is on its 'Buildings at Risk' register as well. Finally, owls nesting in box girders and a badger sett on one of the approach embankments meant that Natural England had to be consulted and give its approval. On the plus side, the local communities are very keen to see the viaduct restored and brought back into use; it has been a blot on the local landscape for far too long. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2015. National. The National Cycle Network, which includes a significant proportion of old railways, suffered badly in the wind- and rain-lashed winter of 2013-14, and not all of the required repairs could be financed in 2014. In response to this, Sustrans launched a maintenance appeal amongst its supporters, which raised over £190,000. In his April newsletter, chief executive Malcolm Shepherd described the response as 'nothing short of incredible' and thanked everyone who had been able to support the appeal. (Sustrans Ltd)

Above: The new £350,000 bridge at Peek Hill, south of Princetown on the course of the former GWR branch line to Yelverton, is an elegant piece of design which re-uses the remnants of the earlier abutments. However, despite installation on 2nd April, the bridge was still not open officially when this photograph was taken four months later, and there are no notices to explain why. The scheme was carried out by South West Highways as part of the wider 'Granite and Gears' project which seeks to improve access to Dartmoor for cyclists. The lead partner in 'Granite and Gears' is Devon County Council, which is working with Dartmoor National Park Authority and Maristowe Estate, the landowner, to encourage more people to travel around the national park by bicycle. Most local authorities now recognise that walkers and cyclists spend more in an area than car-borne visitors, for whom it is easy to bring much – if not all – that they need. 1st August 2015. (Bob Spalding)

June 2015. Yelverton to Princetown, Devon. Further to our report in November 2014, Devon County Council installed the new Peek Hill Bridge over the B3212 (grid reference SX 549696) on 2nd April; from a railwayman's point of view, it is situated between Burrator Halt and Ingra Tor Halt, although it was not officially open when visited in late May. The new bridge is higher than its predecessor, whose low headroom was the reason for its early removal. This link will take you to a Plymouth Herald web page which includes a video of the new bridge being lifted into place. Another very interesting link is this one, which will take you to a page on the Cornwall Railway Society's website filled with photographs of the old branch throughout its life. (David Bickell and Brian Loughlin)

June 2015. Usk to Little Mill Junction (nr. Pontypool), Monmouthshire. Following closure of the freight line from Little Mill Junction to the Royal Ordnance Factory at Glascoed, the Usk Trail Access Group (UTAG) has asked Monmouthshire County Council to support its proposals for a cycle trail along the old rail corridor; specifically, the group wants the local authority to take on legal responsibility for the route. On 29th January, local councillor Val Smith presented UTAG's request to the Strong Communities Select Committee as a 'good proposal'. The group's objectives are to benefit leisure and tourism activities in the area, and to improve local transport infrastructure. Although local authorities are reluctant to take on extra responsibilities at a time of financial constraint, UTAG has pointed out the new trail would come under the terms of the council's existing insurance for all its other trails, footpaths and bridleways, and should therefore be a marginal cost. According to Wikipedia, ROF Glascoed once included its own 17 mile standard gauge railway system with a dedicated passenger station and freight marshalling yards. 'It was linked to the Great Western Railway branch line that ran between Pontypool Road and Monmouth. This rail link enabled the three-times daily movement of up to 13,000 workers in and out of the site as well as the receipt of raw materials and components and the despatch of finished munitions.' (Tim Chant)

June 2015. National. A story which escaped our attention earlier in the year is this report from the spring edition of Sustrans' supporters' magazine, 'The Hub'; the emphasis is ours. 'New legislation was passed in February, placing a new duty on the Secretary of State for Transport to set out a strategy for increasing the numbers of people walking and cycling and, importantly, the funding to achieve it. This wouldn't have happened without the huge efforts of so many of you emailing your MPs and requesting they put their name to an amendment to the Infrastructure Bill. It's a huge achievement and one we should all be really proud of. But the story doesn't end there. We have some way to go to make sure political parties commit to this long-term strategy with a budget for safe cycling and walking routes.' This is exactly what is needed to deal with the expiry of so many sources of funding for walking and cycling routes on 5th April, the end of the 2014-15 fiscal year. We will keep an eye out for any new Sustrans' campaigns on this subject and promote them so that our own members can give their support. The main risks now are that (a) the politicians fail to provide the necessary funding, and/or (b) the funding is directed wholly at urban areas so that valuable long distance routes – which bring significant economic and safety benefits to rural communities – receive no support. Finally, the Infrastructure Bill is now the Infrastructure Act. (Sustrans Ltd/Jeff Vinter)

Above: The proposed 85 mile traffic-free route around Somerset unveiled recently by cycle campaigners in the Strawberry Line Society. For further details, see the story below. (Strawberry Line Society)

May 2015. Somerset. Sometimes, the Webmaster receives news which strikes him as a work of genius. The Strawberry Line's proposal for the 'Somerset Circle', illustrated above, definitely falls into this category. There are already well developed plans to connect Clevedon with Shepton Mallet via Cheddar, but for many the really exciting thing here is the proposed route along the Somerset & Dorset Railway between Midsomer Norton and Shepton Mallet. If this goes ahead, as we hope it will, the only gap in the S&D between Bath and Broadstone (and Poole beyond) will be the relatively short section between Shepton Mallet and Stalbridge, just inside the Dorset border. If this scheme goes ahead, then hopefully pressure will build up to finish the job and create a new coast-to-coast route from the Bristol Channel to the English Channel. Elsewhere on the map, the proposals for a trail along the course of the Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Light Railway also build upon current work in progress. Richard Jones of the Strawberry Line Association commented: 'The smaller routes linking these towns will make safer routes to school for children, and will help people get around the area for leisure. They are really vital for linking up local communities, making people less reliant on ever more congested roads – especially when there are more housing developments being planned. The Somerset Circle is a grander scheme. The aim is to draw in visitors from all over the country.' We say, 'Bring it on!' And don't forget to sign the petition in the yellow panel above! (Tim Chant)

May 2015. Romsey to Andover, Hampshire. The Old Station House at Mottisfont on the former Test Valley line, now the Test Way, is on the market with estate agent Winkworths at a hefty £850,000 – and it is under offer. The property actually comprises the old railway station and the station master's house, so the buyer will get a lot for his/her money; and, until the sale is finalised, some lovely pictures are available at the link here. At the next station up the line, Horsebridge, owner Val Charrington is hosting a series of 'Speakeasy' events in late May (click here), which suggests that past planning wrangles with Test Valley Borough Council have been resolved. While in this area, an unusual fact has come to light about Mottisfont & Dunbridge station on the still open Southampton-Salisbury line: it is the responsibility of one train operating company (First Great Western), but the actual train service is provided by another (South West Trains). There's a full list of these anomalies here. (Tim Grose)

