News 2001

Above: View across Meldon Viaduct, Devon, in July 2000. This viaduct, near Okehampton, has recently been restored for public access and carries a new cycle trail which will link Okehampton and Tavistock within the next few years. For further details, see entry for February 2001. (Richard Martin)

December 2001. How about some more pictures for this page, folks?

October 2001. Canada. Fancy a really long railway walk? Then perhaps the Trans Canada Trail is for you. It does just what it says – i.e. cross Canada – using a large proportion of disused railways. The distance is a tad under 10,000 miles. See you there? (Ralph Rawlinson)

October 2001. The Portishead Branch, Bristol. This long moribund branch – one of the few to have had all the track left in place after closure – is being re-opened between Ashton Junction and Pill, where a new section of line continues along the west bank of the River Avon to Royal Portbury Dock. The 3½ miles between Pill and Portishead remain closed, although vegetation on this section was cut back a few years ago, which suggests that the possibility of re-opening may not be entirely dead. Does anyone know what became of plans for the Avon Metro, which would have seen this line re-opened for light rail use? (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)

October 2001. Horsebridge, Hampshire. The asking price of the restored station at Horsebridge has been reduced from £850,000 to only (!) £700,000. Despite the large drop in price, members may still feel the need of help from the Lottery God! For further details, see entry for May 2001. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2001. Cheddar, Somerset. The Cheddar Valley Railway Walk offers a near continuous walk and cycle trail from Yatton to Cheddar. The September newsletter of the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society carried the following interesting snippet: ‘Two new groups are working beyond Cheddar, from Rodney Stoke towards Cheddar and from Westbury [Sub Mendip] towards Wells. Some of this will follow the old railway but some of it will be along paths and droves, as much of the old track and the stations have found other uses. My dream of walking from Yatton to Wells might yet come true.’ (Mandy Brading)

August 2001. Shoreham by Sea, West Sussex. Funds are being raised locally to restore the Old Toll Bridge at Shoreham. The bridge is situated about a mile north of the town centre and provides a valuable traffic-free crossing of the River Adur. It is an elaborate timber structure, once owned and staffed by the railway, which had to provide two members of staff to collect the tolls on busy days. At the east end of the bridge, there was a level crossing on the branch line from Shoreham to Christ’s Hospital, now the popular Downs Link. This is a quiet spot now, but used to be a major bottleneck when the road over the toll bridge was the A27. (Sustrans Ltd)

August 2001. Abingdon, Oxfordshire. Construction of a new railway path on the western end of this branch line was completed by Sustrans Ltd in May. For further details, see the entry on this route for November 2000. (Sustrans Ltd)

August 2001. Chichester, West Sussex. After a delay due to the Foot & Mouth crisis, the northward extension to Centurion Way, the railway path between Chichester and Lavant, is finally under way. Click here for further details. Also in the Chichester area, a link to the marina (actually in Birdham) is under way. It is believed that this will involve further improvements to the towpath of the Chichester Canal. (Sustrans Ltd/Jeff Vinter)

August 2001. Groombridge, Kent. The popular Forest Way railway path from East Grinstead is being extended into Groombridge so that it no longer peters out on the edge of the town where it meets the A264. The extension will utilise the trackbed of an abandoned curve that once allowed trains to travel from Edenbridge Town to Tunbridge Wells West without reversing at Eridge. Further west at Forest Row, where a demolished bridge created a difficult crossing of the busy A22, the trackbed is being re-graded to create a ramp, and a ‘Pegasus’ crossing is being installed – this has traffic lights for horses, cyclists, and walkers. These works should be completed during the winter. (Sustrans Ltd.)

June 2001. Lancaster. For some years now, Lancaster has had three separate railway paths radiating out to Glasson Dock, Morecambe, and Caton Green. A new Millennium Bridge over the River Lune, linking the three trails, was officially opened (6 months late) on Friday 18 March 2001. (Ralph Rawlinson)

June 2001. Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria. The Hartley to Stenkrith path (1½ miles), part of the former Stainmore line from Tebay to Darlington, was first reported by Colin Rowley in Railway Ramblings No. 87. It has now been completed but, unfortunately, is closed at present due to Foot & Mouth restrictions. The trail is notable in that it includes two imposing stone viaducts, namely Merrygill (366ft long, 78ft high, 9 arches) and Podgill (466ft long, 84ft high, 11 arches). F&M restrictions are also delaying the construction of the footbridge over the River Eden to Stenkrith Park adjacent to Kirkby Stephen East station site. (Ralph Rawlinson)

