News 2014

Above: The old goods shed at Cloughton on the former NER line from Scarborough to Whitby has now been restored for use as a guest house. Our photographer was there just after 9:00 a.m. at the start of a delightful autumn day. Scarborough to Whitby, or the Cinder Trail as it is known locally, is one of the most scenic railway walks in the UK, and it gets better and better the closer you get to Whitby. 30th October 2011. (Richard Lewis)

December 2014. Clevedon to Shepton Mallet, Somerset. On Christmas Eve, the Wells Journal reported that the Strawberry Line project, which aims to create a network of safe multi-use trails based on various old railway lines across Somerset, had reached an impasse. Somerset County Council will not grant planning permission until the funding is in place, but backers of the scheme will not provide funding until the planning permission is in place. Recently, Wells MP Tessa Munt raised the problem in the House of Commons, but William Hague, the Leader of the House, responded that he did not think that ‘we in this House would be able to tell the county council what to do’. Thus, yet again, elected representatives end up not doing what local people want. It may be time for an online campaign by pressure group 38 Degrees. (Tim Chant)

December 2014. Stockingford to Chapel End, Warwickshire. The single track branch line from Stockingford to Stockingford Colliery (originally Chapel End Pit) and Ansley Hall Colliery opened in 1876 and remained in use until 30th October 1959 when the last of the collieries, Ansley Hall, was closed. The start of the branch between grid references SP 327917 and SP 323932 is now a 1¼ mile long permissive bridleway and cycle trail. More of the railway survives beyond Chapel End, and there are plenty of local footpaths and bridleways by which to explore it. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Coalville (LNW) to Loughborough, Leicestershire. Three sections of this former LNWR branch line have been converted into local cycle trails:

  • From New Swannington to Whitwick (grid references SK 428152 to SK 435162, just under ¾ mile)
  • From Thringstone to Grace Dieu Priory (SK 431172 to SK 435182, just under ¾ mile)
  • From Snell’s Nook to Loughborough (SK 499185 to SK 520198, 1¾ miles)

These conversions do not appear to be part of an overall scheme for re-using the branch. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Polegate East Junction to Stone Cross Junction, East Sussex. There was a time when trains could run from Brighton to Hasting without having to reverse at Eastbourne; the 1½ mile long Willingdon Chord from Polegate East Junction to Stone Cross Junction facilitated this, but was lifted in stages between 1969 and 1984. Nowadays, the extension of the Cuckoo Trail from Polegate to Eastbourne follows just over ½ mile of this old formation between grid references TQ 594047 and TQ 604043, although most of it runs along the southern edge of the old railway and not on the trackbed proper. As recently as 2012, pro-rail groups have been calling for the Willingdon Chord to be reinstated in order to provide improved rail services along the south coast from Ashford and the Channel Tunnel; locally, the problem is that houses have been built on the western end of the chord, nearest to Polegate. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Bottesford to Denton, Leicestershire. The freight-only Denton branch, which operated from 1883 to 1974, was built by the Great Northern Railway to convey ironstone from local quarries in the Belvoir area. The vast majority of the branch, from Muston to Harston, now forms part of NCN15 (grid references SK 831371 to SK 848324, 4¾ miles). There is a short diversion off the trackbed at Woolsthorpe Bridge, which is interesting in its own right since it follows the towpath of the Grantham Canal, but the cycle trail does not include the ‘branch off the branch’ which starts at SK 861342. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Wisbech to Sutton Bridge, Cambridgeshire/Lincolnshire. According to the Railway Atlas : Then and Now by Paul Smith and Keith Turner (pub. 2012 by Ian Allan, ISBN 978 0 7110 3695 6), the Midland & Great Northern Railway’s branch line from Wisbech to Sutton Bridge forms part of the Nene Way between Wisbech and Tydd (grid references TF 458106 to TF 465177, 4½ miles). Examination of the local OS Explorer map suggests that the Nene Way runs along the west bank of the river rather than along the course of the old railway, but it provides a convenient way to trace this old line and sample the terrain it crossed – very flat and watery! Be aware that, in summer, the grass on the Nene Way reaches knee height or above, which makes for tiring walking. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Arbroath to Carmyllie, Tayside (Angus). A ¾ mile section of the former branch line from Elliot Junction (near Arbroath) to Carmyllie can now be walked as part of the Elliot Nature Trail or Arbirlot Walk. The walk starts in Elliot at grid reference NO 621395, where there is a small public car park on the north side of the A92 as it reaches the edge of Arbroath from the south, just after passing the unusually named Arbroath Artisan Golf Club. The old railway can then be followed to NO 621395, where the trail leaves the trackbed and heads across fields to the pretty village of Arbirlot. The branch started life as a private railway built by Lord Panmure to transport stone for tenement building from Carmyllie, but ended up as part of the Dundee & Arbroath Joint Railway, a combined enterprise of the Caledonian and North British Railways. If you are in the area and fancy a bit more railway-themed walking, NCN1 runs alongside the operational Arbroath-Dundee line between Elliot and the grounds of Hatton House near East Haven (2¼ miles) before switching to minor lanes to reach Carnoustie (another 2¼ miles), the next station to the west. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: The majestic Spey Viaduct, just east of Garmouth, survives thanks to the far-sighted action of Moray District Council which purchased it from the British Rail Property Board in 1980. The structure comprises a central bowstring span of the river, approached by three shorter spans on either side. For further details, see the story below. 8th April 2012. (Des Colhoun, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

December 2014. Elgin to Tillynaught, Grampian (Aberdeenshire). We have learned recently that parts of this former Great North of Scotland line can now be walked and cycled between Garmouth and Cullen, although it appears that this is old news since Moray District Council saved the Spey Viaduct from demolition by buying it as long ago as 1980. The sections that have been opened are as follows:

  • Garmouth to the B9104 north of Bogmoor, including the magnificent 1,010 yard Spey Viaduct (grid references NJ 337641 to NJ 354642, 1¼ miles)
  • Lower Auchenreath to Porttannachy (NJ 372641 to NJ 386641, ¾ mile)
  • Portgordon to near Buckpool (NJ 393641 to NJ 405647, ¾ mile)
  • Portessie to Findochty (NJ 440662 to NJ 463676, 1½ miles)
  • Portknockie to Cullen (NJ 491683 to NJ 510671, 1½ miles)

Various of the above form part of the Speyside Way, the Moray Coastal Path and NCN1, but the latter appears to be the best bet for linking all the segments together. Garmouth to Cullen is a distance of about 11 miles, and – as can be seen – over one half of that can now be covered on the old railway. The route is worth exploring for the Spey Viaduct alone. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Coldstream, Northumberland. Coldstream was situated on the ‘main line’ from Tweedmouth to Kelso (with St. Boswells and the Waverley line beyond), but was also the northern terminus of the Wooler branch from Alnwick (with Alnmouth beyond). Both of these lines have been closed for many years, but the Ordnance Survey now shows a public footpath running south from the site of Coldstream station to Coldstream Junction, where parts of both lines can be followed to West Learmouth and East Learmouth respectively. The apex of this local network is grid reference NT 863394, just south of Coldstream station, which was actually in Cornhill on Tweed. From here, one can walk along the main line as far as West Learmouth (NT 846379) or along the Wooler branch as far as East Learmouth (NT 865378 according to the Explorer mapping, or NT 866372 according to the Landranger mapping). We reckon that the latter is more likely to be correct because, at this location, the railway footpath makes a connection with another right-of-way. The two routes combined provide 2½ miles of railway walking, with plenty of bridges on the West Learmouth arm; local lanes adding a further 1¼ miles can be used to make a circuit. (Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Erwood, Powys. Erwood was a station on the Cambrian Railways’ line from Talyllyn Junction (near Brecon) to Moat Lane Junction (near Caersws), situated at grid reference SO 089439. Since 1984, it has operated as a craft centre run by Erika and the late Alan Cunningham, who rescued it from dereliction, but at the end of this year it will close. The Cunninghams’ son, Michael, who used to manage the venue, has left to work as a conservation volunteer abroad, and new tenants are being sought. Features at the station include the signal box from Newbridge-on-Wye, now converted into a bird hide (although you wouldn’t know it from outside) and preserved Fowler 0-4-0 diesel shunter no. 169, which was the first ever locomotive to work as an ammunitions shunter in World War 2. (Tim Chant)

Above: Now that Hampshire County Council has adopted the former railway line between Itchen Abbas and Martyr Worthy as a public right of way, it has installed a ramp at the east end down to road level. In the right of the picture can be seen the start of the bridge parapet that spans Bridgetts Lane, below; the notices just visible at the foot of the slope are HCC public notices about the new route. For further details, see the story below. 14th December 2014. (Brian Loughlin)

December 2014. Alresford to Winchester Junction, Hampshire. We reported in March 2012 (click here) that Hampshire County Council had dedicated a section of the former Mid Hants Railway west of Itchen Abbas as a public footpath with permissive rights for cyclists. We can now confirm that the grid references of this new footpath are SU 531330 (footpath 502, Itchen Abbas) to SU 516331 (Bridgetts Lane, Martyr Worthy), a distance of three-quarters of a mile. As yet, we have heard no more of proposals to re-use the trackbed east of Itchen Abbas so as to create an off-road route to Alresford. (Brian Loughlin and Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Langwith Junction to Langwith Colliery, Derbyshire. A new bridge has been installed over the A632 at grid reference SK 524700, which means that people can now walk without interruption from Langwith Junction (north of Shirebrook) to Langwith Colliery, which has been landscaped and re-developed as Poulter Country Park. The new bridge re-uses the abutments of the original and is part of a Bolsover District Council scheme, launched only last year. The new greenway will form part of the Archaeological Way, connecting Pleasley Vale with Creswell Crags, and this new railway-based section will remove the need for path users to walk along a section of the busy A632. The new route is just under 1¼ miles long; it looks as if the main access points will be SK 525706 at the north end, and SK 527687 at the south. (David Robinson and Jeff Vinter)