April 2015. Preston to Bamber Bridge, Lancashire. There is an impasse at the moment regarding extending the cycle trail from Bamber Bridge and Lower Penwortham into Preston station. The culprit is a bailey bridge near the station which was built by the Royal Engineers in the 1950s to sit on top of the original 1848 railway overbridge as a 'temporary' measure. NR says that it is 'aware of the aspirations' for the cycle path at Preston station and has no objection in principle. However, it will not issue a licence until issues regarding the bridge's liabilities have been resolved. At the moment, NR will not allow extensive cycle traffic to pass under the bridge because it needs costly improvement work. It sums up the current situation as follows: 'Network Rail are willing to joint fund refurbishment of the Bailey Bridge (sic) and offer Lancashire County Council a commuted lump sum payment to take on ownership and liabilities associated with the bridge, leaving Network Rail with no remaining interest at this location. Network Rail is currently awaiting advice from Lancashire County Council on whether they wish to accept this offer.' At a time when central government is strangling the money supply to local authorities, it is a safe bet that LCC is concerned about making a commitment due to worries about long term maintenance costs. (Les Simpson)

April 2015. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. Further to our report in March, the inspection of the sealed Rhondda Tunnel by Hammond ECS and the Mines Rescue Service has now been completed. The engineers found the tunnel to be in essentially the same condition as when it closed in 1968, which sounds obviously but could not be relied upon without an inspection. Now the long-lost stone from the portal of the tunnel is to be transported to its temporary home at Treherbert Station, where it will remain on display until the day when it can be hoisted back above the tunnel entrance where it belongs. (Rob Davidson)

Update: Following the positive tunnel inspection, the Welsh government gave the go ahead for a full feasibility study into re-opening it for walkers and cyclists at the start of May; work will commence shortly. If you want to see what the engineers saw, click the link here; the pictures are fascinating, especially that of 'The Cog', a timber structure built from old railway sleepers to prevent stone falling on to workers while they removed the rails. (Rob Davidson and Tim Chant)

April 2015. Rowden Mill, Herefordshire. In about 1973 when our correspondent purchased a Triumph Stag motor car (remember them?), he placed an advert in Birmingham to sell his MGB. The gentleman who turned up to buy it popped up in his life some years later, by which time he had purchased Rowden Mill station on the former GWR line from Bromyard to Leominster; restoration began in 1984, and now the station has been re-equipped with track, rolling stock, various Wickham trolleys and a BR Class 03 diesel shunter. Recently, the property has been on the market with estate agent Andrew Grant. The next station about 5 miles west along the line was Fencote, where another railway enthusiast has done an equally fine job of restoration. Wikipedia's entries on these two stations (click here and here) are well worth a look. (Peter Duddy)

April 2015. Buxton, Derbyshire. A large retail development planned for Buxton's station area is in deadlock because Peak Rail owns some land there which it acquired many years ago to secure access to the town from the south. A spokesman for Peak Rail explained that, as a train operating company, it has surprising and extensive powers, including a legal right of access to its property at Buxton. In 1990, Peak Rail had centres in both Buxton (the 'Buxton Steam Centre') and Darley Dale. The steam centre was very successful and, amongst other achievements, replaced an iron bridge over a road south of Buxton station, but British Rail resisted its attempts to operate train services to Blackwell Mill (the northern end of the Monsal Trail); eventually, this inability to break out of Buxton persuaded the organisation to re-locate to Darley Dale at the southern end of the line. Most of the Buxton site was then sold to the Buxton Spring Water Company, now part of Nestlé Waters UK Ltd which opened a massive new factory at Buxton in 2013, thus – supposedly – releasing the old factory at the station for re-development. Peak Rail, even with the powers it is now exercising, still has a long way to go. Its first newsletter spoke of reaching Buxton from Darley Dale in 2000, but 15 years later it still runs only from Matlock to Rowsley South, some 15 miles away. (Mike Hodgson)

Above: The new Trailway car park under construction at the north end of Shillingstone, Dorset; for further details, see the story below. 14th April 2015. (Tim Chant)
Above: Members of the Shillingstone Railway Project have been very busy during the 2014-15 winter period, as can be seen from the track that they have laid south from Shillingstone station. Before the work could begin, the trackbed had to be made level again. This is the first time that track has appeared at this location since it was removed by the demolition gang in 1966. The North Dorset Trailway can be seen beyond the fence on the left. 14th April 2015. (Tim Chant)

April 2015. Shillingstone and Stourpaine, Dorset. Things have been happening at Shillingstone on the North Dorset Trailway. First, Dorset Countryside has been working on the construction of a car park for Trailway users at the north end of the village, just east of Hayward Lane bridge (on the road from Shillingstone to Child Okeford). Elsewhere, the Shillingstone Station Project has installed a new level crossing south of the station and relaid about a quarter of a mile of track towards Stourpaine & Durweston Halt. However, the news from Stourpaine is not so good, for both the village hall and adjoining car park – once very useful for Trailway users – have been demolished to make way for new housing. The loss of the car park makes it awkward for car-borne visitors to use Stourpaine as an access point for the Trailway, which is bound to affect trade at the village pub and shop. Two years ago, the owners of these businesses were thrilled by the prospect of extra trade being generated by the Trailway; one wonders what they must think now. (Tim Chant)

Update: Research in May suggested that things might not be so bad, as a replacement village hall is due to open in July at the Draper Memorial Playing Fields at the end of the road called 'Havelins', which is actually directly on the Trailway; click here for further details. Our correspondent writes: 'Whilst I cannot see any explicit reference to the new parking arrangements, there is a definitely already a car park there and I counted 25 cars in the Google aerial map view, and it does not look full up even then. So, if anything, this new arrangement could be better than before.' (Tim Grose)

Above: The platforms of West Meon station have been fully revealed after decades of concealment by trees and general vegetation. This time last year, Hampshire County Council's clearance work was under way, as a result of which the platforms were stacked with timber awaiting removal. This view is looking north towards the now demolished West Meon Viaduct. 11th April 2015. (Brian Loughlin)
Above: Looking south along the trackbed from West Meon towards Droxford, the next station down the line. The effect of the local authority's work is obvious. Apart from improving the route for trail users, the thinning of the dense tree canopy will improve bio-diversity along the whole railway corridor. 11th April 2015. (Brian Loughlin)

April 2015. West Meon to Wickham, Hampshire. Exactly a year ago (click here), we reported that Hampshire County Council had started improvement works on the most neglected of its railway paths, namely that from the picturesque village of West Meon south to Wickham. A year later, our correspondent reports that this 11 mile route is a great deal better, and hopes that the local authority's investment will increase awareness and use of it. The photographs above show some of the enwly completed work. (Brian Loughlin)