June 2001. Leamington-Rugby-Long Itchington-Marton Junction, Warwickshire. These lines were chosen for the annual Chairman’s Walk in 1992, and the same year it was reported that Sustrans had agreed to buy them, and had prepared a detailed report for a cycle trail. Have there been any developments since? If so, please let us know by sending an e-mail via our Contact page. (Ralph Rawlinson)

June 2001. Princes Risborough to Thame, Berkshire/Oxfordshire. This route has now been completed and was opened officially on Wednesday 20 June. The trail starts at the eastern end of Thame (at Howland Road level crossing on the town’s eastern bypass), and extends all the way to Princes Risborough, although the trackbed is left for the last 1½ miles, since the Chinnor & Princes Risborough Railway, and Chiltern Trains, still use it. The complete trail is 7½ miles long, and a couple of pre-opening pictures can be viewed in our Photo Gallery. Further information about this route will be found in the entry for January 2001. (Sustrans Ltd/Jeff Vinter)

May 2001. Horsebridge Station, Hampshire. This is nothing to do with a new walk, but readers may be interested to know that the superbly restored station at Horsebridge on the former Test Valley line from Romsey to Andover is up for sale through Winchester estate agents Knight Frank. The asking price is £850,000, but that includes the station building, a signal box, various original outbuildings, and a 1922 coach built by the London & South Western Railway, all in a site of 1.85 acres. As our informant said, ‘This might interest you – particularly if the Lottery God has been kind!’ (Chris Cook)

May 2001. Kings Worthy to South Wonston, Hampshire. In 1970, Hampshire County Council purchased the Winchester end of the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway for improvements to the A34 trunk road. However, the 1 mile section from Kings Worthy to South Wonston was not used in this scheme, and gradually locals ‘adopted’ it unofficially for walking, cycling and horse riding. Now the local authority has decided to dedicate the route as a bridleway, although the HCC Countryside Service will first move in to clear vegetation and repair the long-neglected fencing. (Chris Cook)

May 2001. The Tissington Trail, Derbyshire. For many years, the southern end of this scenic railway path ended on the ‘wrong’ side of Ashbourne Tunnel, thus obliging path users who wanted to visit Ashbourne to make a long detour over a steep hill. However, in June 2000, the 400 yard tunnel was re-opened, courtesy of Sustrans Ltd, with a 6 ft wide path throughout, so that walkers and cyclists now arrive in Ashbourne at the site of the town’s former station. The tunnel is fully illuminated, and a plaque on the wall adjacent to the south portal records its re-opening by a local politician. Sustrans now hopes to extend the trail southwards via minor roads and bridleways to Etwall, where it will join the Etwall-Mickleover railway path (3½ miles), before continuing to Derby city centre via on-road cycle trails. It is hoped that the Ashbourne-Etwall section can be routed via the scenic Osmaston Park. (Grahame Cox and Michael Hodgson)

April 2001. Didcot to Upton, Oxfordshire. Sustrans has just announced that, after 7 years of negotiation with local landowners, this 1½ mile section of the former Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway is to be opened as a key link in the National Cycle Network, with possible future extensions towards Wantage and Newbury. Although relatively short, the line runs on an embankment and offers extensive views of the surrounding countryside. It can already be used by walkers and those with mountain bikes. (Sustrans Ltd)

March 2001. Chichester to Selsey, West Sussex. £25,000 was earmarked in mid March by Chichester District Council for the construction of a cycle trail between Chichester and Selsey, which will re-use part of the Selsey Tramway. For further details, click here. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2001. South Wales is already a great area for exploring disused railway lines, with routes on offer such as the Taff Trail (Brecon-Cardiff, 55 miles) and local networks such as that in the Afan Valley (ca. 20 miles), but developments continue. For further details, click here. (Ralph Rawlinson)

March 2001. Chepstow to Tintern, Gloucestershire. The southern end of this line, once part of the Wye Valley Railway, survived until the 1990s to convey stone traffic from quarries at Tidenham, south of Tintern. Sustrans Ltd, the path-building charity, is interested in constructing a cycle trail along the route, but the newly formed Wye Valley Railway Company proposes to put Tintern back on the passenger rail network. The 1,188 yard Tidenham Tunnel (the 21st longest on the Great Western Railway) presents a problem for any would-be cycle trail, but the preservationists have offered to carry cycles on their trains free of charge so that the line would still be useful to cyclists. (Chris Cook)

