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The Wye Valley Railway. There have been long-standing plans to create a multi use along the trackbed of the former Wye Valley Railway from Chepstow to Tintern, but these have now come to nought due to local opposition. Residents at Brockweir, just north of Tintern, were convinced that the trail would attract not local walkers and cyclists, but rather visitors from afar who would clog up the village lanes with their cars, and this appears to have been crucial in defeating the plan – although we understand that the final vote in the council was a close run thing. A landslip over the trackbed near the old Tidenham Quarry was another serious blow, so now the old railway must slumber on for a few decades more until a new generation asks: 'Is there something we could do with this old railway infrastructure?' The photographs below were taken during a survey of the line carried out by the engineers and directors of Railway Paths Ltd (RPL) on an October day as grey and miserable as any that the autumn can produce in this country.
Left: The branch started at Wye Valley Junction, which is about three-quarters of a mile north east of Chepstow station on the still operation Newport-Gloucester line. The first structure was this bridge over Sedbury Lane. The multi use trail would have started on the gravel in the right foreground of this picture; at the moment, this is the start of a public footpath which runs parallel to the old railway for just over a quarter of a mile to the next bridge, over the A48. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Right: This photograph was taken just north of the A48 east of Chepstow, and shows (or rather doesn't show) the old line heading past the siding for Dayhouse Quarry. The track is still there and runs from the bottom left hand corner of the photograph towards the 'V' formed by the trees in the upper right. Due to the mass of vegetation, it was impossible to discern if the siding for the quarry was still in situ as well. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: Dayhouse Quarry now enjoys a new lease of life as the National Diving Centre, which is the brainchild of Martin Brice, a retired army engineer. This place really is 'something else', for it offers not just opportunities for recreational diving, but also training for divers involved in salvage work and marine archaeology. Most old quarries are lucky if they get re-used as fishing lakes or jet ski centres, so what goes on here really makes it stand out from the crowd. The beautiful turquoise of the water is produced by the same kind of effect as that which colours the famous 'Blue Pool', near Wareham in Dorset; it's all to do with mineral particles in suspension. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: At the time of RPL's visit, this was Martin Brice's latest 'toy' – 'Caroline', a 35 ton steel trawler from Aberdeen, waiting to be lowered into the deep waters of the quarry for divers to discover. And deep the quarry most certainly is, for its lowest levels are even deeper than the bottom of the nearby River Severn. Underwater explorers will find all sorts of material at the bottom of the quarry, including an old amphibious vehicle retired from the Army and even a pair of buses – one a 56 seat single decker, from Cardiff, and the other an 80 seat double decker. These wrecks provide opportunities for both 'swim throughs' by experienced divers, and underwater photography. The next time you see some underwater archaeology on television, remember this place: both the diver and photographer may well have trained here. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Left: About two-thirds of a mile from Wye Valley Junction, the branch passes beneath Bishton Lane Bridge (grid reference ST 551959). This is one of the more troublesome structures on the branch, because there is a crack in the cast iron span which carries the lane above; this is why the bridge is supported by the four struts seen here, which are aligned diagonally across the trackbed. When old railways are not re-used, they frequently become sites for illegal fly-tipping, which is exactly what has happend here – see the detritus at the bottom right of this photograph. The two figures are Ian White, the Chairman of RPL on the left, and Malcolm Shepherd, the Chief Executive of Sustrans, on the right. Beneath all of this vegetation and rubbish remains a set of rails from the days when the branch was operated as a freight-only line from Chepstow to Tidenham Quarry. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: The southern portal of Tidenham Tunnel is situated at ST 551963, immediately north of Netherhope Lane Bridge. A line of still in situ rails can be seen in the centre foreground of the picture. As this visit was for an official inspection, the party walked through the tunnel, which remains in good condition and is mostly dry, with a ventilation shaft in the middle. With lighting, as used in the Two Tunnels at Bath or the longer tunnels on Derbyshire's Monsal Trail, this really could have served a useful new purpose as part of a multi use trail. The light levels down here were extremely low due to the steep-sided cutting and the abundance of tree shade, which is why this picture has an air of Stygian gloom about it. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: Other photographs from this visit will be found on the 2013 News page (click here and here), so this narrative now jumps to Tintern. The proposed multi use trail would have proceeded through Tintern Tunnel and then over a new bridge across the River Wye at Lynweir – this was to have been one of Sustrans' Connect2 projects – before bringing the trail right into Tintern station (see below). However, with this project now abandoned, the party switched to the trackbed of the old Tintern wireworks branch just before reaching the southern portal of Tintern Tunnel. This branch runs from ST 535003 to ST 529002 on the A466 through Tintern village. Luckily, it includes a still extant bridge over the River Wye, which – along with the rest of the branch – is now used as a public footpath. En route, the branch trackbed affords this attractive view of the abbey ruins: if only the sun had shone, this would have been as fine a view of the abbey as one can get. Just look at how dark the walls are – a clear sign of all the wet conditions on this day. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: Tintern station has long been restored as a visitor centre, and in December 2013 its café was voted the best in Wales – an accolade which rates its fare light years away from the stale and curling terrors of the infamous 'British Rail sandwich'. This is one of the station's running in boards, still sporting a good display of flowers despite the lateness of the year. 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)
 

Above: The station at Tintern was originally a large one for a rural outpost, with the main building on the southbound platform facing a narrow island platform topped off with a timber waiting shelter. In practice, modern visitors will be hard-pressed to figure this out from what they see today because the island platform has disappeared beneath the lawn seen here. However, the station's signal box survives, decorated in an approximation of GWR colours. The grey is wrong, probably due to a mistake propoagated by the Historical Model Railway Society in 1976 (see here); this is almost certainly the shade of undercoat used with the GWR's 'Stone No. 1', a light buff shade that resembles Cotswold stone. Unfortunately, no 'Stone No. 1' has been applied! But could this livery be that of the old Wye Valley company? Probably not, since no one can really tell from the surviving black and white photographs what that company's livery really was. The one certainty is that it was so hard up financially that it always used the cheapest paints available! 23rd October 2013. (Jeff Vinter)