April 2015. Shoreham-by-Sea to Christ's Hospital, West Sussex. As a general rule, the bus services which replaced withdrawn rail services during the 1960s did not last long, but that between Shoreham and Horsham (just north of Christ's Hospital) re-appeared last year thanks to local bus operator Southern Transit. In 2014, the company's new route 3 operated on Saturdays, Sundays and bank holidays throughout the school summer vacation, and it appears from local advertising and the company's website that it will run again in 2015. Click here for last year's timetable, which shows the 2 hourly interval service then on offer – a boon for anyone who wanted to walk one way along part of the popular Downs Link bridleway, which has re-used the trackbed since 1972. It is a nice touch that the bus company's timetable features totem signs for all the 'lost' stations along the line. (Jeff Vinter)

     
Above: The former station at Bovey Tracey, used for many years as a furniture store, became available in 1995 and now houses the Bovey Tracey Heritage Centre, operated by Devon Museums; it is open from April to October, and admission is free. The building has been fully restored – or will have been when the roof work is complete – and contains a good collection of railway exhibits, including a model of the station just prior to closure in 1959. The preserved GWR 'Toad' brake van parked in the yard outside includes a model of the now demolished Moretonhampstead terminus at about the same time. In spring 2015, visitors could boost the centre's funds by purchasing genuine GWR goods labels, such as those illustrated above. It is curious that the 'glass' label lacks the 'with care' admonition provided for the eggs; one would have thought that there was little to choose in terms of fragility! Twenty years ago, finds such as these were not uncommon in the attics of disused stations. 9th April 2015. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2015. Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead, Devon. Further to our report in November 2014 (click here), the extension to the railway path from Bovey Tracey is now complete. The trail starts at grid reference SX 814782 in Station Road, Bovey, and runs alongside the River Bovey through the town's Mill Marsh Park before joining the trackbed at SX 811785. It then runs continuously for 1½ miles to SX 794800, where a ramp drops down to Knowle Lane for the final mile into Lustleigh. It is not known if the trail will use more of the old trackbed into Lustleigh, but it will certainly not use it within the village where new building, garden extensions and understandable householder sensitivities make this impractical. However, Devon County Council is negotiating to re-use the trackbed from Lustleigh northwards to connect with the existing rail trail, now part of NCN28, which runs from near Steward Farm on the A382 to Moretonhampstead. Note that this does not enter the town via the old station site, which is now used as a depot, but skirts its southern edge before running just south of the Wadley Brook to reach Pound Street. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2015. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. The current 'state of play' with this project is that Colliers Way from Radstock ends at Great Elm, but Phase 1 of the missing link into Frome Town Centre is open. Now the local campaign is seeking to raise £20,000 which, if raised in full, Sustrans will top up to £200,000 in order to get Phase 2 built so as to complete the link. Sustrans is handling the collection of donations, and you can contribute by clicking the link here. If you are a taxpayer, don't forget to click the 'Gift Aid' option, which will cost you nothing more. Please share news of this appeal with others. (Frome's Missing Link)

April 2015. Barnstaple to Ilfracombe, Devon. We have reported already that Devon County Council plans to 'plug the gap', or rather the trackbed gap, on the leg of the Tarka Trail that runs from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe, largely via the old railway. We have now learned that DCC received a planning application for this work on 14th September last year, and that it recommended the granting of conditional permission. Just to remind readers, this development will incorporate into the Tarka Trail the final 25% of old railway which, until recently, remained in private hands. When this work was announced initially, the council aspired to have the new section open by the end of the 2014-15 financial year, but that may have slipped somewhat. If you want to read the council's paper, click here. (Tim Grose)

March 2015. Heacham to Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. This is not a conventional news report, but a runner's survey of what survives of this former Great Eastern cross-country line; as such, we thought that it would be of interest – especially since we believe that this line has gone unreported by the club since it was founded in 1978. Starting at the east end, you can now stay at Heacham station in either the old waiting room (sleeps 2) or a converted first class BR Mark I railway carriage (sleeps 4); see here for details. Most of the trackbed from Heacham to Sedgeford and Docking is walkable, but none of it officially. However, an analysis of GPS tracks by runners on the Strava website suggests that a fair bit of use is made of the trackbed from Sedgeford station to the junction with the Peddars Way at grid reference TF 721375. Sedgeford station survives as a private residence, complete with canopy and level crossing gate. Part of the platforms of Docking station exist within the garden of the station master’s house, which is now a private residence. Stanhoe station has enjoyed the same good fortune as Sedgeford and is now part of Station Farm, although the station was sited inconveniently at TF 799385 over a mile north of the village. By the time you get out this far, the only trace of the old railway is the field boundary shown on the local OS Explorer map. The station at Burnham Market is another one where you can now stay (see here): it is an outpost of the The Hoste Arms, the town's boutique hotel, but is about 10 minutes' walk away at TF 836420.

Above: The man-made lake which has been constructed alongside the ex-GER trackbed east of Leath House crossing between Burnham Market and Holkham in Norfolk. See story above and below. 26th March 2015. (Tim Grose)

Before the next station at Holkham, a man-made lake has appeared beyond Leath House Crossing Cottage in the field immediately east and south of the trackbed. There is a permissive path on the trackbed from Burnham Market to Leath House and, in the past, I used to run to/from Holkham and come out on the B1115 just north of the Peterstone Cutting house (which is at TF 865430). Now the northern bank of the lake is almost on the old line and certainly parallel to it. Slightly further north, the trackbed can be walked unofficially from Dale Hole for a mile to the site of Holkham station, which has disappeared without trace; only a 1953 flood level marker survives on the trackbed, and its existence indicates why this part of the line had no chance of remaining in use. The station at the line's terminus, Wells-next-the-Sea, is now a bookshop, and from south of here one can catch a narrow gauge train on the modern Wells & Walsingham Light Railway to the new station at Walsingham. The original GER station at Walsingham (further south) is now a Russian Orthodox church with the platform still intact. While in Walsingham, if you follow Sandy Lane south out of the village, you'll soon pick up the trackbed-based cycle trail that leads on to the Roman Catholic National Shrine at Houghton St. Giles. After that, the trackbed is mostly walkable, again unofficially, to about a mile outside Fakenham with access to the town thereafter on quiet lanes. To conclude, while the old line from Heacham to Wells doesn't make a viable walk, a cycle ride is an option: between Heacham and Holkham, the route is all B and C class roads with plenty of old stations to view along the way. At Wells, the narrow gauge railway to Walsingham and the cycle trail thence to Houghton St. Giles are bonuses. (Tim Grose)

Above: The edge of Lavenham station site, which is being re-developed (see story below) looking from the new to the old path. Note the soot marks on the brick arch of the bridge, which are still evident despite the trains disappearing as long ago as 1965. 29th March 2015. (Tim Grose)

