News 2004

Above: While Sustrans has done a great deal to re-use old railway lines, this type of trackbed conversion is less than ideal. If a single track railway were relaid here (not an impossibility nowadays), the cycle trail would have to be dug up and relaid in a straight line. Why pretend that this wasn’t a railway? And do all cyclists and walkers want to follow such a serpentine route? (Sustrans’ Supporters Review 2003)

November 2004. ‘The Railways of Great Britain: An Historical Atlas.’ While this part of our website is normally reserved for news relating to railway paths, the publication of this atlas is such a boon to railway ramblers that it cannot go unmentioned. Superimposed on the 1" Ordnance Survey maps, printed in grey, all railways are shown with opening and closing dates for both lines and stations. It took the author, Col. Michael Cobb, 18 years to complete and another 4 years to publication. Distributed by Ian Allan Publishing in two volumes, it runs to 646 pages but the price of £100 (post paid) might make you cough a bit. However, our source says, ‘Personally I couldn’t resist and am now a proud owner.’ It is unlikely to go on general sale in shops but can be ordered, e.g. through Midland Counties Publications, tel. 01455 254450. (‘Railreader’)

September 2004. Witham to Maldon East, Essex. Most of this branch has been converted into a cyclepath called the Blackwater Rail Trail. Permission, however, must still be sought to walk the section from Olivers Farm to Wickham Bishops, where the two timber viaducts (designated ancient monuments) were restored by Essex County Council in 1995. The official route between these two points follows the B1018 and public footpaths. The station building at Maldon East & Heybridge survives, with its impressive listed Jacobean style nine-arch arcaded frontage; in August 2004, it was in use as offices. (Ralph Rawlinson) Update: In October 2014, aerial photographs and maps of the route were accessible from the link here.

September 2004. Rose Grove to Great Harwood Junction, Lancashire. A local authority initiative, developed with Sustrans, plans to turn the Rose Grove to Padiham Power Station section into a cyclepath, with the eventual aim of reaching Great Harwood. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2004. Radstock to Frome, Somerset. The shared use cyclepath constructed between Radstock and Mells Road (6 miles) is now open and in use. The tarmac path mostly runs alongside the still in situ track, but crosses it at three places. The North Somerset Railway still plans to re-open the line between Radstock and Hapsford Junction, and Mendip District Council gave Sustrans the go-ahead on condition that the future for railway operation was protected throughout. The Hapsford Junction to Frome section is still operational with aggregate trains from Whatley Quarry, worked by Mendip Rail. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2004. Leuchars to Wormit (via Tayport), Fife. Sustrans has converted the Tayport to Wormit section of the above line into a cycleway. Named the Tayport –Tay Bridge Cycle Route, it was officially opened by the Minister for Transport on 5th July. (Ralph Rawlinson)

September 2004. Abercynon to Merthyr Tydfil (Penydarren Tramroad), Mid Glamorgan. Plans to open a walking and cycling path, the Trevithick Trail, along this 9½ mile route took a step further in August when the Trevithick 2004 Committee received an initial grant covering the section between Troedyrhiw and Plymouth Tunnel. The Trevithick 2004 Visitor Centre on Merthyr’s industrial estate was opened in June. The star attraction is the working replica of Trevithick’s Penydarren locomotive. (Ralph Rawlinson)

July 2004. Further to the entry for January 2004 (see below), the Somerset consortium which proposes to improve public access to the remains of the West Somerset Mineral Railway has just received a grant of £46,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund. The main partner in the consortium is the Exmoor Society, but there are several other big players such as Exmoor National Park, Somerset County Council and West Somerset District Council. A firm of consultants in Okehampton has been appointed to undertake a feasibility study, and the first sign of action is a questionnaire aimed at locals and visitors, which asks respondents to indicate what they would like to see done with the old railway, and why they regard it as important. One of the options for future development is to waymark the trackbed as a long distance trail. (Ivor Sutton)

Above: An attractive view of the permissive footpath which now uses part of the former Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes branch line, photographed east of Ardingly looking towards Horsted Keynes. For further details, see news item below. (Tim Grose)

