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Frome's Missing Link. The railway-based Colliers Way, which is part of NCN24, runs from Radstock to Great Elm, where – irritatingly – the trail stops about 2-3 miles short of Frome town centre. There is a waymarked route via minor roads and lanes, but it is steep and off-putting for family cyclists who, rather than start in Frome, drive out to Great Elm and use the trail west of there – an arrangement which contradicts the purpose of the facility to the extent that it generates car journeys to use it. For some years, an organisation called 'Frome's Missing Links' (FML) has been working to create a better route between Great Elm and Frome, although the government's savage reduction in April 2016 to the funding available for walking and cycling schemes is making progress much slower than had been hoped; effectively, in the name of austerity, government has sloughed responsibility entirely on to the local community. On a more cheerful note, we commend the final three photographs on this page, which demonstrate that summertime photographers do not get all the best shots!

Above: This underbridge near Great Elm is where Colliers Way currently leaves the trackbed: Radstock is to the left and Frome to the right, although in practice travellers to Frome have to travel past the photographer, and behind him up the hill. The row of cars parked beneath the bridge illustrates how the locals are reacting to the absence of a direct link from the town – they are driving out here rather than walking or cycling. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

 

Left: Until recently, 'Gordon's Steps' – which lead from road level to the trackbed above the bridge – could not have been photographed easily due to the many years' growth of vegetation which was threatening to engulf them. As can be seen, volunteers from FML have cleared them completely. Note the old rail which has been laid flat to the right of the steps so that cyclists can wheel their machines up or down the slope. We should add that there is a also gently graded slope for those who prefer to cycle up to the trackbed! 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

 
Above: At the top of Gordon's Steps, this is the view which confronts walkers looking west towards Radstock. In the distance, an area of grey can be made out, which is where the cycle trail reaches/leaves the trackbed. A year ago, this was a dense tangle of shrubs and trees with with rails and sleepers buried beneath. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: This is the view looking the other way towards Frome. The rails mounted on the bridge parapets are new, as is the picnic table, which can be seen below in close-up. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)
 
Above: Could this be the ultimate in vandal-proof picnic tables? It is made from old concrete sleepers which were recovered when FML removed the track in 2015-16. Note the pin in the corner nearest to the camera, which once was used to fix a rail-carrying chair to the sleeper below. We cannot see this style of furniture catching on in pub gardens. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Viinter)
 
Above: Nearer still to Frome, progress is blocked by the return of rails and a pair of large wire panels mounted across the permanent way. A few yards beyond lies Hapsford Junction, which is on Network Rail land. This is where the Radstock line diverged from the still operational branch to Whatley Quarry, which sees thousands of tons of stone coming out by rail every week. FML has obtained a licence from NR to use its half-empty formation in places, but it took two years of negotiation to achieve this. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)
 

Right: Rather than use the hilly road-based route from Great Elm to Frome, our photographer followed public footpaths via the hamlet of Bedlam, which – to his surprise – revealed the remains of a tramway (see the sleepers to the right). Subsequent investigation revealed that this was the work of the Somerset Quarrying Company, which began working here in 1893-4 and by 1898 was operating four quarry faces with 40 men. The attraction was Vallis Vale, just outside Frome, the easternmost outcrop of hard carboniferous limestone in the Mendips, and an obvious attraction for early quarry operators. The limestone was used for a variety of purposes, but that destined for road-making was collected by a series of 2ft 3in gauge tramways, fed from the various quarries chiselled into the valley sides and ultimately along a sinuous route, delivered to a processing works at Hapsford Mill. The British Geological Survey continues the story: 'The stone breakers themselves were particularly interesting, and unusual in being largely water powered – by waterwheels from a former saw mill, and a turbine, with a portable steam engine to help out at times of low water. Before mains electricity had developed, taking raw stone for processing to a remote plant determined by the source of power was not uncommon (for example at Waterlip Quarry). The finished product was then railed to the Frome–Radstock Railway for despatch … In the 1930s, the railway system was changed to two foot gauge and extended to link up more quarries as far west as Murder Combe.' 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

 
Above: Near the hamlet of Spring Gardens, just west of Frome, the photographer's route took him over the freight-only branch line from Frome to Whatley Quarry, seen here looking back towards Hapsford Junction and Whatley Quarry beyond. By this stage, he was close to Low Water, where the cycle trail (already labelled NCN24) restarts and leads via the town centre right through to Frome railway station. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)
 

Above: NCN24 takes walkers and cyclists to the Wallbridge area of Frome, just 250 yards from the town's railway station, which is a miraculous survivor, being nothing less than the only surviving Brunelian station which retains its overall roof. (Exeter St. Thomas survived into the early 1970s, when – scandalously – British Rail ripped off the roof barely 24 hours before it was due to be listed by the local authority.) The other extraordinary thing about Frome station is its wooden construction. Network Rail has been criticised often for its astronomical costs, but even detractors must admit that the organisation has done a fine job here; re-decorating the building in GWR colours is a perfect finishing touch. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)

 
Above: Talk about being in the right place at the right time! Normally, it is nigh on impossible to obtain a good photograph of the interior of Frome station, but here at dusk on the penultimate day of the year the station lighting illuminated the subject perfectly. The signal at danger in the distance controls access by down trains back on to the main line for Bruton and Castle Cary, where the Weymouth branch peels off to the south while the main line continues on to Taunton, Exeter, Plymouth and Cornwall. 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)
 

Above: A close up of Frome station interior, showing the beautifully restored overall roof, which must have been a principal purpose of NR's work here. Until the 1930s, Frome was on the GWR's West of England main line; it ended up on an out-of-the-way loop in the 1930s when the GWR spent funds provided by government (principally to ease unemployment caused by the Great Depression) on a series of avoiding lines aimed to shave a few minutes off the journey times of trains like the Cornish Riviera Express. The avoiding lines at Westbury (still in use) and Taunton (currently being converted into a road) are other examples. Simultaneously, Herbert Walker's Southern Railway spent the money on electrifying its lines, while constructing a few new branches such as Totton-Fawley and Torrington-Halwill Junction. Which railway spent the money more wisely? 30th December 2016. (Jeff Vinter)