December 2014. Treherbert to Port Talbot, Mid Glamorgan/West Glamorgan. The Valleys branch line which now terminates at Treherbert used to continue through the Rhondda or Blaencwm Tunnel – the longest in Wales – to reach Cymmer and Port Talbot via the Rhondda & Swansea Bay Railway. On Wednesday 3rd December, BBC News South East Wales reported that ‘Volunteers are now drawing up plans to try to re-open the 3,300 yards (3017m) tunnel in Rhondda Cynon Taf [sic]. They hope to receive funding to excavate the tunnel to attract tourists and create a cycle trail.’ The south portal of the tunnel is near the village of Blaengwynfi, whence an existing cycle trail follows the old R&SBR trackbed more or less all the way to Aberavon, near Port Talbot. Presumably, the idea is to link this trail, and the scenic Afan Valley through which it passes, with Treherbert and Treorchy. Click here for the BBC’s report, not that it contains any more detail than provided here. This proposal is very ambitious, which may count against it, but on the other hand the Welsh Assembly has invested heavily in rail trails in recent years, so anything is possible. (Brian Loughlin)

December 2014. Shillingstone, Dorset. After months of suspense, Dorset County Council has decided not to demolish Lamb House Bridge on the former Somerset & Dorset Railway at Shillingstone. According to the website of the North Dorset Railway Trust, a meeting of interested parties took place at County Hall, Dorchester, on 30th October, when the Trust’s Secretary, Steve Sale, put the case for keeping the bridge intact. The report continues: ‘After a full and, at times, lively discussion, the Highways Department agreed to the wishes of not only the Trust but also the local community as a whole.’ The club’s Vice Chairman, Derek Wilkin, and South West Area Organiser, Jeff Vinter, both wrote in favour of retaining the bridge, whose loss would have removed a potential safe crossing of a busy road while simultaneously improving the line of sight for motorists, which would have led to even greater traffic speeds. Our correspondent remarked that this victory ‘shows the power of protest’, which is certainly true, although the case highlights also the need for constant vigilance. It seems strange that Dorset’s Highways Department should have promoted a scheme which would have had an adverse impact upon a major project (i.e. the North Dorset Trailway) being managed by its Countryside Department. (Tim Chant)

December 2014. Wymondham to Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk. According to the 1st December edition of The Eastern Daily Press, one of the bridges on the former railway at Pudding Norton, Fakenham, has come up for sale; it is regarded as a potentially important element in the future restoration of rail services to Fakenham. The Melton Constable Trust is buying up pieces of old railway as they become available to support the Norfolk Orbital Railway project, which would provide a circuit of Norfolk linking Fakenham, Melton Constable, Holt, Sheringham, North Walsham, Norwich, Wymondham, Dereham and then back to Fakenham. The trust plans to bid for the land and has launched an urgent appeal to raise the funds needed. The NOR’s website explains: ‘We want to see Fakenham reconnected to the national rail system via the Mid Norfolk Railway in order to provide environmentally friendly public transport to suit modern conditions, as well as the heritage services which [the] MNR is already operating successfully to Dereham. It will take years but it is important that we secure any parts of the route as they become available.’ (Tim Chant)

Update: On Wednesday 10th December, the Melton Constable Trust acquired this former railway land for £24,000. Speaking for the Trust, David Bill made these comments to the Eastern Daily Press: ‘It’s been a tremendous bit of news. We failed about five years ago and that was a disappointment. This time we just threw the kitchen sink at it … It’s a wonderful stretch of line in itself, there are two iconic bridges, including one which was built in 1849 over the River Wensum, and it’s symbolic because this could pave the way at some time for the return of a railway line to Fakenham.’ (Tim Chant)

November 2014. Aberystwyth to Tregaron, Ceredigion. Regular visitors to these pages will recognise this as the Ystwyth Trail – a route which has attracted some criticism in recent years, most of it focussing on the project not having been completed properly. However, one source of irritation is soon to be removed, for, earlier this month, Ceredigion County Council voted unanimously to approve an application to ‘link the existing path to Tregaron’. This will remove the need for walkers and cyclists to leave the old railway north of Tregaron and take their chances on the nearby B4343. When the project is complete, trail users will reach Tregaron at grid reference SN 679602, adjacent to Wynnstay Stores and the former level crossing over the A485. (Bob Morgan)

November 2014. Yelverton to Princetown, Devon. Between Dousland and Princetown, this former GWR line is open to walkers and cyclists, and very scenic it is too. (For the best views, head south from Princetown and pray for good weather!) Our correspondent, whilst travelling to see the new Gem Bridge again (south of Tavistock), used the B3212 from Princetown to Yelverton and noticed that the Princetown Railway trail is having a new bridge built across that road. The grid reference is SX 549696. This will eliminate the most dangerous crossing on the trail, and is doubtless another example of Devon CC’s investment in its extensive network of rail trails. (Bob Spalding)

November 2014. Gowerton to Pontardulais, West Glamorgan. The Swansea Bikepath Network includes a number of off-road trails based on former railway lines, including the route of the famous Swansea & Mumbles Railway which actually ended up operating electric trams. The mid point of the Swansea-Mumbles route was Black Pill, where a separate line (from Swansea Victoria) headed north towards Gowerton, Pontardulais and eventually Llandovery and Craven Arms. Most of this remains in use as the Central Wales line, although the section from Swansea to Black Pill and Pontardulais was closed back in June 1964. Swansea to Mumbles was converted into a trail many years ago, while at Black Pill walkers and cyclists can head north along the ‘lost’ part of the Central Wales line; it is now part of NCN4 and will take them as far as Gowerton. However, there the problems start. Much has been done already with the Gowerton-Pontardulais section, but it is not as good or useful as it could be because it includes several off-trackbed sections, and does not reach Pontardulais – despite this having been an aspiration for over 20 years. Wheelwrights, the Swansea Bay cycle campaign group, is now pressing the local authorities to complete this route, and cycling activist John Grimshaw, formerly Chief Executive of Sustrans, is backing them. This could be just what is needed to get things moving. The completion of the Gowerton-Pontardulais extension would deliver a really good local network that had Black Pill at the hub, with branches reaching out to The Mumbles in the south, Swansea in the east, and Pontardulais in the north. (Peter Duddy and Jeff Vinter).

November 2014. Brockenhurst to Ringwood, Hampshire. The New Forest National Park has received funding from the Department for Transport for four new cycle trail schemes, one of which is costed at £30,000 for a new 0.3 mile off-road cycle track at Ringwood which will form part of the Castleman Trailway. This trailway is based largely on the former LSWR line from Brockenhurst to Hamworthy via Ringwood and Wimborne, and we suspect that this new section will be based on the trackbed near the new building developments adjoining Crow Arch on the eastern edge of Ringwood. If you can confirm one way or the other, please get in touch via our Contact page. (Tim Chant).

Above: A view from a train on Norway’s scenic Flåm Railway (see report below). There are 9 or 10 departures daily from May to September, with 4 during the rest of the year. The train sets are push-pulls with an electric locomotive at each end. 8th July 2009. (Karen Blumberg, used under the terms of this Creative Commons Licence)

Above: Two of the locomotives that work the Flåm Railway seen waiting between turns at the bottom end of the line. They were built in 1987 by Henschel (now part of the Bombardier group) and have a power output of 4,000 hp driving a Bo-Bo (4+4) wheel arrangement. The combined 8,000 hp is necessary for the long climb to Myrdal, which is 2,845 ft above sea level. August 2014. (Zita Pilbeam)

Above: We suspect that our members would be even happier if they could liberate this motorcycle from its static display and take it for spin up the line – although it would be a trial for the small engine. Another alternative is to hire a bicycle at Flåm, take it up to Myrdal in the train’s luggage compartment, and then cycle back. Or should that be ‘freewheel back’ … ? August 2014. (Zita Pilbeam)

November 2014. Flåm to Myrdal, Norway. We do not normally offer holiday advice but make an exception for the Flåm Railway, which is the most visited tourist attraction in Norway. The heavily engineered line is 12½ miles long and, thanks to the large windows in the carriages, offers superb views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. You can think of it as a sort of Welsh Highland Railway on steroids. A proposal for the line was first put forward in 1871, but construction did not commence until 1924 followed by opening in 1940. The cost of the project was beyond the dreams of avarice: the first estimate in the 1890s put the price at 3.3 million Norwegian krone, but by the time the line opened the bill had reached 26,651,900 krone. The journey takes 1 hour each way. By Norwegian standards, the fares are not cheap, but with a capital cost like that it’s worth paying just to see the engineering, let alone the scenery. It’s a good job Dr. Beeching never got near this one! (Lionel and Zita Pilbeam)

November 2014. Lincoln, Lincolnshire. As part of Lincolnshire County Council’s £3.3 million Canwick Road Improvement Scheme (near South Park junctions), the former railway tunnel at grid reference SK 980701 beneath Lincoln’s busy Canwick Road is to be re-opened as an underpass. This will create a subterranean link for cyclists, horse riders and pedestrians between footpaths on the east and west sides of the road. The Department of Transport has agreed to contribute £1.7 million to the scheme from its Local Pinch Point Fund, but this is time-constrained meaning that the work must start no later than January 2015. The tunnel is part of the Great Northern Railway’s old line from Lincoln to Honington, where it joined the Nottingham-Boston line. Curiously, the published plans for the Canwick scheme suggest that nothing but the tunnel will be re-used; one wonders if something constructive might have been done with the trackbed either side of it. In the course of researching this story, we discovered that ¾ mile of this line at Welbourn has been designated a public footpath between SK 964543 and SK 959532. (Tim Chant)

