News 2007

Above: That’s the way to do it! Just over two years ago, this site at Peasmarsh, Surrey, was a tangled mass of vegetation with empty brick abutments standing either side of the River Wey where once a railway bridge had carried the former branch line from Christ’s Hospital on towards Guildford. Just look at the difference now: the old trackbed has been cleared, a new span installed, and a link made to the towpath of the River Wey Navigation. The railway path seen here continues all the way to Christ’s Hospital and Shoreham-by-Sea – a distance of over 30 miles. (Tim Grose)

December 2007. John Grimshaw, founder and chief executive of Sustrans Ltd, the cycling charity, reports that BRB (Residuary) Ltd appears to be clearing its books of disused and surplus railway land. A look through its website reveals that many parcels of railway land have now been sold off, with further evidence appearing in Ralph Rawlinson’s entries below. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2007. Risca to Penar Junction, Gwent. Progress in being made towards acquisition of the freehold of Hall’s Tramroad, which BRB (Residuary) Ltd holds on a long lease granted to the GWR in 1877. It will enable onward disposal to Sustrans for conversion into a cycle path, which in turn will bring several listed structures into use, including Cwmcarn Viaduct. Hall’s Tramroad opened in 1811 and, after the GWR converted it to standard gauge, remained in use until 26th April 1991 to convey coal from Oakdale Colliery. When it closed, it was one of the oldest lines still in use. (Ralph Rawlinson)

December 2007. Sedbergh to Low Gill, Cumbria. BRB (Residuary) Ltd has announced that a scheme is being prepared to waterproof the masonry arches of Waterside Viaduct, north of Sedburgh. There is also official recognition of local interest in creating a path along this disused railway, which closed to passengers on 1st February 1954. This would involve putting a new deck on the main cast iron span of Waterside Viaduct, and opening up Low Gill Viaduct further north. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Left: A Southern Railway parcel label for Sidmouth. These paper tickets were usually stuck on to items of luggage so that on-train staff knew where to position them for easy unloading. This SR example was printed before the railways were nationalised in 1948. (Jeff Vinter Collection)

December 2007. Feniton (formerly Sidmouth Junction) to Sidmouth, Devon. Devon County Council is considering converting this route into a cyclepath and walkway. Given this local authority’s commitment to railway paths elsewhere in the county, this is a promising development. (Ralph Rawlinson)

December 2007. Greetland, West Yorkshire. Sustrans is developing a scheme to allow public access over the 13 arch West Vale Viaduct in Greetland, which formed part of the 1½ mile branch from Greetland Junction to Stainland & Holywell Green. This line lost its passenger service in September 1929 due to competition from local trams, although freight services held on until September 1959. (Ralph Rawlinson)

November 2007. Sturminster Newton to Spetisbury, Dorset. Regular visitors to this site will know already that a group of Dorset local authorities is slowly bringing the Somerset & Dorset Railway back to life as the North Dorset Trailway, a long distance railway path for walkers and cyclists. The latest news is that the privately owned trackbed between Fiddleford Mill and Shillingstone is to be opened up, thanks to the agreement of two local farmers. This will create a continuous length of trail from Sturminster Newton to Gains Cross. Further south, there is now a continuous trail from Blandford Forum to Spetisbury: ‘The path from Blandford to Charlton Marshall and Spetisbury is also being improved. The County Council has provided £50,000 for the installation of the bridleway which means that even more bits are connected and more people can use it.’ (Lesley Gasson, Chair of the Trailway Committee)