March 2015. Lavenham, Suffolk. Further to our report in December 2013, when Lavenham station site had been cleared but not developed because Babergh District Council could not find a commercial buyer, our correspondent has returned to the scene. He reports that building work by Knight Developments is now well under way, although the name chosen for the development – 'The Halt' – is as predictable and corny as any thought up by a developer in the last 50 years. (Lavenham station could never be described as a halt, as a few moments' research on Google would have revealed; see the selection of old photographs here.) Good news for railway ramblers is that a path appears to be under construction from the station site, passing beneath the Bury Road bridge on to the start of the Lavenham Walk, the existing railway path to near Long Melford. (Tim Grose)

March 2015. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. Further to our report in December last year (click here), the campaign to re-open the 3,443 yard Rhondda or Blaencwm Tunnel – the longest in Wales – is making slow but significant progress. A three day inspection by engineers is now scheduled for 15th-17th April, which will be carried out by Aberdare firm Hammond ECS alongside the Mines Rescue Service. The engineers will be looking at the structural integrity of the tunnel and associated safety issues, such as whether sulphuric acid has formed in stagnant water (a known risk) and whether the air is breathable (the carbon dioxide levels might be too high). Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and several Welsh Assembly members now support the campaign. Leighton Andrews, Assembly Member for the Rhondda, believes that the project could boost local tourism, and that the campaign’s aim of re-opening the tunnel as an attraction for cyclists and walkers was 'the correct one'. The successfully-completed Two Tunnels Project in Bath, which in April 2012 re-opened Devonshire and Combe Down Tunnels on the old Somerset & Dorset Railway out of Bath, was an important precedent. (Tim Chant)

March 2015. Dundee, Tayside. The Dundee & Newtyle Railway was the first railway in the north of Scotland; it opened in 1831 and closed to passengers on 10th January 1955, although freight survived until 6th November 1967. The original route included three rope-worked inclines operated by stationary engines. One of these ascended Dundee Law, where there was also a tunnel. Deviation lines to the north and west of Dundee were opened in the 1860s, which enabled the inclines to be closed, after which they fell into disuse. There the story might have ended but for a local community campaign to get the tunnel re-opened as a visitor attraction. This is making surprisingly rapid and effective progress, as can be seen from the group's Facebook page. The entry for 24th March reports that the Highways Agency (presumably its Historic Railways Estate department) has completed a full laser survey of the tunnel, which shows it to be in very good condition, and that the Agency is 'warm' to the idea of 'transferring the asset to the city along with a dowry/legacy fund for its long term repair and maintenance'. (Greg Beecroft)

Above: Approaching Chippenham on the railway path from Calne. Until November 2014, walkers and cyclists had to turn left into D'Arcy Close, but now can continue straight ahead to near the former junction with the GWR's Bristol main line. For further details, see the story below. 25th March 2015. (Robin Summerhill)

Above: A complementary photograph to the one above – approaching Calne on the railway path from Chippenham. The re-development of the former Calne station site is revealed by the stacks of building materials beyond the fence on the right. At the end of this scene, the path drops down from the railway embankment and swings left to pick up the towpath of the Calne branch of the Wilts & Berks Canal, which it then follows to the junction of Station Road and New Road at grid reference ST 998708. For further details, see the story below. 25th March 2015. (Robin Summerhill)

Above: This extract from the Ordnance Survey's out-of-copyright 1919 one-inch map of Marlborough and Devizes (Sheet 112) shows that Calne station was a little way outside the town, though no great distance by the standards of other west country stations such as Bodmin Road. Note the 'Workhouse' just north of the A4, which runs across the map from mid left to bottom right. The Wilts & Berks Canal is the upper of the two blue lines above the railway, as revealed by the locks near Conigre Farm. The railway underbridge immediately north of Black Dog Halt was removed after the line closed on 20th September 1965, but replaced with a new structure when the modern railway path was developed. (From ponies.me.uk/maps/osmap.html by Andrew Rowbottom)

March 2015. Chippenham to Calne, Wiltshire. The path along the former GWR branch between Chippenham and Calne has started rather inconveniently in D’Arcy Close, half a mile or so from Chippenham station, for some years. The line ran along the north-eastern edge of Chippenham Cattle Market and, whilst that site was disused, unofficial access was possible over it, but following a re-development in the early 2000s that informal access was closed off. However, in November last year, the barriers between the railway route and the new development were removed, and a connecting path has now been laid from the old existing path to the new perimeter path of the new development. This new path follows the course of the railway for a further two hundred yards or so, and now makes it possible to walk the full length of the former line to within a short distance of its former junction with the GWR main line.

At the other end of the route at Calne, the path leaves the railway formation just short of the former station site as that was re-developed in the early 1970s. However, a further re-development of 110 houses is now taking place at the station, although the plans are not completely clear as to whether a direct access from the railway path to the new estate will be provided. (Robin Summerhill)

March 2015. Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. It's not often that an old line in Kent features in our news reports, but something unusual has just been excavated outside Canterbury – the Beverley Meadow Arch on the former Canterbury & Whitstable Railway, which now forms the loose basis of the 'Crab and Winkle Way' which links the two towns. More a pedestrian tunnel than an arch, Canterbury City Council infilled the structure decades ago, but in 2010 the Friends of the Crab and Winkle Line applied for a Heritage Listing – and got it. The arch, built between 1825 and 1830, has now been excavated and awarded a Grade II listing on account of the rarity of this type of structure. It will not be re-opened for pedestrians, but metal gates will be installed at the entrances so that visitors can see through. An interpretation panel will also be installed. Click here for further details and pictures. (Tim Chant)

Above: A view from the trackbed of Broadway station on the former GWR line from Cheltenham to Straford-on-Avon. The station is being rebuilt as the new northern terminus of the Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway, but the company has shelved plans to extend even further north to Honeybourne; see the report below. March 2015. (Rob Davidson)
Above: A striking view of one of Broadway's new running-in boards. At the moment, the railway ends at Laverton, two miles to the south, but this extension – when opened – will bring the railway to one of the most popular and attractive destinations in the Cotswolds. March 2015. (Rob Davidson)

March 2015. Broadway to Honeybourne, Worcestershire. The Gloucestershire & Warwickshire Railway is no longer looking to extend northwards from Broadway to Honeybourne, which means that this 4½ mile section of the old Great Western line from Cheltenham to Stratford-on-Avon could be used for a railway path. However, the bridges would need attention, as the modern GWR found with the bridges on its extension from Toddington to Broadway. (Jeff Vinter)

Update: The club's Editor tried to verify this story with the GWR in time for the Summer magazine, but the information arrived after the publication date. However, Ian Crowder, the railway’s Press Officer, has now confirmed that the railway still hopes to drive north at some point, although this does not rule out the possibility of a railway path running alongside. 'I can happily confirm that our aim remains to reach Honeybourne. The trackbed is owned by Sustrans [actually Railway Paths Ltd - Webmaster] and there could be a sharing arrangement, but we are certainly not abandoning plans to extend northwards although it may be a while before such work starts: for example, the steel bridges are in an extremely poor state.' Next year, the GWR hopes to commence services to Broadway, where the re-building of the station continues apace. (Jonathan Dawson)