November 2014. Hurdlow to Cromford, Derbyshire. Seasoned railway ramblers will recognise this as the High Peak Trail, a route which – like many around the country – has been suffering from government cutbacks, both local and national. The trail has become narrow in places, while last winter’s storms did it no favours either. Against this background, it is good to report that the one mile section from Green Lane crossing (grid reference SK 160619) to Friden (SK 171608) has been widened to about 12 ft and a superb, smooth and hard ash surface installed. With a General Election just six months away, members might wish to challenge their parliamentary candidates about the cutbacks affecting paths like this, which are the country’s safest routes for walkers and cyclists. Off-road trails reduce accidents on the roads and also encourage healthy exercise, both of which are worthwhile economic ends in themselves. Each walker or cyclist fatality on the roads costs ca. £600,000 from the public purse, and how long can we allow obesity levels to rise before the NHS buckles under the strain? (Mike Hodgson and Jeff Vinter)

November 2014. Rothesay to Port Bannatyne and Ettrick Bay, Isle of Bute. Our correspondent is fast becoming an expert on the more obscure railways and tramways of Scotland, and, if they’re on an offshore island, then so much the better! The Rothesay Tramway opened in 1882 between Rothesay and Port Bannatyne, and in 1902 was extended across the island to Ettrick Bay – and electrified. Click here for a short account of the line, well illustrated with modern photographs. Best of all, this report shows that there’s a fair bit of trackbed that can still be walked. (Greg Beecroft)

Above: A new bridge being installed on the former Moretonhampstead branch at grid reference SX 798797, south of Lustleigh, in order to prepare more of the old line for its future life as a multi use trail. Devon County Council does not skimp on this type of work. 1st November 2014. (Bob Spalding)

Above: At the site of the next bridge towards Lustleigh (SX 789803), an access ramp is being installed. The original bridges that survive along this old branch line have a delightful vernacular style, as can be seen here. The branch was built in the 1860s by the Moretonhampstead & South Devon Railway, which opened it to broad gauge trains on 26th June 1866. For further details, see the report below. 1st November 2014. (Bob Spalding)

November 2014. Bovey Tracey to Moretonhampstead, Devon. Regular visitors to these pages will know that Devon County Council has been working quietly for many years to re-develop much of the old Moretonhampstead line north of Bovey as the Wray Valley Trail. Our correspondent recently visited the section from Bovey Tracey to Wilford Bridge (near Wolleigh) and reports as follows: ‘The first mile is through Parke Wood and the track comes to an end at a removed road bridge which is now being reconstructed (see above). It looks as if the trackbed is being cleared on the other side and, having walked along a parallel road for about half a mile, I came across the next bridge with what appears to be a ramp to gain access. It seems a lot of expenditure to gain another half mile but of course there may be a bigger scheme here.’ This looks like the next phase of the trail’s development, and we have written to Devon CC for further details. The ‘bigger scheme’ is for the Wray Valley Trail to form part of a long distance route from Okehampton to the South Hams. Obviously, not all of this can be based on old railway trackbeds, but the overall plan will ensure that this new trail is of more than local significance. (Bob Spalding)

November 2014. Worcester, Worcestershire. According to local MP Robin Walker, Worcester has enjoyed a ‘cycling renaissance’ in recent years. Of interest to railway ramblers is Project Skywalk, which will ‘convert a disused viaduct that runs below but parallel to the existing [railway] viaduct into a pedestrian walkway and cycleway with potential to link Foregate Street station to the east with the University of Worcester city centre campus, the racecourse, the riverside and across the river to the Worcester Arena, the Cricket Ground and St Johns to the west. It is hoped that the first phase will be completed in 2015.’ This quotation comes from a succinctly named report (irony) published by Museums Worcestershire entitled ‘Options Appraisal and Feasibility Study for the future of the Museum and Art Gallery’. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

November 2014. Bath to Bristol (Somerset/Bristol). Here’s a story that you couldn’t make up. The Western Daily News reports that the new LED streetlights which have been installed at Mangotsfield on this ever-popular cycle trail are to be turned off every night between May and September from 1:00 and 5:00 a.m. Why? To improve the sex lives of glow worms. The worms mate for only a few hours after dusk each evening, but cannot do so with the lights on since they overpower the female insects’ green glow, ruining the chances of them being spotted by males. (Tim Chant)

November 2014. Halifax to Bradford, West Yorkshire. Further to our report in June about plans to re-open Queensbury Tunnel for walkers and cyclists (click here), we have been alerted to this website which includes an interesting video by Graeme Bickerdike about Bath’s Two Tunnels project. The point that Graeme is making is that what works in North Somerset could work equally well in West Yorkshire. The website provides some fascinating reading, and we recommend it. (Matt Skidmore)

November 2014. Andover to Ludgershall, Hampshire/Wiltshire. This is not a closed line but rather a freight railway which sees occasional military traffic to and from Ludgershall. Our correspondent spotted an interesting article about it in The Salisbury Journal (Monday 15th September) which reported that support for the branch to become a heritage line was gathering support. A joint committee set up by Ludgershall and Andover town councils plans to run special chartered services between the two towns, and even to re-open the closed station at intermediate Weyhill. Councillor David Drew spoke in terms of a ‘taster session’ and running a test train along the line. He said: ‘I met with Phil Dominey (South West Trains’ stakeholder and accessibility manager) and he was very keen, very supportive and very positive.’ (Tim Grose)

November 2014. Dyce to Maud and Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire. According to the August edition of ‘A to B’ magazine, ‘The former railway line from Fraserburgh to Dyce (now the Formartine and Buchan Way) has become a key prospect for reopening as a railway. This suggestion was still being dismissed just a year or two ago, but it’s a measure of how things have changed that reopening is now being taken seriously by the local authorities.’ For further details on this long distance rail trail – which was completed barely a year ago – click here for our October 2013 report on the trail’s official opening. (Ivor Sutton)

November 2014. Nottingham to Derby, Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire. Staying with ‘A to B’ magazine (see above), its October edition included a splendid six page article on Bennerley Viaduct, which now ‘stands at the heart of a plan by Sustrans to construct a cycle path network linking Nottingham, Awsworth, Ilkeston and Derby’. The viaduct was built by the Great Northern Railway in 1877 and is now owned by Railway Paths Ltd, which is keen to see it re-used. Regular readers of these pages will recall that the Derby-Ilkeston leg of this route is being developed by Derbyshire CC and its partners as the Great Northern Greenway. (Ivor Sutton/Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Stevington to Turvey, Bedfordshire. The Stevington Country Walk re-uses part of the Midland Railway’s former line from Bedford to Northampton; it runs across farmland in the Ouse Valley south of Stevington between grid references TL 007524 and SP 983522, a distance of 1½ miles. This really is a walk from the middle of nowhere to the middle of another nowhere, which is probably why Bedfordshire CC describes it as being ‘3 miles’ long; clearly, the local authority expects every user to walk out and back. However, more of this old line is accessible beyond the western end at SP 983522. If one turns left here (i.e. south) and walks down the lane to Tythe Farm, a right turn on to the bridleway opposite leads past Moat Farm and back on to the trackbed at SP 971524. From here, one can walk westwards along the old line as far as the A428 on the edge of Turvey at SP 961522. What is unusual about this second section is that, until recently, the public footpath was shared with the Stevington & Turvey Light Railway, which had established a 2ft. narrow gauge line here. (It was north of Pictshill House on the local OS Explorer map.) However, this summer – due to repeated metal thefts – the railway’s volunteers lifted the track and moved the whole enterprise to a new, secure location in nearby Woburn, where about half a mile of track is now operational. As our correspondent remarked, this makes the removal of the S&TLR from this part of the old Bedford to Northampton line its second closure. There are some atmospheric pictures of the S&TLR’s last running day on the web page here. Finally, if one follows the diversion via Tythe Farm, it extends the Stevington Country Park to a linear walk of 3 miles from Stevington to Turvey. (Tim Grose)

October 2014. Tavistock to Bere Alston, Devon. Reinstatement of the railway between Tavistock and Bere Alston has always depended on planning permission being granted for 750 new homes off Callington Road to the south of the town. This moved a lot closer on 2nd September when the local planning authority voted in favour of this development, which is to be ‘delivered’ by Bovis Homes Ltd and Kilbride Group, The latter’s website included this report: ‘It is anticipated that planning permission will be issued shortly following the completion of a Section 106 legal agreement. This will secure the delivery of the comprehensive package of community and planning benefits including financial contributions towards the reinstatement of the Bere Alston to Tavistock rail line.’ (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Edinburgh Waverley to Tweedbank (City of Edinburgh, Midlothian and Scottish Borders). Depressed by the news? Football team lost again? Local pub closed? The project to re-open the Waverley line between Edinburgh and Tweedbank is fast approaching the track-laying phase. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Wareham to Swanage, Dorset. This route is not a railway path but a preserved railway, which older members of the club may recall walking in years gone by, i.e. before the Swanage Railway began to put the rails back. Now the final phase of restoration for the Swanage branch is under way, with through trains from Wareham set to start running again from late 2015. Further details will be found in this report from the BBC, or click here for a text only version. (Bob Spalding)