July 2004. Haywards Heath to Horsted Keynes, West Sussex. Between Haywards Heath and Ardingly station (now a stone terminal), this former London, Brighton & South Coast Railway branch line remains open for aggregate traffic. However, the rest of the trackbed on to Horsted Keynes is owned by the Bluebell Railway, which hopes to re-open the line at some stage in the future. With the cooperation of the Bluebell and other local landowners, a short section of the trackbed has recently been opened as a permissive footpath between TQ 343278 and 347280. Presumably, this footpath will be at risk when the Bluebell extends its operations westwards. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2004. Irvine to Kilmarnock, Ayrshire. The new link between Irvine and Kilmarnock has now been operational for a number of months and is being enjoyed by walkers, cyclists and horse riders alike. Plaques along the route detail the original branch line names of the former railway, when they were built and finally closed to rail traffic. (Ralph Rawlinson)

July 2004. Port Talbot to Felindre, West Glamorgan. Work is in progress to develop a trail from Port Talbot station to Felindre. This will be the first stage of the missing link between Port Talbot station and Pontrhydyfen and will ultimately link Port Talbot with the extensive Afan Argoed cycle network, all based on disused railways, and communities at the top of the Afan Valley. (Ralph Rawlinson)

July 2004. Farnworth to Bolton, Greater Manchester. In March, Bolton Council announced that part of the former Manchester Exchange to Bolton Greta Moor Street line that lies between Highfield Road in Farnworth and High Street in Bolton and which passes the Royal Bolton Hospital is to be converted into a cyclepath. It will be cleared of debris, widened and provided with new lighting, signs and outdoor works of art. (Ralph Rawlinson)

July 2004. Isle of Purbeck, Dorset. The Purbeck Mineral & Mining Museum Group is establishing a working narrow gauge railway museum at Norden on redundant land adjacent to the Swanage Railway park and ride station, re-creating the clay tramways of the area. The short term aim is the creation of clay mining trailways using existing footpaths around the site, but it also has plans to relay 2ft gauge track which will include the bridge over the Swanage Railway. There were three mineral tramways on Purbeck (from west to east, Pike Bros. Railway, the Middlebere Tramway and Fayle’s Tramway), and sections of all of their trackbeds have been incorporated into the local rights of way network. These can be traced on the Ordnance Survey’s Outdoor Leisure Map 15 (Purbeck). For further details, visit the Purbeck Mineral and Mining Museum’s website here. (Ralph Rawlinson and Jeff Vinter)

July 2004. Portbury to Portishead, Somerset. Sustrans has announced that a licence has been obtained to convert the western end of the Portishead branch beyond Portbury into a cycle trail forming part of National Cycle Network route 41. It will pass under the M5 and dock road. The remainder of the branch, from Portbury back to Parson Street Junction on the outskirts of Bristol, was re-opened to freight traffic recently to serve new docks at Portbury. (Ralph Rawlinson)

April 2004. Blandford Forum to Sturminster Newton, Dorset. A short railway path has run northwards from Blandford Forum for about 20 years, but news of a new 5½ mile long railway path from nearby Stourpaine & Durweston Halt to Sturminster Newton was exaggerated. However, the local authorities are working to make as much as possible of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway available to the public. Click here for further details. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Two views of the restored station at Meeth, taken in March 2004 by Bob Prigg. The top picture shows the view towards Petrockstow, while the bottom one shows the view back towards the A386 and (in railway terms) Hatherleigh and Halwill Junction. Even the station sign has been replaced! Twenty years ago, this site was a massive tangle of brambles and virtually invisible to the passer-by. For further details, see news item below.