March 2015. Honeybourne to Stratford-on-Avon, Worcestershire/Warwickshire. The Harbury Tunnel landslip on the line from Leamington Spa to Banbury has brought re-opening of the ex-GWR Stratford to Honeybourne railway line back on to the agenda. As part of a West Midlands and Chilterns route study, Network Rail has been told to 'take another look' at reinstating the 9½ mile link, which it is estimated will cost £76 million; if reinstatement does go ahead, it will create an alternative route from Birmingham to Oxford. A spokesman for Network Rail stated that there would have to be a strong business case for the project, but conceded that NR supported the 'growth of the railway to meet the demands of an increasing number of passengers'. At the moment, NCN5 uses the old trackbed between Stratford and Long Marston. (Rob Davidson)

March 2015. Plymouth Friary to Turnchapel, Devon. Further to our report in June 2014 about the restoration of Laira Bridge in Plymouth as part of a new multi use trail, we have learned that Railway Paths Ltd will transfer to Plymouth City Council part of the old railway formation beyond the eastern end of the bridge. This is to support a PCC project which will see the trail come off the bridge and then cross over The Ride (the road to Saltram House) via a new trail-over-road bridge before 'landing' back on the old railway formation. The length of trackbed being transferred is small, but there are hopes that, in time, PCC will wish to acquire more of the old line in order to take the trail on towards the site of Plymstock station. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2015. Methley L&Y and Midland Junction to Cutsyke Junction, Leeds, West Yorkshire. Further to our report in October 2014 about the new Sustrans cycle route in the Methley and Castleford area, we are pleased to provide details. The route reported last October does indeed use the old line from Cutsyke Junction to Stanley: it starts at the end of Ramsden Street in Cutsyke (grid reference SE 422245) and runs to Lumley Hill (SE 411251) near Whitwood Junction. Wakefield Council now plans to extend this route from Lumley Hill on to the River Calder Cycle Route at SE 404255, which will extend it to almost 1½ miles. The council plans to commence work during the 2015-16 financial year. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2015. Cranleigh to Guildford, Surrey. Further to our report in June 2014, over 2,000 people have backed a petition to re-open the railway line between Cranleigh and Guildford, much of which is now used as the popular Downs Link bridleway between the North and South Downs Ways. According to the 'getSURREY' website (see here or here), an 'unnamed firm has now undertaken a study to see if the Downs Link project would be viable after being contacted by Guildford’s Liberal Democrat candidate Kelly-Marie Blundell.' Ms. Blundell argues that the inadequate local transport infrastructure causes 'problems', which re-use of the old railway would remedy. By contrast, Guildford MP Anne Milton has written to residents in Guildford to say that the proposals are not feasible, as previous studies have shown. She remarked: 'There is considerable discussion about whether the Downs Link should be used as a rail link, a bus corridor or not at all … A number of developers at the meeting in January suggested the construction of a guided busway between Cranleigh and Guildford along the Downs Link, as a possible way of mitigating extra traffic. However, I believe we should be mindful that greatly increasing infrastructure capacity can be a green light to considerably increased development.' Given the disastrous record of the guided busway between Cambridge and St. Ives, it is disappointing to see developers proposing a guided busway here, and our correspondent remarked, 'Please no concrete …' (Tim Grose)

March 2015. Bath to Bristol, Somerset/Bristol. South Gloucestershire Council has apologised 'unreservedly' to walkers and cyclists who normally use the busy and popular Bristol and Bath Railway Path through Staple Hill Tunnel and under the nearby Teewell Hill bridge (grid reference ST 654757). The problem with the bridge was that it was too narrow for modern traffic levels and needed to be widened. A council spokesman explained: 'We have now completed three of the four concrete foundations which form the corner supports which will hold the new bridge in place. The other concrete foundation required an additional temporary access platform to be created, which we did not anticipate at the planning stage and as a result has had a knock-on effect on the timescale of the build.' The railway path is not now expected to re-open until 'late spring'. (Tim Chant)

March 2015. Hamworthy to Hamworthy Goods, Dorset. Further to our report of October 2013, the 2nd March edition of The Bournemouth Echo revealed that construction of the long awaited ramped bridge over the bottom end of the Hamworthy Goods line will now go ahead. The bridge is intended to link the new Harbour Reach development with Hamworthy Park, but Network Rail's very high specifications were causing the price to escalate beyond Poole Borough Council's budget. The breakthrough seems to have been the realisation that, in 2004, Network Rail had leased the branch for 125 years to DB Schenker, and therefore it was that company's 'build specifications' which needed to be satisfied rather than those of Network Rail. This changed the situation sufficiently for a £250,000 contribution from the borough to enable the £780,000 project to go ahead. Work is expected to start in the summer with completion by the end of the year. Poole Harbour Commissioners view the branch line as an integral part of their plans for the port; the problem of its shallow water is to be addressed by the construction of a new deep water quay, which is part of an £11 million scheme of improvements announced last May. If this has the desired effect, trains conveying bulk cargo imports may yet return. (Tim Chant)

March 2015. Chiseldon to Marlborough, Wiltshire. For many years, the railway path from Chiseldon has delivered visitors to Marlborough into its backstreets, but all that is due to change now that Wiltshire Council has vacated its depot on the former station site in Salisbury Road. Marlborough's Town Clerk announced at the end of February that a new cycle path is to be built through the depot, linking the railway path with Tesco's car park (also in Salisbury Road). Wiltshire Council will build the new path as part of the Section 106 agreement with the site's developer. (Tim Chant)

Above: Part of the former Longparish branch north east of Wherwell which is now a permissive path; for further details, see the story below. This branch lost its passenger service in 1931, so the re-use of any part of it is quite an achievement. 24th February 2015. (Brian Loughlin)

February 2015. Fullerton Junction to Hurstbourne, Hampshire. A permissive railway path has come to light in Wherwell, where, by Fair View Cottages (near the centre of the village and about 50 yards from The White Lion pub), steps have been fitted to take walkers down to the trackbed which can then be walked towards Longparish as far as Dublin Farm; here, walkers can turn right for Longparish Road or left for the footpath to Harewood Forest, which includes a 1½ mile length of Roman road between SU 394441 and SU 407421. The grid references for the railway path are SU 389410 (Fair View Cottages) to SU 398416 (Dublin Farm), a distance of just under a mile. A lot of the trees along the line have been cut back to open up a view of the River Test below, where possible, and the new facility is proving popular with children at the local primary school. Heading in the opposite direction from Wherwell, i.e. towards Fullerton Junction, a public footpath runs along the north side of the old railway from near Fair View Cottages to Fullerton Road at SU 385404, which provides a further half mile of railway-themed walking in the area. (Brian Loughlin and Jeff Vinter)