October 2014. Stalbridge to Poole, Dorset. As regular readers will know, this is the former Somerset & Dorset Railway (at least, as far as Broadstone) which Dorset CC and its partners are gradually converting into the North Dorset Trailway. The supporters’ group, the Trailway Network, has not published a newsletter since June, but one has just dropped into the Webmaster’s inbox; click here to read it. The contribution from Steven Andrews of Spetisbury, who has used the Trailway for two years to commute by bicycle to Sturminster Newton, demonstrates the value and utility of the route. (Lesley Gasson)

October 2014. The Waverley Viaduct, Carlisle, Cumbria. Never give up! And always expect the unexpected! The Waverley Viaduct used to carry the North British Railway’s ‘Waverley Line’ to Edinburgh over the River Eden; when the line closed in 1969, locals began to use the viaduct informally for crossing the river – until in 2009 British Rail Board (Residuary) Ltd erected steel fences on either side in order to prevent further vandalism. (Some in the media reported the reason as being that the viaduct was ‘unsafe’.) Now, with help from the Highways Agency – apparently a most unlikely ally – the situation looks set to change. The Highways Agency took over responsibility for the viaduct from BRBR in October last year and has already begun to carry out improvement works; its officials say that they will ‘back moves to create a trust that would lead efforts to re-open and manage the bridge.’ Even more encouraging are these comments from an Agency spokesman: ‘Although we are limited in the kind of practical support we can offer and issues such as the planning permission still need to be resolved, the Highways Agency is very supportive of the [viaduct] group’s aspirations and the idea of them forming a trust to help re-open and manage the bridge.’ Further details appear in this report published by the News and Star on 29th August this year. (Jeff Vinter)

Webmaster’s Note: When on 1st October 2013 the Highways Agency took over the responsibilities of BRBR (a victim of David Cameron’s ‘bonfire of the quangos’), it set up a special division called the ‘Historic Railway Estate’ to look after more than 6,000 disused railway structures across the UK.

October 2014. Aberdare to Hirwaun, Mid Glamorgan. According to the WalesOnline website, Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones says the Welsh Government will ‘examine’ the case for re-opening the Aberdare to Hirwaun line, which closed to passengers in June 1964, but remained open to carry coal from Tower Colliery; the rails still remain in situ. Local economic concerns are driving the case for re-opening, especially youth unemployment in this part of the Cynon Valley, which is at 50 per cent; a restored railway would give local people improved mobility. A re-opening would also be good news for railway ramblers because Hirwaun has two railway paths, based respectively on the Penderyn Tramway and the Hirwaun to Abernant Tramroad. (Tim Chant)

October 2014. Torksey Viaduct, Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire. Further to our report in March, the restoration of Torksey Viaduct is now under way thanks to a project coordinated by Railway Paths Ltd and largely financed by the Railway Heritage Trust. As reported previously, a low cost approach is being adopted which, initially, will open up the viaduct for walkers only. If this is successful, it is hoped that further funds can be found to upgrade the structure for use by cyclists. It is difficult to give a precise date for completion since the project has a few ‘issues’, comprising the barn owls which live in some of the box girders, the badgers which live on the trackbed on the Notts side, and the vagaries of the weather in such an exposed location. However, it is reasonable to hope that railway ramblers will be able to use the viaduct to cross the River Trent by Easter next year. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Methley to Pontefract, West Yorkshire. The Sustrans Yorkshire & Humber team recently opened a walking and cycling route on a section of disused railway near Castleford, although attention is still required to three bridges along the route. We do not have precise details of the location yet, but the old Methley Joint line from Cutsyke Junction towards Stanley fits the outline supplied to us. The western section of this line, between grid references SE 358248 and SE 384256 (ca. 1¾ miles), is already part of NCN67, so perhaps this new section of path is intended to form part of an eastwards extension into the outskirts of Castleford. If you can provide further details, please get in touch using our Contact page. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Roslin to Gilmerton, Midlothian. The existing railway path from Roslin to Loanhead has now been extended through Loanhead, under the Edinburgh City Bypass and far as Lasswade Road, Gilmerton, where Edinburgh City Council is re-furbishing the old rail-over-road bridge which, earlier this year, it removed from its abutments. When the bridge is replaced, it will provide a grade-separated crossing of Lasswade Road and enable the railway path to continue eastwards and connect into Gilmerton Station Road. The grid references of the newly extended trail are NT 280642 to NT 292673, a distance of 2 miles. It is believed that the next phases of the project will extend the route along the old trackbed up to the A6106 in Millerhill. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Oban to Ballachulish, Argyll/Highlands. This route is NCN78. The good news is that much of it uses the old railway from Connel Ferry to Ballachulish Bridge, and the even better news is that it is largely complete, although there remain four sections where cyclists (and walkers) must use the A82 trunk road. For an overview of the current situation, see (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Cambridge to St. Ives, Cambridgeshire. Since 2003, we have published many reports about the guided busway which has been built – at great expense – along the course of the former Great Eastern Railway’s branch line from Cambridge to St. Ives. Following the busway’s opening in August 2011, we had assumed that it would settle down to a quiet life of public service, but this seems far from likely. On 7th October, BBC Cambridgeshire reported that Cambridgeshire County Council had voted unanimously to take further legal action against BAM Nuttall, the contractors who built the route. Nuttall’s have already been forced to repay £33m to the council, thus reducing the overall public cost of the scheme to £84.7m. However, the council is now claiming a further £31m to make good defects to the bus track which have become apparent in the last two years. Many of the bearings between the track and its foundations have moved out of place, causing the track to develop steps which have required emergency repairs and even a 5 mph speed restriction near Histon. The root causes are alleged to be shallow foundations and inadequate drainage. An April report from the Cambridge News (accessible here) provides much of the engineering detail. Local residents never wanted this busway and made it clear that they wanted the railway to be reinstated; it looks increasingly as if complying with their wishes would have saved a fortune. (Jeff Vinter)

October 2014. Taunton, Somerset. Rail passengers at Taunton will be familiar with the disused railway bridge that spans Station Road about 300 yards south of the town’s station. Perhaps few are aware that this used to carry the Taunton avoiding line, which subsumed part of the former Grand Western Canal linking Taunton with Tiverton. This structure will soon be removed and replaced by a new road bridge, which will form part of Taunton’s new ‘Northern Inner Distributor Road’ linking Priory Avenue with Staplegrove Road. The new road is intended to take through traffic away from the town centre and improve access to the Firepool area, now derelict, which is earmarked for development including shops, offices and housing. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: A view of the widening work on Teewell Bridge on the Bristol and Bath Railway Path. Our photographer could not get close enough to the nearby works on Staple Hill Tunnel to record them, but at the bridge site saw plenty of piling and concrete work taking place prior to the widening of the arch for road traffic. December 2014. (Matt Skidmore)

Above: A diagram of Bristol’s Teewell Bridge scheme (see story below). The black strip passing beneath the bridge is the cycle trail, but what is the grey strip to its left? Provision for light rail, tram, rapid transit bus? December 2014. (Matt Skidmore)

October 2014. Bath to Bristol (Somerset/Bristol). A busy stretch of the Bristol and Bath Railway Path was closed on Monday 6th October for a period of 8 weeks. The closure is to allow for two sets of repairs, firstly to the brickwork of Staple Hill Tunnel, and secondly to the foundations of the narrow Teewell Hill bridge (grid reference ST 654757), which is to be widened. The bridge carries road traffic from Staple Hill to the Avon Ring Road and is currently a pinch-point. (Tim Chant)

October 2014. Helmdon, Northamptonshire. Helmdon cutting – well known to members of the Chilterns Area who have visited over several years – is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), a designation which was awarded thanks to the interesting plants and six different types of butterfly found there. Unfortunately, over the years, the grassland had become overgrown with the scrub which so quickly colonises unmanaged land. However, in December last year, a mass of scrub was removed in the hope of allowing the grassland and small plants to re-establish themselves. Public footpath number AP35 runs along the top of the cutting, but a plan to create a cycle path along the old trackbed faces some uncertainty: Natural England has objected, but the local parish council is still in discussions. (Tim Grose)

September 2014. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. Frome’s Missing Link reports that the newly completed section of path from Low Water to Welshmill Lane is being highly praised by everyone who uses it and is a real achievement. The one regular question is when it will go right through. The answer is, ‘It depends on you’ – the group needs donations, and volunteers to get involved and help. Moving on to the section from Buckland Bridge to Elliots Bridge (part of which is on Network Rail land next to an active railway), NR has made an agreement on how to get round a critical technical difficulty and has withdrawn its objection to the trail’s planning application. This means that the group can be reasonably confident of getting a licence to use the land they need. (Frome’s Missing Link)

September 2014. Bedwyn to Marlborough, Wiltshire. An organisation called ‘Transition Marlborough’ is campaigning for a new rail link to the town. The group argues that, when the Bristol main line is electrified, a branch line to Marlborough should be relaid – and electrified. Apart from the commuting and tourism benefits, the land opposite Marlborough’s Business Park would offer far better terminus facilities than are possible at Bedwyn, where the current local service from Paddington terminates. Unusually, Network Rail will have a choice of two routes to Marlborough: the old GWR branch line, or part of the former Midland & South Western Junction Railway. Schematic diagrams for the project suggest that the latter will be used. (Jeff Vinter)