Above: The old level crossing at Swavesey, Cambridgeshire (grid reference TL 364695), photographed in late 2007 by Steven Parker. Don’t go looking for this now, because it has been removed to make way for the Cambridge to St. Ives guided busway – the most controversial re-use of an old railway that we have ever reported. The following statement from the Transport Select Committee report of June 2000, with our italics, holds the key: ‘While stated preference surveys tend to indicate a strong preference for light rail above other modes, the PTE [Passenger Transport Executive] Group felt that it would be difficult to obtain meaningful market research data until there are more extensive bus-based systems. The establishment of a number of demonstration projects would enable the actual performance of alternative forms of transport in service to be measured, and would enable the costs and abilities to alter travel habits to be compared with existing light rail schemes.’ To put this in plain terms, local residents wanted a light rail system but instead are being given a guided busway so that national and local government can see how guided busways perform. It is estimated that the busway will cost over twice as much as reinstating the railway. At the urban ends of the route, the buses will use ordinary (and frequently congested) roads, thereby losing any advantage arising from their dedicated route through the country. According to the local railway group, there were 2,700 objections to the busway and only 4 letters in support, while 3,800 local residents supported re-opening the railway. It comes as no surprise that we have yet to meet, or hear from, a single local who supports this scheme, and there is certainly concern about future council tax levels. It will be instructive to see what happens – to the scheme’s final costs, to its performance in service, and ultimately in the ballot box. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2007. Cambridge to St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. Further to our report in August 2003, construction of a guided busway along this old Great Eastern branch line has now commenced. The work will continue throughout 2008, with final opening some time in 2009. Cambridgeshire County Council’s promotional leaflet for the scheme states that, ‘Pedestrians, cyclists and horse riders will also benefit from a brand new bridleway running all the way from Cambridge Science Park to St. Ives along the route of the Guided Busway.’ The cost of the project is quoted at £116.2 million, with £92.5 million coming from central government and the rest from the local authority, making it the biggest capital project that it has ever undertaken. (Jeff Vinter)

November 2007. Gateshead, Tyne & Wear. We have just discovered that Gateshead Council has set up a website to support its cycleway network, which includes several routes based on the trackbeds of historic colliery railways, etc. The website includes schematic diagrams and even gradient profiles for the featured routes. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2007. Winchester, Hampshire. The Hampshire Chronicle published on Thursday 27 September reported that Hockley Viaduct to the south of Winchester is to be restored by Winchester City Council at a cost of £500,000, a recent report having revealed that it would cost £25,000 more to pull it down. The restoration will include the lowering of the parapets to let walkers see the Itchen Valley water meadows, which lay beneath. Currently, only persons of 7ft. or more can enjoy these views! (Chris Cook)

October 2007. Canterbury to Whitstable, Kent. We have just heard, a little belatedly, that Tyler Hill Tunnel in Canterbury was inspected in late August by English Heritage to collect evidence prior to preparing a report as to whether it should receive ‘listed building’ status. The ultimate aim, backed by the Crab & Winkle Line Trust, is to re-use the tunnel as part of a traffic-free walking and cycling route into Canterbury from Whitstable. Parts of the line are already used as the Crab and Winkle Way, which links the two towns. There are ambitious plans at the Whitstable end to install replacements for two long demolished railway bridges. (Mike Adamson)

September 2007. Another Combe Down Tunnel open day was held on 27th September to publicise the ‘Connect2’ lottery bid by Sustrans, which seeks to re-open the tunnel (and nearby Devonshire Tunnel) as part of a cycle trail between Midford and Bath. For further details, see the website of the Two Tunnels Greenway project. (Mark Annand)

September 2007. Belfast to Comber, County Antrim. This 7 mile route, part of NCN99, will link Belfast and Comber using the trackbed of the former Belfast & County Down Railway. Completion is scheduled for September 2008, but the first 2½ miles from Belfast Lough are open already. (Sustrans Ltd)

September 2007. The Isle of Wight County Council has renovated Cement Mills Viaduct on the former Cowes to Newport railway line, now a popular cycle trail. Lindapter girder clamps were used to simplify the work. The result is a big improvement on the former timber decking. (Sustrans Ltd/Jeff Vinter)

August 2007. Ripley Junction to Pateley Bridge, Lancashire. The first two miles of this branch will form part of the Belton-Ripley Cycleway. £500,000 has been allocated and funding is also being sought to include Nidd Viaduct. (Ralph Rawlinson)

August 2007. Belmont Junction to Aykley Junction, County Durham. A £20,000 feasibility study is under way to report on converting the listed Belmont Viaduct over the River Wear north of Durham into a footpath and cycle trail. (Ralph Rawlinson)

August 2007. Accrington to Baxenden, Lancashire. The Hyndburn Greenway now starts from Accrington station and, where the line once crossed Platts Lodge Lake on a viaduct, a causeway has been built between the surviving five sets of tubular piers. About 2½ miles of old railway has been re-used between the two communities. (Ralph Rawlinson)

August 2007. The Mineral Tramways Festival took place from 4th–12th August, with Cornwall County Council running over a week’s worth of special events to promote its Mineral Tramways network, including, on the final day, an opportunity to preview the new Redruth to Chacewater Trail. (Don Kennedy/Cornwall County Council)

