Jul 2020 – Shepton Mallet, Somerset

The ‘Strawberry Line’ is a traffic-free route between Yatton and Cheddar in Somerset that utilises as much of the ex-GWR trackbed as possible. Its eventual aim is to link Shepton Mallet and Clevedon-on-sea, and a short section in the first of those two towns is currently a prime candidate for conversion, where plans to link new estates in the north of the town with the main shopping area are well advanced. The route is on Council-owned land, the Council is supportive of the project, and it would avoid a dangerous road crossing by using a former railway bridge…yet Historical Railway Estate of Highways England – who are responsible for the bridge – are blocking the proposal. As Mike Fletcher, writing in West Country Bylines, puts it: ‘Instead of seeing the bridges, embankments and cuttings left when railways closed as potential assets, these structures – often magnificent works of Victorian engineering – are simply seen as a burden.’ HRE claims it might be costly to ensure the bridge is safe to pass under, even though it is clearly safe enough for hundreds of cars and lorries to cross over it daily. The real reason is that HRE wants shot of responsibility for the bridge. If the government is serious about promoting cycling and walking, it could start by getting its quangos in order. (RR)