September 2014. Tetbury to Kemble, Gloucestershire. We first reported interest in the Tetbury branch back in January 2006, when early moves were made to restore the town’s historic goods shed. Now local charity Tetbury Rail Lands Regeneration Trust (TRLRT) is working to convert the whole of Tetbury’s former GWR station site into a ‘series of community assets for the people of the town and surrounding area’. So far, the trackbed has become a town-to-country park linear trail, the marshalling yard a car park, and the adjoining livestock market a village green. The current focus is to convert the goods shed into a ‘multipurpose space for the people of Tetbury and their visitors’; a weekly cinema and farmers market are planned, and already the building has been made secure from the weather. Tetbury Town Council has promised to raise £350,000 for this, and has challenged the TRLRT to generate a further £150,000. Even better news for railway ramblers is that a cycle trail from Tetbury to Kemble is planned along the course of the old branch line. The section from Tetbury to Ilsom was opened for walkers in 2006 under a scheme involving the South West Regional Development Agency. At the other end, the trackbed from Kemble station to the access road to Cotswold Airport can be walked, but its status is unclear: a notice on a gatepost near the station says that it is a permissive footpath, but another says that it may be walked only with the landowner’s permission. Frustratingly, no contact details are provided. (Jeff Vinter and Chris Homer)

September 2014. Chepstow to Tintern, Gloucestershire/Monmouthshire. The failure of the project to convert the scenic disused railway along the Wye Valley into a multi-use trail has been reported elsewhere on this website, but perhaps not all is lost. In recent months, the 38 Degrees pressure group has picked up on this scheme and is trying to breathe life back into it. The initial proposals, which were part of Sustrans’ nationwide Connect2 scheme, failed by a very narrow vote at Monmouthshire County Council, due largely to objections from residents at Brockweir, near Tintern, who feared for the parking consequences; they reasoned that the trail would bring not large numbers of cyclists, but large numbers of motorists with bicycles on car racks, which the area could not cope with. 38 Degrees has started to re-open communications with the local authorities (Forest of Dean Council and Monmouthshire CC) on the grounds that this decision resulted in a great loss of amenity for would-be path users. Further details can be found at the following links:

38 Degrees says: ‘Please continue to share the petition link [i.e. the first one above] … as the number of signatures needs to correctly represent the local populaion who will benefit both directly and indirectly from this vital resource.’ (Graham Lambert)

September 2014. Breamore, Hampshire. The 29th August edition of The Salisbury Journal included a large advert for the sale of Breamore station on the former LSWR line from Salisbury to West Moors. The advert ran thus: ‘Located between Downton and Fordingbridge this unique building has been converted to 491 sq ft of office space comprising 2 offices, kitchen, wc & parking for 4 cars £122,000’ (sic). Most readers will think the price very low for an old railway station, but that probably has much to do with the building being offered for commercial rather than residential use. (Alan Clarke)

September 2014. Aylsham to Norwich, Norfolk. Seasoned railway ramblers will recognise this 26 mile route as Marriott’s Way, a multi use trail based on two disused railway lines in the county of Norfolk: part of the Great Eastern Railway’s line from Aylsham to County School, and part of the Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway’s line from Melton Constable to Norwich City. The 11th September edition of the Eastern Daily Press reported that £250,000 has been earmarked for improvements aimed to increase the level of use on Marriott’s Way, the surface of which – in places – can be best described as ‘indifferent’. This is one of five projects designed to improve transport and the environment in the Norwich area for 2015-16, using more than £1m from a newly introduced levy which, presumably, is imposed on local developers. (Tim Chant)

September 2014. Petite Ceinture, Paris. Further to our report in November 2013 about the abandoned circular line in Paris, we have now been alerted to some photographs of this interesting line. Our correspondent says: ‘News to me, but I suspect old news to you. But the pics are terrific’. And indeed they are – click here to view them. (Rupert Allman)

Above: A montage of the recently restored bridge at Setthorns in the New Forest, showing the view along the trackbed from east and west (top), and the view across the deck. The fact that the bricks have all been cleaned makes the whole structure look, quite literally, brand new. The directors of the old London, Southampton & Dorchester Railway would be delighted! For further details, see the story below. 23rd September 2014. (Tim Chant)

September 2014. Brockenhurst to Holmsley, Hampshire. The historic railway bridge which crosses NCN2 at Setthorns, between Brockenhurst and Holmsley on the LSWR’s ‘old road’ from Southampton to Dorchester, has just been re-opened after a major repair project costing £120,000 and lasting 18 months. Setthorns is reckoned to be the best campsite in the New Forest but, while the bridge was being repaired, campers had to make some lengthy diversions via forest tracks. The repair work was carried out by Camping in the Forest, which provides holidays at 16 woodland locations across the UK. (Tim Chant)

September 2014. Tavistock to Bere Alston, Devon. Further to our report in July (click here), in late August, West Devon Borough Council’s Planning and Licensing Committee approved outline permission for 750 new homes on the south side of Tavistock, off Callington Road, by six votes to two; construction work could start as early as next year. This approval means that reinstatement of the railway from Tavistock to Bere Alston can now go ahead since the two projects are inter-dependent, but the line is unlikely to be operational until 2022. Also, the railway’s £33 million cost may rise over the intervening years. There were concerns at the meeting about the number of cars that this new housing would bring on to the area’s already busy roads, so the rail link is vital in order to give local Plymouth-bound commuters an alternative to using their cars. The Tavistock railway is a long term sustainable project by Devon County Council. (Tim Chant).

September 2014. Clevedon to Shepton Mallet, Somerset. Not one old line but two, the long-established Strawberry Line project has stepped up a gear with the launch of a brand new website to promote the creation of a 30 mile trans-Somerset multi use trail based on the old railways from Clevedon to Yatton, and from Yatton to Cheddar, Wells and Shepton Mallet. The project includes plans for connecting paths to nearby villages in order to maximise accessibility to the trail and local market towns. The Shepton Mallet Journal reports that Wells MP Tessa Munt has now thrown her weight behind the project, and reported her as saying: ‘As Somerset’s roads become ever more congested and dangerous, the need for traffic-free routes grows ever more pronounced. The path will … offer a safe journey to school, an economical and enjoyable commute to work, a chance to widen access to the Mendips and marshlands, a glorious setting for keeping fit, and a tourist attraction to bring visitors and money into Somerset villages. When complete, it will connect over 70,000 people across Somerset.’ Further details can be obtained from, or search for The Strawberry Line on Facebook or Twitter. (Tim Chant)

Comment: The story above will interest fans of the Somerset & Dorset Railway: follow the link to the Strawberry Line website and note from the map that the project now includes a link from Shepton Mallet to Evercreech. Could this be along the old S&D trackbed? If you know the answer, please get in touch via our Contact page.

September 2014. Bolton to Bury, Greater Manchester. As reported this time last year, Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council and Bury Council are re-opening the former Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway’s line from Bolton to Bury as a multi use trail, and the final stage through Darcy Lever and Breightmet has just been approved. This latest section will include the most spectacular engineering features on the route, namely Burnden and Darcy Lever Viaducts. Councillor Bob Allen told the planning committee behind the scheme: ‘I have never been that supportive of cycleways on main roads, I think they are dangerous. But I am a big supporter of off-road cycle ways — it (sic) gets people out for healthy exercise, and it gets people off the roads.’ (David White)

August 2014. Didcot to Newbury and Southampton, Oxfordshire, Berkshire and Hampshire. A recent edition of The Hampshire Chronicle boldly proclaimed, ‘Historic railway’s on track for reopening’. The quarter page article went on to explain how 15 people attended a meeting of the Didcot, Newbury & Southampton Railway Revival (DNSRR) project, who were broadly supportive of proposals to rebuild this old cross-country line from Didcot to near Kings Worthy, where it would join the Basingstoke-Southampton main line – an arrangement necessary to avoid the cost and disruption of rebuilding through the site of the old Winchester Chesil station. The Chronicle explained that ‘The restored railway would improve transport links in the Didcot-Winchester corridor and provide additional capacity for freight traffic between Southampton and the Midlands’. Our correspondent considers the scheme to be ‘bit pie in the sky, but interesting’; the absence of any reference to Network Rail is telling. (Chris Cook)

August 2014. Nottingham. Former member Tony Fisher is no longer up to walking, but instead has been sorting through his personal archives where he found a selection of slides (click here) taken in the early 1980s on walks along the former Great Central Railway through Nottingham. Much of this railway infrastructure has now disappeared, so Tony’s pictures offer a chance to enjoy again what has been lost. What comes across is the scale of the waste implicit in the Beeching closures; just look at the size of the GCR’s bridge over the Nottingham Canal. The current brouhaha about HS2 makes the wanton destruction of this exceptionally well engineered line – built to the continental Berne Loading Gauge – seem incredibly tragic; some might even say stupid. (Tony Fisher)

August 2014. Nationally. If you are on the lookout for an old railway station that you can buy – and have deep pockets – then the article here from the Daily Mail will be of interest. Even if you are not an intending purchaser, this piece contains some lovely photographs of a selection of privately restored stations around the country. If the selection of stations in the Daily Mail isn’t enough, then you could also have a belated look at The Eastern Daily Press (click here) which in April ran a well illustrated article on Wolferton station in Norfolk, renowned for its former royal associations. (Brian Loughlin and Tim Chant)

August 2014. Wenlock Edge, Shropshire. The National Trust has recently announced that it plans to raise £4,000 to create two cycle routes along Wenlock Edge based on old railways. The routes, of 4 and 8 miles respectively, will both start from Trust car parks. The money, which the Trust hopes to raise by online donations, will help to pay for the surfacing of the trails, waymarking, an information panel and a promotional leaflet. Irritatingly, online reports of this development omit to state exactly where these old railways are (do their webmasters think that no one wants to know?), but Much Wenlock to Longville and Much Wenlock to Farley fit the profile. A slide of Presthope Tunnel on the National Trust’s website may indicate that the project includes opening this tunnel as part of the longer route. (David White and Jeff Vinter)