July 2007. Whitchurch to Horrabridge, Devon. Two years ago, we reported on plans by Devon County Council to develop a new railway path on this section of the former GWR branch line from Tavistock to Plymouth. This project will include replacement of the former Grenofen Viaduct over the River Walkham south of Tavistock. While the installation of a new high level viaduct is still some years away, a temporary bridge was installed over the river in April. Subject our local contact giving permission to use his photograph, we hope shortly to add a picture of the new structure being lifted into place. In the meantime, an artist’s impression of the new high level viaduct can be seen by clicking here. (Ralph Rawlinson)

July 2007. Staveley, Derbyshire. Two sections of the Trans Pennine Trail at Staveley will be blocked for two years in connection with construction of the Staveley Northern Loop road (A6197). The work is expected to be complete by April 2009 and, until then, alternative routes will be signed, parts of which are off-road or ‘on pavement’. (Phil Mullarkey)

July 2007. Cheddar to Yatton, Somerset. Locals formed the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society in 1978, nearly 30 years ago. Since then, the society has developed the northern section of the Cheddar Valley line into a very popular and well used railway path – yet, surprisingly, the route has never had an official opening. This was put right at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday 21st July at Yatton, when the trail received its very belated grand launch, albeit in miserable wet weather. About 100 people attended the event at Yatton station, where the trail starts from the end of the down platform. (Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society)

June 2007. Bourne End to Wooburn, Buckinghamshire. Sustrans is proposing to create a cycle trail along this section of the former railway line from Bourne End to High Wycombe. An exhibition held in February at Bourne End, and staffed by Sustrans and the local councils, attracted excellent support with 90% in favour of the proposals. Negotiations with the landowner continue. (Sustrans Ltd)

June 2007. Bramley to Cranleigh, Surrey. Surrey County Council has re-surfaced the Downs Link between Bramley and Shamley Green, i.e. the first two miles south east from Bramley towards Cranleigh. An improved crossing of the A281 at Shalford is also planned. (Sustrans Ltd)

June 2007. Eynsham to South Leigh, Oxfordshire. It is hoped to utilise part of the old Fairford branch line between Eynsham and South Leigh as part of the National Cycle Network between Oxford and Witney. The section in question is already being used informally by walkers and cyclists, but requires improvements to the surface. Negotiations with the landowner continue. (Sustrans Ltd)

June 2007. Sandford, Somerset. For many years, the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk from Cheddar to Yatton had a gap in the middle, north of the old Sandford station, where walkers had to take a long diversion to circumnavigate a privately owned length of trackbed. Thatchers, the local cider making company, took the sting out of this a few years ago by agreeing to a much shorter diversion which ran through its orchards at the foot of the railway embankment. Now, news has arrived that the railway path is to be moved on to the trackbed proper. Graded access has already been installed north of the A368 at Sandford, where an old rail-over-road bridge was dismantled many years ago. The new ‘direct route’ will be opened as soon as the bird nesting season is over, so walkers should be able to try it out from late summer onwards. News Extra: Shute Shelve Tunnel, just over two miles south of Sandford, now features solar lighting which is sensor-operated as walkers and cyclists pass through. Is this a first? (Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society)

May 2007. Kemble Junction to Tetbury, Gloucestershire. Sustrans is interested in converting this short branch into a cycle trail; a public consultation meeting was held this month. (Ralph Rawlinson)

May 2007. Canterbury West to Whitstable Harbour, Kent. The Crab & Winkle Way uses surviving sections of this very old railway line, but the route currently finishes on the south side of the Faversham-Margate railway line: two new bridges are required if it is to be extended to Whitstable Harbour. Swale Housing Association has given a vital plot of land and a £5,000 donation. Another £400,000 is needed, and Canterbury City Council and Sustrans are helping the drive to reach that target. (Ralph Rawlinson)

May 2007. Stafford to Newport, Staffordshire. Virtually the whole of the route between Stafford and Newport is now a long distance footpath, The Way for the Millennium. It starts from Castlefields (a housing estate half a mile out of Stafford) and ends at the A41 bypass in Newport. The section between Stafford and Gnosall is also a cycleway, NCN55. (Ralph Rawlinson)

May 2007. Pantyfynnon to Brynamman West, Carmarthenshire. In February, a short section of new cycleway was noted running east along the trackbed, west of Garnant. If any reader can provide further details of this scheme, please let us know by sending an e-mail via the link on our Contact page. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Above: The new bridge at Fiddleford Mill on the former Somerset & Dorset Railway was completed in October 2006 and receives its official opening on Saturday 21st April 2007. For further details, see story below. (Richard Lewis)