Above: Still standing after all these years. This railway relic is rarely seen because, even in the dead of winter, it is well hidden; it is part of the platform at Clatford, which was the first station south of Andover Town on the former LSWR cross-country route from Andover to Romsey, known popularly at the 'Sprat and Winkle' line. Clatford station was situated between Goodworth Clatford and Upper Clatford at grid reference SU 361426, near the modern day Briar Hill bus stop where a side road looks suspiciously as if it might have been the entrance to the station. According to the Hampshire County Council guide to the 'Sprat and Winkle' line (see here or here), a 'station house' survives in the village, but we have yet to find it. 24th February 2015. (Brian Loughlin)
Above: The site of Clatford station in 1984. This is the view northwards towards Andover on the Stockbridge-Andover road, then the A3057. Briar Hill bus stop can be seen in front of the first bungalow. The station, of which there was 'no trace' at this time, had been on the right; it closed with the rest of the Andover-Romsey line on 7th September 1964. 30th August 1984. (Ben Brooksbank, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)
February 2015. Fullerton Junction to Andover Junction, Hampshire. Further to the report above, our correspondent has reminded us that, at the north end of the Fullerton-Andover line, a 1¼ mile section of NCN46 now re-uses the old railway between SU 355439 (Upper Clatford) and SU 362452 (a roundabout on Western Avenue, Andover). The section of trackbed between Fullerton Junction and Goodworth Clatford has been privately owned for many years, but there is a footpath from opposite Fullerton Manor to Longstock Road at the south end of Goodworth Clatford which is within sight of the old railway and provides some fine views across the upper Test Valley. Clatford station was situated at SU 361426 near Clatford Ford, where determined relic hunters may be able to spot a small section of platform in the undergrowth during the leafless months of the year. If you want to get from the station site to Upper Clatford and NCN46, follow Green Meadows Lane to SU 362429 and there take the public footpath that heads north to SU 360433 on Norman Court Lane; this will keep you off the busy main road through the village. (Brian Loughlin and Jeff Vinter)
Above: Someone is making a wonderful job of restoring Wherwell station on the former LSWR line from Hurstbourne to Fullerton Junction in Hampshire. The brickwork has been cleaned and re-pointed, while the timberwork has been restored to the Southern Railway's old green-and-cream livery. The one-time public buildings are in the foreground with the station master's house beyond. 24th February 2015. (Brian Loughlin)
Above: Just for completeness, here's the next station up the line at Longparish; note the former gents' facilities on the right. The public buildings here reflect the Arts & Crafts Movement and are of a type which was used along the Meon Vally line, as well as at various stations on the LSWR network which remain in use today; notable survivors will be found at Wareham in Dorset and Worplesdon in Surrey. Passengers services between Hurstbourne and Fullerton Junction were withdrawn as early as 6th July 1931, but freight services continued until 28th May 1956. Even then, the track was left in place until April 1960 for the storage of condemned vans and wagons. 24th February 2015. (Brian Loughlin)

February 2015. Yatton to Cheddar, Somerset. Many readers are probably aware that EDF Energy is building a new nuclear power station, Hinckley C, at Hinckley Point on the Somerset coast. One unexpected result of this is that the new and improved overhead power distribution will run along part of the Strawberry Line (ex Cheddar Valley Railway Walk), bringing with it funds to improve the safety of the road crossings between Yatton and the A38 at Shute Shelve. (Mandy Brading, The Strawberry Line Society)

February 2015. Norwich to Aylsham via Themelthorpe, Norfolk. This is the 26 mile long Marriott's Way, which a consortium comprising Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, Broadland District Council, South Norfolk District Council, Sustrans and the Norwich Fringe Project are seeking to improve. Until the end of the month, this group is collecting feedback on where and how this work needs to be directed; full details – including the dates, times and venues of local meetings – are available here. At the time of writing (11th February), the online survey for users' feedback was not available, but was promised 'soon'. (Tim Chant)

February 2015. Galashiels, Borders. The relaying of the Waverley line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank continues apace. On Tuesday 3rd February, the first train for 45 years reached Galashiels station – the track-laying train, which can be viewed in the video here. Since then, the rails have reached Tweedbank (see here). Club members who explored this line during its years of closure will be very pleased to see it being rebuilt; public services are due to resume on 6th September this year. Studies to see if the line can be extended from Tweedbank to Carlisle have already started, so Tweedbank may yet become a through station. In passing, the original Waverley line did not have a station at Tweedbank, the next station east of Galashiels being Melrose. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2015. Barnard Castle to Bishop Auckland, County Durham. The North Eastern Railway's former line from Barnard Castle to Bishop Auckland has moved a step closer to becoming a new rail trail. The South West Durham Heritage Corridor Project, also known as the Teesdale Rights of Way Improvements, stalled in 2010 because of 'funding difficulties', but features again in the draft version of the County Durham Plan. Durham County Council has adopted an innovative method to encourage would-be funding partners by establishing a 675 yard section of the route at Cockfield to illustrate what could be achieved; for further details, click here or here. Back in 2006, a two mile section of this route between Ramshaw (grid reference NZ 150259) and West Auckland (NZ 184266) was converted into a cycle trail, including at the west end a short section of the branch from West Auckland to Butterknowle, which was also served by a network of colliery tramways. (Tim Chant)

February 2015. Shildon to West Auckland and Etherley, County Durham. In the course of researching the article above, it became apparent that much remains of the Stockton & Darlington Railway's branch from Shildon to Etherley, where Witton Park Colliery near modern Phoenix Row (grid reference NZ 167292) was the source of traffic. It is sad to report that this historic line features on the English Heritage At Risk Register, with its condition described as 'Generally unsatisfactory with major localised problems'. The branch included two substantial inclines at Etherley and Brusselton, which enabled trains to negotiate the valley of the River Gaunless; the requisite stationary engines were completed in time for the S&D's opening in 1825. The sections of trackbed listed below are now public footpaths, and, with the aid of the local Ordnance Survey Explorer map (no. 305), it is easy to join them together via other public footpaths or minor roads:

  • A6072 west of Shildon to Haggs Lane, NZ 219255 to NZ 206258, ¾ mile including part of Brusselton Incline
  • Burnshouse Lane to Oakley Green, West Auckland, NZ 197260 to NZ 187264, ¾ mile
  • Greenfields Road, West Auckland, to Phoenix Row, NZ 176278 to NZ 167292, 1¼ mile including Etherley Incline

The well researched article here and here provides details of this historic branch line, together with maps, a gradient profile and various archive illustrations. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The modern Channel Tunnel Terminal to the west of Folkestone has obliterated Cheriton Junction on the Folkestone-Ashford line, which used to mark the end of the Elham Valley branch from Canterbury. More of this scenic line is now open to walkers, as reported in the article below. The path at the foot of the field in the foreground is the bridleway from Peene to Folkestone. 4th May 2003. (Stephen Dawson used under the terms of this Creative Commons licence)