August 2014. Merthyr Tydfil, Mid Glamorgan. Who’d have thought it? Thanks to a £20,000 funding package, it may one day be possible to take a ride on the ‘Trevithick Heritage Railway’, which will replicate the ground-breaking journey made by steam on the Penydarren Tramway back in 1804. According to a report in the 6th August edition of the Western Mail, ‘Merthyr Tydfil Heritage Regeneration Trust is commissioning [a] survey with support from the EU-funded South East Wales Community Economic Development (SEWCED) programme. The Cyfarthfa Furnaces (Trevithick Heritage Railway) project will involve research, site planning and exploring the possible design of a heritage railway track to operate a new working replica of Trevithick’s first railway steam locomotive. In 1804, the first steam locomotive railway, known as Penydarren Locomotive, was built by Richard Trevithick and used to haul iron from Merthyr Tydfil to Abercynon.’ In recent years, much of the tramway’s route has been converted into a trail. (Tim Chant)

August 2014. Okehampton to Halwill Junction, Devon. We have just received news from the Senior Rights of Way Officer at Devon County Council that work has now started on the ground on converting the section of old railway from Venndown Gates (grid reference SX 505941) through to Beaworthy (SX 464981, near Rectory Farm). However, the local authority still needs to secure planning approval for some earth ramps near Ashbury station (SX 484963) and also conclude negotiations with a couple of landowners in that area. This will add another 6 miles to the current railway-based bridleway from Bower Cross (between Meldon Junction and Thorndon Cross) to Venndown Gates. The section past Ashbury station will be known as the Pegasus Way, and will bring the railway path to within one mile of Halwill Junction. The next steps will be to connect into Halwill Junction and sign a route from Bower Cross to Meldon Junction on the popular Granite Way … and then there will be a new railway-based trail of ca. 13 miles from Meldon Junction through to Cookworthy Forest Centre near Dunsland Cross. The old railway cannot be used between Bower Cross and Meldon Junction because the new A30 dual carriageway has been built across the formation. (Steve Gardner and Robin Summerhill)

July 2014. Bordon, Hampshire. Many readers will recognise Bordon as one of Hampshire’s military towns, once served by an LSWR branch line from Bentley and the famous Longmoor Military Railway. The LMR can be followed from Whitehill, at the south end of the Bordon conurbation, southwards to Liss on the Portsmouth main line. However, going north, the trackbed soon disappears into a tank training area (no place for a rambler) and then Prince Philip Barracks. Hampshire County Council’s website advises: ‘The MOD facilities at Bordon are expected to be vacated in late 2015, after which the main military activity will cease.’ Following the MOD’s departure, there will be significant redevelopment and regeneration of both Bordon and Whitehill, which will include using part of the old railway to accommodate a new alignment for the busy A325, which currently congests Bordon town centre. The re-alignment of this road will begin on the north side of Bordon, running through Louisburg Barracks (which, presumably, will be demolished) before picking up the course of the old railway and following it to the southern edge of Whitehill. The benefit for railway ramblers is that these plans will allow access – albeit via a road – to part of the LMR which historically has been ‘off limits’; cycle and walkways are to be provided along the new road, which will be subjected to a 40mph speed limit. Hampshire CC’s plans can be viewed by clicking the link. (Tim Grose).

July 2014. Holsworthy, Devon. The 17th June edition of the North Devon Journal contained an article which demonstrated that the local authorities remain committed to restoring Coles Mill Viaduct, which spans the valley on the east side of the town’s old station site, now occupied by a large Waitrose supermarket. The objective (as ever) remains to make the viaduct part of the Atlantic Ruby Way from Okehampton to Bude. While this commitment is well known to us, the article reveals just how much work needs to be carried out on the viaduct. Not only have its parapets been removed, but the decking is now covered in ever deepening vegetation which – root penetration aside – must be allowing water to get into the spandrels. (Dave Hurley)

Above: The restored goods shed at Ballaugh (see story below), with the Heritage Trail from St. John’s to Ramsey running past on the left. Click here for the opening day poster, which has an attractive ‘retro’ look as if the designer was trying to evoke the bygone railway age on Manx. In passing, the Isle of Man is a great place for railway walking, because most of virtually every disused line has been converted into a trail. 25th June 2014. (Neil Hebborn)

July 2014. Ballaugh, Isle of Man. The old goods shed at Ballaugh on the former Isle of Man Railway between St. John’s and Ramsey has been restored as a heritage centre after decades of use by Ballaugh Commissioners as a store. It was opened on 11th May, with IOM Today reporting that ‘The old goods shed now houses a permanent exhibition on the history of Ballaugh, from the last Ice Age to the present day, while part of the building is dedicated to temporary exhibitions.’ The restoration was funded by donations from organisations and individuals, including the Edward Lewis Charitable Trust, Culture Vannin, the Manx Lottery Trust and the Ballaugh Commissioners. (Neil Hebborn)

July 2014. Tavistock to Bere Alston, Devon. Devon County Council has suspended plans to establish a cycle trail from Tavistock to Bere Alston alongside the (hopefully) soon to be re-opened Tavistock-Bere Alston railway due to escalating costs. At a meeting of the council’s cabinet on Wednesday 2nd July, it was agreed to drop the rail trail but progress the railway reinstatement, for which the ‘baseline’ cost is now £18 million – but set to rise to £25m, with a total figure approaching £33m. Fortunately, £14m of this will come from contributions from the developers who are set to build 750 new homes on the south west edge of Tavistock. With the direct rail-based trail now looking unlikely, DCC intends to explore an alternative option for a link between Tavistock and the Bere Peninsula which will use trails in the new Tamar Trails Centre at Bedford Sawmills, near Gulworthy; this already includes a number of cycle trails based on the former Devon Great Consols Railway. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

July 2014. Petersfield to Midhurst, Hampshire/West Sussex. A chance meeting between the Webmaster and Sustrans volunteers recruiting in Chichester revealed that West Sussex County Council (and presumably neighbouring Hampshire CC) have aspirations to establish a multi use trail along the disused railway line from Petersfield to Midhurst. At Midhurst, the trail would continue via an as yet undecided route across the relatively flat Sussex Weald to Billingshurst and Crawley. Most of the trackbed of this railway has been privately owned for decades, so any project will have to be very long term – and dependent on the skill of the local authorities’ negotiating teams. (Jeff Vinter)

July 2014. Great Elm to Frome, Somerset. Construction work is about to commence on part of ‘Frome’s Missing Link’, which – when complete – will connect the town via the railway corridor with the local leg of NCN24, which currently starts at Radstock West but goes ‘on road’ at Great Elm. The first section to be constructed will be Welshmill to Low Water, within Frome, and it is expected that this will be complete by the end of August. Meanwhile, the charity that owns the trackbed and rails along the Radstock West branch is planning to lift the derelict track in order to support this project. (Frome’s Missing Link and Jeff Vinter)

June 2014. Cranleigh to Guildford, Surrey. There is a new petition (click here) for a feasibility study to investigate reinstating the railway between Cranleigh and Guildford; the driving forces are increased building in the area and vehicle congestion along the parallel A281. For many years, this section of trackbed has formed part of the Downs Link bridleway, which connects the North and South Downs, but also provides a longer link between the towpath of the River Wey and the coast at Shoreham-by-Sea. Cranleigh was highlighted in a report by ATOC in June 2009 as a community that would benefit from being re-connected to the rail network, so the idea is not new. Research in 1994 concluded that the re-opening of the line would not be economically viable, but perhaps the political, economic and transport conditions have changed sufficiently for a renewed analysis to reach a different conclusion. (Nigel Gibbons)

June 2014. Queensbury to Holmfield, West Yorkshire. On 15th May, the Bradford Telegraph and Argus published the following short article on Queensbury Tunnel, which used to convey trains on the Great Northern line from Bradford to Halifax: ‘A Government transport minister yesterday pledged to visit a disused rail tunnel campaigners hope could become a cycleway. Under Secretary Robert Goodwill wrote to Queensbury Community, Heritage and Action Partnership to accept their invitation to visit Queensbury Tunnel. It has not been used for over 50 years and is currently blocked and flooded. The partnership hope to see the 1½ mile long tunnel re-opened as Europe’s longest underground cycleway, creating a cycle link between Halifax and Bradford. The Highways Agency, which is responsible for the tunnel, has a budget to make it safe and the partnership believe this money could be spent on the project. They have already been backed by transport charity Sustrans and hope Mr Goodwill’s visit could give a huge boost.’ (Tim Chant)

June 2014. Derby to Ilkeston, Derbyshire. Regular visitors to these pages will recognise this as The Great Northern Greenway, which is being developed on 13 miles of the former Derby-Ilkeston line between Breadsall and Ilkeston. Another ‘piece of the jigsaw’ is now in place, namely the section from the A608 at grid reference SK 381395 to SK 398400 (Lime Lane). This brings the total distance from Breadsall (SK 363685) to just over 2¼ miles, with more promised for the future. Our correspondent reports: ‘Lime Lane is a bit of a quandary because the work finishes here and the line of the GNR then is only completed by using adjacent footpaths, vaguely along the line of the railway … Les Sims, a cycling friend, has inserted a video on Youtube that shows the extension starting from Lime Lane and finishing at the A608’ (see Given that this old railway used to be an impenetrable mass of vegetation, what Les’s video reveals is a significant achievement. (John Swan)