April 2007. Fiddleford Mill, Sturminster Newton, Dorset. At 11 a.m. on Saturday 21st April, Dorset Countryside hosted the official opening of the new bridge over the River Stour at Fiddleford Mill. This was the first bridge to be opened on the former Somerset & Dorset Railway for well over 100 years, and came about as the result of a local authority project to convert the old railway into the North Dorset Trailway. The official opening was conducted by the Lord Lieutenant of Dorset, after which there was a series of walks exploring the Trailway and the local countryside. Members of the public who attended the opening helped to demonstrate to local press, councillors and council officers the popularity and value of this project. The bridge is situated one mile south of Sturminster Newton and can be accessed via the Trailway from the southern end of the car park for the Buy Lo supermarket, which now occupies part of Sturminster Newton’s station site. (Dorset Countryside)

March 2007. Abbeyfeale to Barnagh, County Limerick, Ireland. We have just received news that an 8 mile section of the Great Southern Trail is now open, from Abbeyfeale to Barnagh (a few miles short of Newcastle West). This is part of the former line from Tralee to Limerick, a 55 mile cross-country branch which local communities are gradually converting into a long distance trail. Abbeyfeale to Barnagh is the longest continuous section of the route opened to date. The views are particularly good north of Templeglantine, while at Barnagh there is the added interest of a tunnel. (Liam O’Mahony)

March 2007. Bath to Midford, Somerset. As regular readers of these pages know, the Two Tunnels Project is campaigning to have the trackbed of the former Somerset & Dorset Railway between Bath and Midford turned into a cycle trail to link the two communities. Recently, developments have been moving rapidly:

  • A planning application has been submitted for the proposed path.
  • The local authority is supportive.
  • Sustrans is submitting a lottery bid for funding by including it in their ‘Connect2’ lottery application. If successful, this will provide £1m, or half the money needed to build the path.
  • While this still leaves a funding gap, it would provide the means of stabilising the structures along the route and arresting further decline – and opening up public access to them.

The Connect2 bid involves a public vote by 20th March to ensure that the scheme goes forward to a shorter list of projects to be included for the bid. Mark Annand of the Two Tunnels Project hopes that everyone will visit the Two Tunnels Connect2 page or, better still, visit it and put in a pledge of support for the project. The big challenge will come in early winter 2007, when the fate of the Connect2 bid will be decided by a TV vote. (Mark Annand and Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Innerleithen to Walkerburn, Borders. The cycle path between Innerleithen and Walkerburn, that currently follows the north bank of the River Tweed, is to be diverted over the 5 span Innerleithen Viaduct and then along the disused trackbed to Walkerburn. The viaduct, currently owned by Scottish Water, will require modifications for its new role. This scheme will re-use just under two miles of the former North British Railway’s line between Peebles and Galashiels. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Tredegar, Gwent. In October 2006, the Grade II listed 9 arch Blaen-y-Cwm Viaduct over the Sirhowy River north of Tredegar was being repaired by Sustrans for use as a cycle trail. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Laughton East Junction to Thurcroft Colliery, South Yorkshire. On 22 September 2006, the Thurcroft Colliery branch was officially inaugurated as the latest part of the National Cycle Network. The two mile greenway, which is suitable for walkers, cyclists and horse riders as well as those in wheelchairs and pushchairs, has been funded by Yorkshire Forward and implemented by Sustrans and Rotherham Council. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Welwyn Garden City to Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire. The well used Ayot Greenway between Welwyn and Wheathampstead is to be upgraded to cope with the heavy use it is now receiving. The work is being funded by Hertfordshire and Welwyn Hatfield Councils with cash from Lafarge Aggregates Landfill tax credit scheme. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Above: Hockley Viaduct, south of Winchester, once enabled trains from the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway to reach Southampton via Shawford Junction and the London & South Western Railway. The last passenger trains to use the 33 arch viaduct ran in September 1961, these being summer Saturday diesel electric multiple units which ran from Southampton to Winchester Chesil. At the time, the main station – Winchester City – was considered far too busy to accommodate this local traffic. The viaduct narrowly escaped demolition by the army in 1984, but nowadays is not in such good condition as this photograph would suggest. In the distance, vandals have dislodged substantial sections of the parapet, which have been thrown into the River Itchen below. The future of this historic structure is now uncertain; see the news report below for further details. Photographed on 12 October 2002. (Mary Strutt)