March 2004. Meeth, Devon. The railway path from Barnstaple to Petrockstow (part of the huge Tarka Trail) used to stop short of Meeth since a working quarry belonging to English China Clay blocked the route. Beyond the quarry lay the A386, and beyond that the old Meeth station, which presented a sad site, strangled by vegetation and scarcely visible. However, on a recent visit, Bob Prigg found that the station had been restored, with a trail leading tantalisingly onwards in the direction of Hatherleigh. What has happened here? How far does the trail in the top photograph go? Further details will be gratefully received via the e-mail link on our Contact page. Update: Click here to read of recent developments and further proposals for railway paths in Devon, including this one. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2004. Hooley, Surrey. This year is the 200th anniversary of work starting on the Croydon, Merstham & Godstone Railway and, to mark the occasion, English Heritage has asked that the scheduled section – a deep, steep-sided cutting – be cleared of fly-tipping and vegetation, and tidied up. (We presume this to be the section at grid reference TQ 286545, south of Hooley.) The task has been given to the Downlands Countryside Management Project, which expects to start work in May this year. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2004. Heathfield to Eridge, East Sussex. At local exhibitions held in Mayfield and Heathfield last year, 65% who expressed a preference said that they would prefer to see the Cuckoo Trail (from Polegate to Heathfield) extended northwards along the course of the old railway line. Fortunately, East Sussex County Council owns parts of this route, but there are also pockets of private ownership, including garden extensions, which will require careful negotiation or diversions. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2004. Guildford to Shoreham, Surrey/West Sussex. Sustrans is studying possible improvements to this trail, which is based on the old railway lines from Christ’s Hospital to Guildford, and Christ’s Hospital to Shoreham. Parts of the route become very muddy during the colder months of the year, with churning by horses an additional problem in places, so anything that makes this a better ‘all weather’ path will be welcome. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2004. East Grinstead, West Sussex. Sustrans is carrying out a feasibility study for the local authorities to consider how to develop a cycle trail along the former St. Margaret’s Loop through the town. This was a spur that ran off of the Three Bridges to East Grinstead line, and connected with the present day London line north of East Grinstead station. If constructed, the new trail will link residential and industrial parts of the town with the popular Worth Way, which uses the old trackbed to Three Bridges. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2004. Oswestry to Gobowen, Shropshire. The Cambrian Railways Trust hopes eventually to establish tourist steam services from Oswestry to Gobowen and Gobowen to Llanymynech, but Shropshire County Council has announced plans to share the trackbed. It was reported in November that the local authority intends to construct a cycle path along the trackbed between Oswestry and Llynclys, with possible extensions south to Llanymynech and north to Gobowen. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2004. St. Albans to Hatfield, Hertfordshire. A new bridge over Camp Road in St. Albans (strictly a replacement of an earlier railway bridge) has improved the popular Alban Way, which uses the trackbed of the Great Northern Railway’s St. Albans branch. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2004. Ilminster to Chard, Somerset. This route is now open, using much of the former GWR branch line between the two towns. The new trail will soon form part of the Wessex Cycle Route between Weston-Super-Mare and Seaton, which is due to open in 2005. See also entry dated August 2003. (Sustrans Ltd)

February 2004. Pensford, Somerset. The 16 arch Pensford Viaduct, which carried the former GWR line from Bristol to Radstock over the River Chew, has just been renovated at a cost of £700,000. If you know whether the viaduct is now officially open to the public, please let us know via the e-mail link on our Contact page. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2004. Queensbury to Cullingworth, West Yorkshire. The £1 million scheme to convert this disused railway into a trail has just been approved by Bradford Metropolitan District Council, but the name has been changed from "The Great Northern Rail Trail" to "The Alpine Route". Three viaducts are included on the route at Pinch Beck, Hewenden and Cullingworth. See also entry dated March 2003. (Ralph Rawlinson).

Above: A view of Plymouth Tunnel on the Pennydarren Tramway (see report below). This portal was restored in 1991, at which time a mural of Trevithick’s famous locomotive run was installed just inside and protected by railings. (David James)

February 2004. The Penydarren Tramroad, Abercynon to Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan. The Pennydarren Tramroad was a 4ft 4in gauge plateway which opened in 1802 and established its name in history two years later, when one of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotives ran successfully over the route – even though it broke a number of the cast iron rails and required its chimney to be dismantled so that it could pass through Plymouth Tunnel. The South Wales town of Merthyr Tydfil is not letting the bi-centenary pass unnoticed, and is getting ready for its highest-profile year ever. On the 21st of this month, the Trevithick memorial in Pontmorlais will be re-dedicated, after which there will be a walk to Plymouth Tunnel and Abercynon, led by a traction engine. Subject to funding, part of the original tramway will be restored, and a permanent memorial is to be established in the form of the Trevithick Trail, a walking and cycling path along the 9½ mile route. While on the subject of the Pennydarren Tramroad, readers will be pleased to hear that the 1981-built replica of Trevithick’s 1804 loco has been restored to working order by the National Railway Museum. Unlike the original, the replica has been fitted with standard gauge flanged wheels so it can haul passengers on track at the York Museum. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2004. Railfest at the National Railway Museum, York. This is nothing to do with railway paths, but all railway enthusiasts will have an interest in it! To commemorate the 200th anniversary of the steam locomotive and the 400th anniversary of Britain’s first recorded railway, the National Railway Museum is staging one of the grandest public events in railway history – a mammoth nine-day ‘Railfest’ to be held in York between May 29 and June 6. The working replica of Trevithick’s 1804 loco (see above) will be joined by a huge array of other motive power embracing the entire 200 year history of UK railways. (Ralph Rawlinson)