Above: The remains of Langstone Viaduct on the branch line from Havant to Hayling Island. The cylindrical structure in the centre used to support the opening spans, which could be turned through 90 degrees to let shipping pass. 8th June 2014. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2014. Havant to Hayling Island. On a recent visit to the Hayling Billy trail, it was found that Havant Borough Council has made a number of improvements which make the route continuous from end to end. The trail starts on the south east side of Havant station, where it is now marked through the station car park; but the really significant improvements are at Langstone. Here, the arrangements for crossing Langstone Harbour (via the bridge on the A3023) were not at all clear, but the trail has been upgraded to provide a well signed and surfaced route that links together the separate sections of trackbed either side of the water. These improvements include the short link on the south side of the bridge that takes users from the A3023 back on to the railway: once a narrow track of beaten earth, this is now a two-metre wide trail. (Jeff Vinter)

June 2014. Raasay, Hebrides. We have known of a disused railway on the island of Raasay for some time, but now Greg Beecroft has been out there and supplied a set of photographs, which illustrate both how complete and remote the formation is. The railway ran from an iron ore mine at grid reference NG 565366 down to a pier at the south end of the Narrows of Raasay at NG 554341. It is about 1½ miles long and, from 1916 onwards, was operated largely by German prisoners of war. Greg’s photographic survey can be found here. (Greg Beecroft)

June 2014. Stafford to Newport, Staffordshire/Shropshire. Work on converting this former LNWR line into a multi use trail began in 2004. Since then, the project has cost about £2 million but the end is now in sight, for work on the final section near Moreton (Staffs) – which will join the two existing sections together – is due to start this September when the plant and insect populations begin to die back. This missing link is 1.9 miles long and, according to Staffordshire County Council, should be completed by Christmas; it will bring the length of the entire route up to 14 miles. (David White)

Above: Scaffolding progresses along Laira Bridge at Plymouth as contractors begin the long repair and rehabilitation process which will see the bridge restored and re-used as part of a rail trail from the Plymouth Friary area to Plymstock and Oreston. 1st June 2014. (Bob Spalding)

June 2014. Plymouth, Devon. Work is now under way on Laira Bridge, with the rails being lifted from west to east. The repair project will see all rotten timbers removed, the metal parts stripped back to bare metal, and corroded parts repaired before the whole is treated with protective paint. New railings, a new deck, new street lighting and decorative lights will also be installed, with a ramp going in at the eastern end to link with ‘The Ride’, the existing multi use trail that leads past Saltram House and on to Marsh Mills, where connection is made with Drake’s Trail to Tavistock. During the works, the bridge will be encased in scaffold tenting to prevent any debris or pollutants falling into the River Plym while the repairs are carried out. (Bob Spalding and Jeff Vinter)

May 2014. Stalbridge to Poole, Dorset. The North Dorset Trailway Network has just issued its June 2014 newsletter, which can be read by clicking the link here. Regular visitors to these pages will know that the NDT is a long-term project to convert the trackbed of the former Somerset & Dorset Railway within the county of Dorset into a multi-use trail. Unfortunately, the news this time reflects delays and a loss of pace, which must arise partly from the expiry in March 2015 of the funding streams (at both national and local government level) for this type of work. This is something that readers ought to be putting to their prospective parliamentary candidates within the next 12 months. These trails do immense good in terms of encouraging healthy lifestyles, reducing accidents involving walkers and cyclists on the roads, and bringing trade to rural areas. So where are the benefits in ceasing to support this work? (Lesley Gasson and Jeff Vinter)

May 2014. Strathyre to Balquhidder, Stirling. Work appears to have started on providing a cycleway along the Strathyre-Kingshouse section of the former Callander & Oban line. There is currently a lengthy detour on NCN7 (which uses several sections of the C&O trackbed between Callander and Glenoglehead) between these points along minor roads via Kirkton of Balquhidder. At the northern end, the new section will link to a very short existing section of the C&O, north of which the NCN diverts on to new paths where the former line crossed the A84, before the route gains the Comrie branch formation. To the south is another short section of former C&O path to the crossing of the River Balvag, beyond which the NCN uses forest roads for some distance. According to roadside signs warning drivers on the A84 of construction traffic, work started on 31st March this year and will last 12 weeks. (Dr Keith Potter) Note: We apologise for the late publication of this item, which was delayed by IT problems.

May 2014. Delabole, Cornwall. Fans of the LSWR’s North Cornwall line from Halwill Junction to Wadebridge will be pleased to learn that a ¼ mile section of the trackbed north of the village station has become a footpath. It looks from the local OS Explorer map as if it continues along the course of the standard gauge siding into the adjoining slate quarry, which provided traffic to the line in its heyday. The slate quarry is one of the largest in Europe and for over a century was served by a steam-hauled narrow gauge railway, which operated from before 1834 until some time after 1987. Does anything remain of this? If you can tell us, please get in touch via our Contact page. The grid references for the two ends of the walkable standard gauge trackbed are SX 073837 and SX 076844. In passing, Delabole is the only village and station that we know of to have taken its name from a quarry. The North Cornwall Railway’s website (click here) includes some fine photographs of Delabole station shortly before closure, plus the architect’s drawings for all of its buildings. (Robin Summerhill and Jeff Vinter)

May 2014. Brentor to Tavistock, Devon. Brentor Parish Council would like to open the former LSWR main line south of the village station to public access; currently, they are hampered by lack of funds, but Devon County Council is providing advice. The section of trackbed in question runs from Brentor station to Wringworthy Farm, north of Tavistock, a distance of about 2 miles. It must be emphasised that this is a long term aspiration and that, currently, all this former railway land remains privately owned. (Robin Summerhill)

April 2014. Sidmouth Junction (Feniton) to Sidmouth, Devon. Sustrans has just published a feasibility study on creating a multi use trail between Feniton and Sidmouth which would re-use parts of the former LSWR Sidmouth branch, although several route options have been identified. The Sustrans’ press release explains: ‘The concept of the 16km multi-use route has been around for many years but has now been explored in more detail … The concept of the trail broadly follows the line of a dismantled railway and takes in Tipton St John and Ottery St Mary … Many sections of the old railway line have been built on, and 28 private landowners have so far been identified along route options.’ The estimated cost is ca. £1.4 million, although the provision of a bridge over the A3052 at Bowd (which is desirable) would potentially double this. The company points out that the route would have to be delivered in sections over a number of years, but would serve some 26,000 residents. ‘The aim would be to develop a route that is convenient, safe, accessible and attractive, in order to provide local communities with a realistic alternative to the car to encourage people to travel by foot, cycle or horse. It could potentially generate around £600,000 per year of additional spending in the area from cycling visitors.’ (Kirby James, The Otter Trail)

April 2014. Witney to Oxford, Oxfordshire. There is growing interest in west Oxfordshire in re-using part of the easternmost section of the former Fairford branch to ‘overcome the growing problem of gridlock on the A40 and achieving improved public transport between Carterton, Witney and Oxford.’ A new group called WOT – Witney-Oxford Transport – was launched formally at a packed public meeting in Witney on 15th January 2014, attended by local councillors and transport campaigners; it ended with a unanimous call for an ‘updating study’ of the problems and possible solutions. WOT committee member Nigel Rose explains: ‘WOT’s principle purpose is to focus on a multi modal long-term solution to address the problem of congestion on the A40 between Witney and Oxford, something made more urgent by the forecast population increase in the next decade.’ On Saturday 14th June, there will be a rare opportunity to walk a short section of the old line from South Leigh, and details of how to sign up for this event will be found on the WOT’s website. (Nigel Rose and Neil Hebborn)

April 2014. Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. Part of the former Somerset & Dorset Railway between Highbridge and Burnham-on-Sea has been a railway path for some years, but now locals are set to mark the end of the line in Burnham by installing a set of buffer stops where the tracks ended. Cooperative Funeral Care have donated £500, while ‘numerous shops and pubs’ in the town have made up the rest. Subject to planning permission, the buffers should be in place before the end of this year. In its early years, the line continued on to a transshipment jetty, where coal was transferred from Welsh coal ships into S&D wagons. The jetty is still there, although its height has been reduced; it looks as if it is now used as a slipway. (Tim Chant)

April 2014. Buxton to Matlock, Derbyshire. Our correspondent writes: ‘On a recent ride on the Monsal Trail, I stopped as usual for my tea at Blackwell Mill. The latest Buxton area glossy has news of a concerted effort to review the original experts’ look at re-opening [this] ex-MR main line, originally costed at £124 million. It is estimated that it would now attract 30% more passengers, and bring considerable financial benefit to the area.’ (Mike Hodgson)