February 2007. Hockley Viaduct, Winchester, Hampshire. English Heritage has refused to re-consider its decision not to give Hockley Viaduct, south of Winchester, listed building status. Winchester City Council had hoped to obtain a listing so that it could apply for a lottery grant towards the estimated £750,000 cost of repairing the structure, which is currently in a neglected condition. The application for listing was based on the fact that the 33 arch viaduct over the Itchen Valley is the largest and earliest example in the country of a brick viaduct with a concrete core. The proposed cycle trail over the viaduct is now in doubt as well. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Dinsdale to Darlington North Road, County Durham. The whole of this 4½ mile line has been converted into a railway path, with the eastern half between Dinsdale and the A66 forming part of National Cycle Network route 14. However, in October last year, it was announced that the final two miles into Darlington were to be converted – at a cost of £12 million – into a new road to link the A66 with the B6279 (Houghton Road). We do not know yet whether this road scheme will include provision for path users. (Ralph Rawlinson)

February 2007. Stalbridge to Corfe Mullen, Dorset. As regular readers of these pages will know, Stalbridge and Corfe Mullen are on the former Somerset & Dorset Railway, which local authorities in Dorset are gradually converting into the North Dorset Trailway. This process involves careful and sometimes lengthy negotiations with local landowners, so walkers and cyclists are requested only to use those sections of the line which are officially open. In the meantime, the report here contains much good news about how the Trailway is developing, and what can be expected within the next 12 months. In particular, there is a real chance that Blandford Forum will be connected all the way to Spetisbury by this time next year. This would create the longest single section of the Trailway to date at just over 4 miles. At Blandford, there is already a section of Trailway from the station site northwards, so it would be very useful if a cross town link could be established to join up these two sections. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2007. Yatton to Clevedon, Somerset. The spring edition of the newsletter published by the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society contains the tantalising news that a local group is making a serious attempt to ‘go from Yatton to Clevedon’, but gives no further details. Given the context of the report, i.e. railway path developments between Yatton, Cheddar and Wells, this probably means that there is local interest in creating a railway path along the former Yatton to Clevedon branch, which, along with many other railway lines in the west country, closed on 3 October 1966. The big problem with this route is the M5, which straddles the old line near the village of Kenn. Presumably, the route would need to be routed via Kenn in order to access the B3133 road bridge over the motorway. (Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society)

January 2007. Bideford to Appledore, Devon. Trawling through the Sustrans website for anything involving disused railways, our correspondent was surprised to discover the following: ‘Work to assemble the Bideford, Westward Ho! and Appledore Railway, which closed in 1918, has been given a boost by the award of a major grant from the Bideford Bridge Trust. This proposed railway path will include a spectacular cliff top section beside Bideford Bay and is likely to be popular with commuters and tourists. Devon County Council will be working on a planning application and land acquisition in the next two years.’ It is not every day that news surfaces about plans to convert a complete railway. Click here to discover what happened to the BWH&AR’s steam locomotives – another unusual story. (Ralph Rawlinson)

Feature Articles


This article is based substantially on the text of a circular letter from Dorset County Council dated 29 January 2007.

During 2007, more work is planned to extend the Trailway at Stalbridge and Corfe Mullen. At the moment (February 2007), the Trailway at Stalbridge heads south from the old station site but is blocked by vegetation after about three quarters of a mile. At Corfe Mullen, the intention is to use the old railway to create a link into Wimborne Minster, which would be a major attraction on the route; work has already started at the Corfe end.

Between Sturminster and Shillingstone, negotiations with landowners are looking positive, while it is possible that Blandford will be connected with Charlton Marshall within the next twelve months. This would link up with the existing Trailway from Charlton Marshall southwards to Spetisbury, and would create a single continuous length of just over 4 miles. It would be great if a cross-town link could be established at Blandford to connect this new southern extension to the Trailway which already heads north from the old station site.

The council’s newsletter concludes as follows: ‘So overall there is much to be positive about, but as ever, lots more to do, lots more money needed and the good will of private landowners to make this Trailway truly become a long distance route, However, every metre that is opened puts more pressure on the bits that remain closed.’

The long term intention is to establish a route initially from Stalbridge to Poole, and eventually from Templecombe in Somerset to Christchurch. Members of this club are extremely impressed with all that the local authorities in Dorset have done so far, and continue to do, to make this vision a reality. The committee will give serious consideration to supporting this project financially, while the club’s Southern Area hopes to provide some manpower next year to help with clearance work on a section where access has been newly agreed.