February 2015. North Elham to Peene (near Cheriton Junction), Kent. Further to our report in September 2012, the proposal to 'establish a riding, cycling and walking route along the disused Elham Valley Railway track between Peene and Lyminge villages' has now been implemented partially. Between Lyminge and Etchinghill to the south, the Elham Valley Way does not use the trackbed, and we do not know if it ever will. However, south of Etchinghill, it reaches the old railway at grid reference TR 174391, then runs alongside it to TR 178387, where it switches on to the trackbed proper for three-quarters of a mile to TR 185378, just west of Peene. Beyond Peene, the course of the old railway has been obliterated by the modern Channel Tunnel Terminal, but a bridleway heads west to Newington or east to Folkestone. So what does this mean for railway ramblers? The 5¼ miles of the Elham Valley Way between North Elham and Peene are now an interesting proposition, for they thread together the remains of the old railway and, when not on the actual trackbed, are often very close to its course. Along the way, there are plenty of footpaths and minor lanes which enable past bridge and crossing sites to be visited, and one must not forget Lyminge Library which, in its previous incarnation, was the village's railway station. Our best advice is to use the local OS Explorer map , no. 138, because the Elham Valley Way takes a long detour around Etchinghill, which will not interest the explorer of old railways. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2015. Green Park to Charing Cross and Holborn to Aldwych, London. Check the date (it is not 1st April), sit down and stand by to be amazed. Design firm Gensler has suggested that the answer to London's congestion problems might be a network of subterranean cycleways using abandoned parts of the London Underground network. Apart from Green Park to Charing Cross and Holborn to Aldwych, there are some interesting possibilities in south London arising from partial construction of the 'deep level tube' planned for the Northern Line; this was intended to provide a pair of fast lines bypassing many intermediate stations, but was never completed due to the outbreak of World War 2. Dubbed 'The London Underline', Gensler's scheme has already won the prize for Best Conceptual Project at the London Planning Awards. It may not surprise readers that these suggestions have met with some incredulity, with one correspondent on The Guardian's website describing them as 'bonkers'. Even the reporter in The Guardian concluded that 'the Underline is about as practical a way of clearing the roads as buying every Londoner their own miniature zeppelin'. (Click here or here to read the source article.) However, setting aside the comic aspects of this report, it is instructive to note how much views have changed since Nigel Willis established Railway Ramblers in 1978: at that time, abandoned railway land was treated as a headache and largely ignored; today, even abandoned tube lines are treated as a potential resource. (Tim Grose)

February 2015. NCN1 Routes, Tyne & Wear, Durham and Cleveland. One of the benefits of subscribing to Ordnance Survey's 'Get-a-Map' service is that one can conduct aerial surveys around the UK, looking for new railway paths, and extensions to and connections between them; a not unpopular occupation when the TV schedules make swallowing a cyanide pill seem like an attractive proposition. Alighting upon Ryhope recently, a substantial network was revealed; it is not 100 per cent railway-based (maybe 95 per cent), but the great thing is that these old railways have been joined together to create something which is almost regional rather than local in its scope. These are the main routes, with the connecting points colour-coded to make them stand out:

  • Newport Hill to Ryhope (NCN1), 2¼ miles
  • Ryhope to South Hetton (NCN1), 5½ miles
  • South Hetton to Seaham (NCN1), 3¾ miles including Hesledon Bank and Stony Cut Bank
  • South Hetton to Wingate, Station Town and Trimdon Colliery (NCN1), 7½ miles
  • Wingate to Hart Station (NCN14), 5½ miles
  • Station Town to Thorpe Thewles (NCN1), 8¼ miles
  • Thorpe Thewles to Oxbridge, Stockton-on-Tees (NCN1), 2¾ miles but note that a diversion is required south of Thorpe Thewles due to the demolition of the magnificent Thorpe Thewles Viaduct

The above routes add up to 35½ miles in total, which is rather more than the last time we looked at this area. That all this is now available is thanks to the North East's bygone coal industry and the development of the National Cycle Network. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2015. Peckham Rye to Queen's Road Peckham, London. Here's something you don't see very often: a report on a disused railway in London. (As a general rule, London doesn't have any disused railways.) The former Peckham Coal Line runs along the west side of the Atlantic Line (London Bridge-Victoria) between Queens Road Peckham and Peckham Rye stations; it once served coal drops used by Rickett Cockerell, coal merchants, who were part of the William Cory group. Now an architect-led group of local residents wants to convert the 1,200 yd trackbed into a green space in the style of the Manhattan Elevated Railway; full details are available from the website here. The plans, costed at £2 million, include connecting with the nearby Kirkwood Road Green Space and converting one of the railway arches along the way into a café. Much of the route is on a viaduct, which is hardly surprising considering that it used to serve coal drops. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2015. Winchester Chesil to Hockley Viaduct, Hampshire. Following on from the restoration of Hockley Viaduct and its re-opening in April 2013, more of the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway south of Winchester Chesil can now be walked and cycled. The section concerned runs between grid references SU 486284 and SU 484280; it is only 600 yards long but provides a grade-separated crossing of Garner Road, which suffers from speeding motor traffic. (Previously, walkers and cyclists travelling into Winchester from this direction had to cross this road on the level.) The new route is part of NCN23. Just south of Garner Road, it switches to the towpath of the former Itchen Navigation (interesting in its own right) before passing under a steel bridge on the old railway at SU 480270. Hockley Viaduct lies about 350 yds beyond, just after a spanless underbridge where only the abutments remain. The road here, now a quiet cul-de-sac, used to be the A333, which crossed the adjacent A31 at the notorious Hockley traffic lights – the cause of summertime traffic jams of biblical proportions. When the new M3 was opened, the A31 was dug up and its course returned to nature, a gesture perhaps intended to assuage local anger about the motorway having carved a huge slice out of Twyford Down. Despite this, we have yet to spot any trunk road ramblers walking along the A31's now green and pleasant corridor, clutching battered copies of old National Express coach timetables. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2015. Sandbach to Lawton, Cheshire. The North Staffordshire Railway's former line from Sandbach to Lawton Junction is now a permissive bridleway between Ettiley Heath (to the south of Sandbach) and Lawton Heath End (to the north of Alsager), although a diversion via the Trent & Mersey Canal is required between Malkin's Bank and Hassall Green, where the trackbed has been lost to the greens of the local golf club. The route is now part of NCN5 and runs between grid references SJ 741604 and SJ 794567, a distance of 4½ miles; from west to east, it comprises the Wheelock Rail Trail, the canal towpath and the Salt Line. Both the Wheelock Rail Trail and the Salt Line are maintained and promoted by Cheshire East Council, whose downloadable guide is accessible here. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The start of the Sutton Branch Line Walkway and Conservation Area in Crawcroft Lane near Sutton-on-Sea, Lincolnshire, looking north east. The missing larch lap panels beyond the five bar gate leave no doubt that this is a flat area with high winds. The walkway was once part of the branch line from Louth to Willoughby via Mablethorpe, which was closed in sections in 1960 (Louth to Mablethorpe) and 1970 (Mablethorpe to Willoughby). For further details, see the story below. 14th April 2012. (Ian S., used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

January 2015. Louth to Willoughby via Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire. Two sections of this former Great Northern line are now accessible as public footpaths:

  • Sandilands to Crawcroft Lane, grid references TF 521802 to TF 514784, 1¼ miles. This ruler straight section of the branch to the south west of Sutton-on-Sea is known as the Sutton Branch Line Walkway and Conservation Area.
  • Farlesthrope to Willoughby, TF 475737 to TF 465724, 1 mile. This is now the Willoughby Branch Line Nature Reserve.