March 2001. Watchet to Gupworthy, Somerset. Readers who know their railway geography will recognise this as the former West Somerset Mineral Railway. Exmoor National Park Authority has recently purchased the line’s steeply graded incline, which ascends the Brendon Hills in ¾ mile at a gradient of 1 in 4. The Authority has obtained a tree-felling licence to clear the mature trees which now block the route, after which the drainage will be repaired. Later, consultations will be conducted with private landowners to establish a long-term management plan for the line and its structures, and provide limited access for the public. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2001. Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. A new walking and cycling trail – ‘The Crab & Winkle Way’ – has been established between Canterbury and Whitstable, using a mile of the former Canterbury & Whitstable Railway at the north, i.e. Whitstable, end. The line closed to passengers in 1931 and freight in 1952, so the absence of re-usable trackbed is not to be wondered at. As if this were not problem enough, part of Tyler Hill Tunnel at Canterbury had to be infilled, with concrete, in order to prevent the university buildings above subsiding into it. Clearly, no one can expect to walk or cycle here! Canterbury City Council designated the whole line a conservation area in 1999, so it is possible that more of the trackbed may become accessible in the future. The trail has just won an award for ‘sustainable tourism’ from the South East of England Tourist Board. (Sustrans Ltd/Kentish Stour Countryside Project)

February 2001. Glen Ogle, Scotland. A new route has been opened up through Glen Ogle, which enables walkers and cyclists to avoid the nearby A84. This route re-uses the listed Kendrum Burn Viaduct on the former railway line between Balquhidder and Killin Junction. Work on the viaduct included the erection of a new steel span, presumably to replace one that had been demolished earlier. South of Balquhidder, 8 miles of the former line to Dunblane can be walked between Strathyre and Callander, with a further half mile east of Callander. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2001. Barnstaple, Devon. A long missing bridge on the Tarka Trail between Barnstaple and Braunton has been reinstated. This is the former LSWR railway bridge over the River Yeo, just north of the former Barnstaple Town station, which still stands. The replacement structure is a swing bridge, just like the original. When it is ‘open’ (to river traffic), there is a well sign-posted alternative path to cross the river via the first fixed bridge. The new bridge normally saves this half mile detour. As well as being part of the Tarka Trail and the National Cycle Network, this route also forms part of Britain’s longest national walking trail, the South West Coast Path. (Sustrans Ltd, with additional information from Andrew Lack)

February 2001. Meldon Viaduct to Lake Viaduct, Devon. This is part of a growing railway path which was planned originally to link Okehampton with the A386 near Bridestowe. However, Devon County Council has now acquired most of the trackbed as far as Lydford, so the trail could end up being a lot longer than envisaged. The new extension from Prewley Moor to Lake Viaduct extends the route to 3½ miles. During the summer season, occasional local trains run from Okehampton station to Meldon, where the trail can be joined. It is hoped that future negotiations will allow the trail to be extended alongside the railway back into Okehampton. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2001. Princes Risborough to Thame, Berkshire/Oxfordshire. After a protracted battle with local landowners who did not want a railway path to pass their property, it now turns out that Chiltern Trains want to re-build a railway line past their back door instead! For further details, click here. Incidentally, the landowners lost their battle against the railway path. Will they choose to do battle with Chiltern Trains? (Jeff Vinter)

Feature Articles

Above: This ornate bridge at West Dean, north of Chichester in West Sussex, carries the former Chichester to Midhurst branch line over a public footpath. The bridge features several panels of knapped flint, clearly visible here, which were installed by the London, Brighton & South Coast Railway so that its bridge matched the main entrance to West Dean Estate, which is situated about 200 yards to the east, on the far side of the A286. The LBSCR was under the thumb of local landowners to an incredible extent when it completed this line. This bridge was built originally in 1867, but was altered in 1880 at the insistence of Frederick Bower, the then owner of West Dean Estate, who considered that the original structure was not sufficiently elaborate. (Richard Lewis)

Centurion Way, the popular walk and cycle trail between Chichester and Lavant, is being extended another 2 miles to the north, taking it to Binderton. At Binderton, the trail will use an improved section of bridleway to reach the nearby A286 (Chichester-Midhurst) road, where a new cycle trail will take it on to West Dean and Singleton, thus giving access to attractions like West Dean College, West Dean Gardens, and the famous Weald and Downland Open Air Museum. Work was expected to start at Easter 2001, but was delayed, understandably, by the Foot & Mouth crisis. At the time of writing (October 2001), construction of the extension was finally under way. It looks as if completion can be expected by the end of the year.

