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Timber Viaducts. The Blackwater Rail Trail, managed by Essex County Council, runs from Witham to Maldon East, utilising as much as possible of the old Great Eastern Railway's branch line between these two towns. The two timber viaducts at Wickham Bishops, designated as Ancient Monuments and restored by Essex County Council in 1995, intrigued member Ralph Rawlinson so much that he persuaded Essex member Brian Eley to visit the site and take a few photos. Brian responded by taking about fifteen, and the best of them appear below.

Brian reports that the two viaducts are separated by a short embankment that appears to be part of someone's garden; this explains why the photo of the southernmost viaduct (nearest Maldon) was taken from the road. The northern viaduct is more interesting and accessible (there is a footpath alongside the river, running right underneath it). He goes on to say that, unfortunately, some of the Baltic Pine used is rotting away already and it certainly won't last the 120 years or so of the original.

A sign alongside claims that these are the only two surviving timber railway viaducts in the country which, if taken to mean England, is correct. There is a recently strengthened one on the Highland main line near Aviemore and the more famous one at Barmouth in North Wales. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Top: A lovely study of the north viaduct at Wickham Bishops, looking upstream. It's a miracle that these viaducts survived at all. The line closed in September 1964, and these timber structures then spent 31 years without any maintenance whatsoever. However, it is reasonable to expect that the GER constructed them from high quality, seasoned hardwood which helped to ensure their survival. September 2005. (Brian Eley)

 
Above: A close up of the north viaduct, showing the transverse bracing used to strengthen the structure. Many associate timber viaducts with north American railways, but they were not unknown in the UK because they were cheap. Even I.K. Brunel was tempted – he saved money on several west country branch lines by constructing 'hybrid' viaducts with masonry piers and a timber superstructure. The last of these, on the Truro-Falmouth branch, was replaced in the 1930s. September 2005. (Brian Eley)
 
Above: A view beneath the decking of the north viaduct. The long timbers on the right were the load-bearing ones that would have taken the weight of passing trains. No doubt there was a low speed limit for crossing this structure, which must have creaked as the trains passed overhead. September 2005. (Brian Eley)
 
Above: A view of the south viaduct at Wickham Bishops, taken from the nearby road. There is no footpath on this part of the trackbed, which obliges explorers of the old line to take a detour. Nonetheless, full marks to Essex County Council for listing these structures and ensuring their survival. September 2005. (Brian Eley)
 
Above: Staying on the theme of viaducts, this is a view of Crook-of-Lune East Viaduct taken from the south. Crook-of-Lune is a tight loop in the River Lune, which forced the railway builders to cross the river twice in about 100 yards. The viaducts are situated about mid-way between Halton and Caton, north east of Lancaster. August 2005. (Ralph Rawlinson)
 
Above: This is Crook-of-Lune West Viaduct – the one that has recently been re-decked by the local authority. At low tide, pools form at the foot of the piers and trap fish until the water rises again. This was a favourite spot for the crews of freight trains to pull up briefly and do some 'fishing-made-easy' – one of the more unusual perks of life on the footplate. August 2005. (Ralph Rawlinson)
 

Above: To complete the selection of viaducts on this page, this is Cahirsiveen Viaduct in the Republic of Ireland. (Spellings vary depending on which atlas or gazetteer you are using, and when it was published!) This viaduct is situated in County Kerry, in the far south west of the 'Emerald Isle', and used to carry a branch of the Great Southern & Western Railway from Tralee to Valentia Harbour. Our photographer reports: 'It is a pity that the bridge at Cahirsiveen is rusting slowly away. If you do choose to cross it, please take care – there are steel plates that are paper thin and peppered with holes now.' September 2005. (Bob Prigg)