January 2004. Gupworthy to Watchet, Somerset. The 12 mile railway that connected these two places was the West Somerset Mineral Railway, which was last used in 1911 to test driverless train apparatus. Now the Exmoor Society, backed by Exmoor National Park, wants to investigate the possibility of opening up the trackbed for greater public access. The Society has asked the Heritage Lottery Fund for a grant of £48,000 towards a feasibility study, which will be carried out by the West Somerset Mineral Railway Heritage Project. The aim is to identify parts of the route which can be opened up, or protected by conservation schemes. (Chris Cook)

January 2004. Cheddar to Wells. The Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society, which has long maintained the old railway from Cheddar to Yatton, is slowly realising its ambition to extend the route back to Wells. A section of the Cheddar-Wells line has been opened between Rodney Stoke and Draycott, and attention has now turned to improving an existing length of path between Wells Leisure Centre and Wookey Hole Road at Haybridge. It is hoped that, in the future, this section can be extended from Haybridge to Easton. (Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society)

January 2004. Chorlton-cum-Hardy to Debdale, Greater Manchester. This route was known as the Fallowfield Loop Line, but now forms part of the Manchester Cycleway from Chorlton to Sportcity. Future trackbed extensions are planned at the east and west ends, while, at Debdale, the cycleway switches to the towpath of the Ashton Canal. About 8 miles of railway trackbed have been used in the route, with non-railway sections adding another 4. The route is thought to be the longest urban cycleway in Britain. (Don Kennedy)

Feature Articles


This article is based largely on a letter from Dorset County Council dated 6 May 2004.

Over the last few years, Dorset County Council (DCC) and North Dorset District Council (NDDC) have been working in partnership to improve the surface and increase the amount of the old Somerset & Dorset Railway line that is open to the public. Unfortunately, missing bridges over the River Stour (e.g. south of Sturminster Newton and north of Stourpaine & Durweston Halt) mean that diversions are unavoidable. However, in the last two years, six kilometres have been re-surfaced with a 2½ metre wide compacted limestone surface forming a ‘trailway’, which is suitable for use by walkers, cyclists, horse riders and the less able.

Negotiations with private landowners have proved successful in extending the amount of the railway that is open to the public, and these are continuing in an attempt to make more available in the future. Currently, the sections in north Dorset that are open to the public are as follows, from north to south:

  • Stalbridge: grid reference ST744176, 0.6km.
  • Sturminster Newton: ST787142, 1.25km.
  • Fiddleford: ST803138, 0.5km.
  • Shillingstone: ST822120, 2km. This section, which includes the intact Shillingstone station, was re-surfaced in 2004. A permissive access agreement is being negotiated with the adjoining landowner to extend the route southwards to the byway at Gain’s Cross Farm.
  • Blandford: ST887068, 1km. This section was re-surfaced in 2003.
  • Charlton Marshall to Spetisbury: ST897041, 3km. This section was also re-surfaced in 2003 and will be linked to Blandford within 18 months.

This year, ‘Dorset Countryside’ (DCC’s countryside and access service) is producing a ‘trailway’ leaflet giving information about all the sections that are open to the public and plans for the future. Copies will be available in the autumn through Tourist Information Centres and libraries, or directly from the North Dorset ranger’s office (whose address, unfortunately, was not supplied).

Report by Jeff Vinter


Ron Strutt kindly responded to our request for more information on developments in north Devon:

‘You asked on your website (March 2004 news) about the apparent extension of the railway path at Meeth. I cycled through this way back in September 1999 – the extension through the woods bypassing the china clay quarry had just been opened and the halt at Meeth restored.

‘At that time the section over the road was a tangled jungle and clearly not open for public use. However, last year Devon County Council published a plan to develop the remaining disused railways in the county, including proposals to extend the Tarka Trail southwards through Meeth and Hatherleigh to Halwill Junction and then on to Holsworthy and Bude by 2007. In the north of the county an extension of the Tarka Trail northwards from Braunton is planned to link with the existing railway path from Ilfracombe. Meanwhile, the Plym Valley Trail will be extended northwards to Tavistock, mainly on old railway line.

‘Sadly, I can no longer find the paper on the Devon CC website (it was under the heading of Paths to Prosperity) – I hope they haven’t had second thoughts!

‘The only gaps in the network would then be from Halwill to Meldon to unite the Tarka Trail and the Granite Way – most of the old railway line still exists but a bridge would be needed across the A30 dual carriageway – and from Lydford to Tavistock to link the Granite Way and the Plym Valley Trail.’

Report by Ron Strutt