Report by Jeff Vinter


£25,000 was earmarked in mid March by Chichester District Council for the construction of a cycle trail between Chichester and Selsey. Of particular interest to railway ramblers is the proposal to approach Nature’s Way Foods and Selsey Golf Club by re-using the formation of the Selsey Tramway between Ferry Pond (effectively Ferry station site) and Paddock Lane, Selsey, close to the site of the former Golf Links Halt. The section of line from Sidlesham station to Ferry has been open for some years as a walk along the western edge of Pagham Harbour, and the extension to Paddock Lane would create a continuous route along the former tramway of nearly 3 miles.

At the north end of the line, a 1 mile section from Stockbridge Road, Chichester, to and alongside the Chichester Canal has been a public footpath for many years. Similarly, a ½ mile section can be walked between Hunston canal bridge and the B2145 in Hunston village.

Few physical artefacts from the line remain, the most notable being the abutments of the bridge over the Chichester Canal at Hunston, and the remote Chalder station, an early concrete structure which survives alongside the minor road that runs east from the Anchor Inn at Sidlesham. Part of Hunston station remains in a field alongside the B2145 Chichester-Selsey road, but it wouldn’t be found by accident! Nameplates from some of the tramway’s locomotives are preserved in Chichester Museum.

Report by Jeff Vinter


LLANELLI – CROSS HANDS. The edition of Branch Line News dated 13th January 2001 contained an update on the former Llanelly & Mynydd Mawr Railway which opened in 1883 on the alignment of the abortive Carmarthenshire Railway. The Llanelli dock area has been rebuilt, but it is possible to to pick up the trackbed just north of Sandy Junction (GR 499006) and to walk the whole way from there to Cross Hands. The first section to the B4306 overbridge at Cwm Blawd (GR 515102) is a tarmac cycleway. The next section to a minor road overbridge (GR 535112) south of Tumble has been graded. Thereafter, the way becomes a narrow footpath, muddy in places, to the end of the line, making a total distance of a little over twelve miles, i.e. virtually the full length of the original Llanelly & Mynydd Mawr Railway.

Two points of interest arise following mention of this line in Railway Ramblings number 78 (page 11). The County Council only met in March 1998 to discuss its conversion, but less than 20 months later Sustrans has opened ten miles (albeit the section north of Cynheidre was already open to walkers). Phase two of the scheme was to link Cynheidre to the National Botanic Garden of Wales (currently taking shape in the wooded slopes of the south flank of the Lower Vale of Towy at Llanarthne) but this is four miles north of Cross Hands with no disused railways or suitable tracks to convert.

SWANSEA – BRYNAMMAN. The Swansea Vale Railway opened from Swansea St Thomas to Brynamman in 1868 and was taken over by the Midland Railway in 1876. A total of 6½ miles of the line have been utilised for improvements to the A4067 and A4068 roads, but the three miles from north of Alltwen (GR 733047, near Pontardawe) to just across the (replacement) bridge at Ystalyfera (GR 766082) is a well-used tarmac cycleway. In addition, a 1½ mile section between Upper Bank and Six Pits Junction has been taken over by the Swansea Vale Railway preservation group. A GWR style station has been provided at Six Pits and a Midland station is proposed at Upper Bank.

Report by Ralph Rawlinson


The abandoned railway line through Thame used to form part of a secondary GWR route to Oxford, leaving the company’s London-Banbury main line at Princes Risborough.

In the 1990s, Sustrans Ltd., the path-building charity, purchased the trackbed between Princes Risborough and Thame from the British Rail Property Board, and began to convert it into a walk and cycle trail. Unfortunately, the conversion work got no further than Hinton Crossing, where progress to the west was effectively blocked by a dispute. The owners of the adjoining property (once a ‘tied house’ used by the GWR crossing keeper) claimed ownership of the trackbed first under the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act of 1845, and, when that failed, under the dubious right of "adverse possession". After a protracted legal battle (which enriched members of the legal profession but impoverished everyone else), the owners have withdrawn their claim and a compromise has been reached. This will allow the path to continue past their property on a strip of land adjoining the old railway formation, thereby preserving their privacy whilst enabling the path to be opened up for regular use. The purchase of additional land and construction of the diversion (which is very short) will be carried out entirely at the owners’ expense. Following this successful outcome, on 8 December 2000, Railway Ramblers paid over to Sustrans the balance of its grant for the purchase of this line.

Further news has just broken on this trail. When staff from Sustrans began negotiations to extend the railway path west from Thame, it was found that the new franchise bid by Chiltern Trains includes the re-building of the whole line from Princes Risborough back to Oxford as a ‘new’ cross-country rail route. Sustrans will not oppose these plans, provided that Chiltern Trains provides an alternative cycle trail along the same general ‘corridor’, i.e. between Princes Risborough and Thame.

Report by Jeff Vinter