Also, at Stewton, near Louth, the public footpath to Grimoldby runs along the northern edge of the old railway formation from TF 362869 to TF 376876 (1 mile). The branch was about 18 miles long, so these sections account for only one-sixth of the whole, but it something that any part of it can be walked in Lincolnshire's flat terrain, where old railways can be removed so easily from the landscape. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2015. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. Further to our report in September last year (click here), we are delighted to report that the new section of path from Low Water to Welshmill Lane will receive its official opening at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday 31st January with the Mayor of Frome in attendance. A prize will be awarded to the participant who is the 'best lit up'. (Frome's Missing Link)

Comment: The trail between Low Water and Welshmill Lane is not a railway path but runs alongside the River Frome. The importance of this project is that it aims to extend the railway path from Radstock – which stops 2½ miles away at the tiny village of Great Elm – right into the centre of Frome. Long before anyone thought of re-using old railways as trails, staff at British Rail's Property Board were busy selling old railway land as quickly as they could to adjoining landowners and developers, which is why so many railway paths start on the edge of town. That's not a problem if there is a safe alternative route to the edge of town, but in many communities there is not – and that's why the country needs more projects like Frome's Missing Link. The low resolution map available here illustrates why Frome needs this link. (Webmaster)

January 2015. Walsall to Pelsall, West Midlands. Part of the LNWR's former line from Walsall (Lichfield Line Junction) to Lichfield City now forms part of NCN5 between Ryecroft and the south end of Pelsall. To make things a little more interesting, the trail starts on a short length of the Midland Railway's former chord between North Walsall Junction and Leighs Wood Branch Junction. The railway path runs from grid reference SP 016999 to SK 025030, a distance of 2¼ miles. If you are in the area, there is a little more railway walking on various bits and pieces of old lines that served the now vanished local coal industry. These sections are only a quarter of a mile each and not worth enumerating here, but the local OS Explorer map (number 220) will see you right. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2015. Whitchurch, Shropshire. Within the Shropshire town of Whitchurch, the start of the former Cambrian Railways' branch from Whitchurch to Ellesmere is now a cycle trail between grid references SJ 549410 and SJ 542406. Don't make a special trip, though – it's only half a mile long! (Jeff Vinter)

January 2015. Narborough to Enderby, Leicestershire. The Enderby branch was a joint line operated by the LNWR and MR, built to serve Enderby Warren Quarry. At just under 2½ miles, it is not exactly one of Leicestershire's major lost lines, but 1½ miles of it are now in use as a cycle trail between grid references SP 529973 and SP 531995. According to Wikipedia, the route is known as 'Whistle Way'. The quarry has fared less well than the old railway, for it is now being used as a tip and slowly infilled. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2015. Nationwide. John Grimshaw stood down as the Chief Executive of Sustrans Ltd, the UK's cycling charity, in 2008. Since then, he has set up John Grimshaw and Associates, a consultancy which specialises in developing 'long sought routes which have proved intractable in the past'. The company's website is well worth a look and includes a number of interesting projects, which include the following:

  • The Rawtenstall and Rochdale Railway Route (14½ miles), Lancashire. The company is currently coordinating the opening of this heavily engineered route, complementing the local council’s efforts by determining how best to resolve the various barriers which currently splinter it into little-used fragments.
  • The Peebles Railway Path (14½ miles), Borders. This aims to link Peebles to Biggar and Symington to Tweedsmuir using disused railways to avoid the main roads in the area. (Click here for our May 2013 report.)
  • The Portishead and Clevedon Gordano Greenway (4½ miles), Somerset. This project plans to re-use sections of the long-closed Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Light Railway to give Walton-in-Gordano and Weston-in-Gordano safe access to their nearby towns. The ex-railway content is not particularly high, but it will be no small achievement to re-use anything from a railway that was closed as long ago as 1940.

It was John Grimshaw who brought us the Trans Pennine Trail and the National Cycle Network. The next big idea that he is working up with partners Phil Jones Associates and Royal HaskoningDHV (sic) is the 'HS2 Greenway', a National Cycleway along the general corridor of the proposed railway from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. (Jeff Vinter)

Update: At the end of September last year, John Grimshaw was honoured with the 'Golden Eagle Award' by the Outdoor Writers & Photographers Guild (see here). A statement issued by the external panel of judges included these remarks: 'John Grimshaw is a living legend. In this day and age, anyone who has had such an impact on getting our society up off the sofa and taking part in more healthy exercise is a hero.' (Jeff Vinter)

Above: A train on the Swanage Railway seen from Corfe Castle. It should not be long now before visitors to this famous castle will see trains from the main line travelling back and forth over this scenic branch; for further details, see the story below. 17th February 2006. (Lord Harris, used under the terms of the licence on this page)

January 2015. Wareham to Swanage, Dorset. We realise that this is not and never has been a railway path, but thought that visitors to our site would be interested to learn that the Swanage Railway has just signed a 99 year lease on the whole of the Swanage branch south of Worgret Junction. This extends the preserved line from 6½ to 9½ miles and is the first step in securing a return of services to Swanage from the main line. Speaking to a reporter from the Bournemouth Daily Echo, Peter Sills (Chairman of the Swanage Railway) explained: 'Securing a 99 year lease was one of the key elements in realising our ambitions to have passenger trains running on the main line to Swanage … It means a large piece of the jigsaw puzzle is now in place and we can press ahead with the major work, including track restoration, needed for the next stage of this historic project.' The 'track restoration' concerns the section from Motala Junction, near the railway's current northern terminus of Norden, to Worgret Junction. Having the Swanage branch back on the national network will make it a lot easier for railway ramblers to visit Purbeck, e.g. to explore the area's extensive tramway remains. (Tim Chant)

January 2015. Rugby to Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. In May, the club returns to Rugby for its Annual General Meeting for the first time in nearly two decades. Click the link here to read what has become of the former LNWR branch line between these two towns, which looked like a hot favourite to become a new railway path all those years ago. (Jeff Vinter)