April 2014. ‘The Withered Arm’, Devon and Cornwall. The ‘withered arm’ was the name given by GWR enthusiast T.W.E. Roche to the Southern Railway’s lost network in the west country, most of which was shut down in the 1960s following the Beeching Report of 1963. Last month, west country author Robin Summerhill – following on from his successful book on cycling the Somerset & Dorset Railway – published a companion volume on cycling (or tracing by bicycle) the remains of Waterloo’s once extensive network in the far south west. The book features four main centres – Barnstaple Junction, Halwill Junction, Okehampton and Wadebridge – from which the old SR routes once radiated out, although the company’s former suburban network in Plymouth (with lines to Stonehouse, Cattewater and Turnchapel) is not covered, presumably because it was separate from the rest of the lines. The book is available directly from Robin (click here) at £15.95 for a full colour printed edition, but we do not know yet if it will be published as a downloadable e-book or on CD, which formats are invariably cheaper. The ISBN is 978-0-9576369-4-1, should you need it, but please buy directly from the author if you can. One of the useful things that this book does is illustrate how much of this once extensive network can now be walked and cycled, and how many more miles may be added if current local authority plans are successful. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Okehampton to Lydford, Devon. Ever since it opened, Devon County Council’s Granite Way has suffered from a long on-road diversion around the area of Bridestowe station. On a recent visit, this problem had been solved completely and the trail moved on to the trackbed. This improvement routes trail users past the site of the exchange sidings with the Rattlebrook Peat Railway at grid reference SX 526875. The trail finally leaves the trackbed at the north end of Lydford at SX 517853, where it joins School Road; the station was sited inconveniently to the south of the village. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Holsworthy to Hollacombe, Devon. The section of the Ruby Trail from the east side of Holsworthy (grid reference SS 347036) to near Anvil Corner (SS 373038) has been extended another half mile east to a road-over-rail bridge at Hollacombe (SS 378031). Unfortunately, access to this location is not particularly easy at the moment since Devon County Council has closed the lane into Hollacombe from The Beeches on the A3072 (SS 390036) due to extensive damage caused by the high levels of winter rain, but this should be a short term measure only. The extension into Hollacombe makes this section of the rail trail just over 2 miles long. Devon would like to continue the route westwards through Holsworthy and on towards Pyworthy, but funding to repair the intermediate Coles Mill Viaduct remains a problem; reinstatement of the long-removed parapets adds to the difficulties with this structure. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Helebridge to Widemouth Bridge, Cornwall. For several years now, the last two miles of the former LSWR branch into the coastal town of Bude have been part of NCN3; the trail takes a diversion around the site of the town’s former station (replaced by low cost housing), continuing along the Bude Harbour branch to end at the former wharf on the Bude Canal. Both Cornwall Council and Devon County Council are keen to develop the whole of the Bude branch as a long distance trail, but in recent years most of the action has been taking place on the east side of the county boundary. However, a recent visit to the area revealed that things are changing, for Cornwall has extended the rail trail from Helebridge (grid reference SS 216036) back to near Widemouth Bridge (SS 217032). At the moment, the extension is only a quarter of a mile long, but Cornwall has purchased the land outright, and installed a new bridge over the River Neet to replace the original structure which was demolished after the railway’s closure. (Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Bordesley to Duddeston, West Midlands. The 27th February edition of The Birmingham Post included news of a ‘skypark’ to be formed from the disused Duddeston railway viaduct in Digbeth. The proposal is part of HS2 plans for the Birmingham Curzon area, and is intended to encourage tourists and ‘improve flow to and from Digbeth’. The idea is to turn the abandoned 165 year old, 1,300ft long viaduct into a tourist attraction similar to New York’s ‘High Line’, part of the long-abandoned elevated railway that once spanned Manhattan and has been transformed into a public park and playground. A council spokesman said: ‘The unused Duddeston Viaduct has great potential to create a new green spine through Digbeth, connecting neighbourhoods and creating an exciting resident and visitor experience. The high-level route could be imaginatively landscaped with walkways, public art and feature lighting to create an attractive green link for Digbeth.’ The viaduct is located just north of Bordesley station and runs between grid references SP 082863 and SP 082866. (David Thompson)

April 2014. Wolverhampton to Priestfield, West Midlands. According to the BBC, a one kilometre section of disused railway line in the Black Country is being converted into a new multi use trail in a £290,000 scheme funded by government through the Centro organisation. The route will run from Wolverhampton city centre to Priestfield Metro stop, with a spur to the nearby Monmore Green greyhound racing stadium. This is part of the old GWR main line from Wolverhampton Low Level to Priestfield, where the line split into separate branches for Dudley and Birmingham Snow Hill respectively; it closed to passengers on 6th March 1972, but was re-opened for tram services on 30th May 1999. As with so many media reports, the BBC does not give precise details of the route’s start and end points, but these are believed to be grid references SO 926984 and SO 933974. (Rob Davidson, Phil Mullarkey, Ivor Sutton and Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Tipton to Gospel Oak, West Midlands. While researching the above two stories, the webmaster came across a railway path – previously unknown to him – from SO 953929 in Tipton (the end of Barnfield Road) to SO 969940 in Gospel Oak (Ockerhill Road). This 1¼ mile trail was once part of the former LNWR line from Tipton to Wednesbury. (Jeff Vinter)

Above: Clearance work by Hampshire County Council and the newly formed South Downs National Park has exposed the long concealed cattle dock on the up platform at West Meon station. For further details, see the story below. 16th April 2014. (Jem Spurrier)

Above: Let there be light! The extent of the tree clearance at West Meon is obvious in this scene, which for the first time in decades provides a clear view of the road-over-rail bridge on the village’s Station Road. Hampshire’s press release talks about the trail, in its current form, suffering from a ‘lack of chalk downloand habitats’, which this work is intended to remedy. There is a tendency in some quarters to oppose clearance work like this, but an old railway left untended soon becomes a place where only the most dominate species survive. For real bio-diversity to become established, a proper management regime is required – which, until now, the Meon Valley Trail has been lacking. 16th April 2014. (Jem Spurrier)

April 2014. West Meon to Wickham, Hampshire. For many years, Hampshire County Council’s Meon Valley Trail, arguably, has been the worst of the county’s rail trails. In the decades after the line closed, a dense tree canopy developed, which restricted (if not eliminated) views off the trail and produced large amounts of leaf mulch which – allied with the inability of sun or wind to penetrate to the trackbed – meant that parts of it were affected almost constantly by deep, soft mud. However, all that is set to change because, from March this year until early 2015, HCC and the South Downs National Park are carrying out major work to restore views to the route and improve its surface. Parts of the trail will have to be closed while the work is carried out, but the end result will be a much better path – which, without doubt, will lead to a significant increase in the very limited number of users, especially during the winter months. HCC’s notice advises: ‘The project will upgrade the Meon Valley Trail to create a safe, high quality, family friendly multi-user traffic-free route. It will address the issues of a poor surface and drainage, safety concerns of unstable trees, lack of chalk download habitats, limited visibility of surrounding countryside caused by overgrown vegetation and a lack of information or interpretation of the history, geography and ecology.’ (Jeff Vinter and Brian Loughlin)

April 2014. Caister-on-Sea to Hemsby, Norfolk. We have just become aware of a public footpath which follows the trackbed of the former Midland & Great Northern Joint Railway between Caister-on-Sea and California, east of Ormesby St. Margaret. The path is about 1½ miles long and runs from grid reference TG 526125 to TG 519147, although the last quarter of a mile drifts a little east of the old railway. According to local reports, a further section of just under a mile can be walked on a permissive basis from Ormesby (TG 497153) to Hemsby (TG 497167). Between California and Ormesby, a minor road has claimed the old railway, but the whole lot (i.e. footpath, minor road and permissive path) offer nearly 3½ miles walking on this former East Anglian branch line. During the 1970s and 1980s, this route was proposed in local plans as a cycle path, but nothing came of it. It has come to our attention now because a section near the former terminus at Great Yarmouth Beach has survived between Barnard Avenue and Salisbury Road (TG 529093 to TG 529090), but is set to have 12 affordable homes built on it. According to the edition of The Eastern Daily Press published on 8th April, local residents are ‘concerned that too many homes are being squashed on to the land and fear for the impact it will have on parking and road safety.’ (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

April 2014. Bristol to Bath, South Gloucestershire/Bath & North East Somerset. On 2nd April 2014, The Bristol Post reported that lighting along the Bristol to Bath Railway Path would be extended all the way from Bristol to Siston Hill, near Mangotsfield, at a cost of £130,000. It would remain on from dusk until midnight, in accordance with the local authority’s night-lighting policy. Ian Adams, the local South Gloucestershire councillor, explained : ‘When I have talked to dog walkers, running groups, cyclists, school kids and their parents or carers, they all think lighting the cycle track will help them use it during winter months as it is dark and unsafe. During our darker days residents feel forced to use the roads, which are risky – especially if you are on two wheels.’ (Tim Chant)

April 2014. Wyoming, USA. A decision in a recent court case in America presents a significant problem to the country’s Rails to Trails Conservancy (RTC), which has created more than 1,400 bike and nature trails since it was established in 1983. The case centred around the action of Marvin Brandt, a private landowner in Wyoming, who was fighting against a new bike trail that was to be built near his home. His family was granted the railway land in 1976, in exchange for turning a much larger tract of land over to the government. The family’s position was that they received this land with a right of way for trains, but not bicycles – and now, after two earlier legal defeats, the Supreme Court has found in their favour by a majority of 8 to 1. According to the journalist reporting the case, it ‘wasn’t about bike paths per se – it was about whether or not the federal government retains its control over land that had been granted to railroad companies once it’s been abandoned’. According to the Supreme Court, the answer to that question is ‘No’, and that decision – potentially – opens the door for copycat actions across the country. The RTC has already remarked: ‘We anticipate more cases in the future in which the federal government will be forced to compensate adjoining landowners in order to maintain public access to some well-loved trails.’ (Tim Chant)

March 2014. Hincaster to Arnside, Cumbria. Winter storm damage to the Hincaster Trailway, including several fallen trees, has been made good thanks to the efforts of local landowners. The trailway team has also published a new brochure entitled ‘The Storth Trail’, which can be downloaded in PDF form here or here; it features a further half mile of the old railway (i.e. additional to the section at Hincaster) which is now a public footpath through the village of Sandside. At the south end of Sandside, walkers can continue in a south westerly direction along another 1½ miles of trackbed to near Arnside station on the still operational Cumbrian coast line; this part of the old branch runs alongside Milnthorpe Sands on the Kent Estuary and is well used by walkers, although it has not been dedicated as a public right of way. The long term intention is to extend the Hincaster Trailway all the way from Hincaster to Arnside, using the trackbed wherever possible. (Bridget Pickthall)

March 2014. Corstorphine, City of Edinburgh. Edinburgh’s £776 tram system is due to open this year, and one of the unexpected side effects was a plan announced last October to upgrade the railway path from Station Road in Corstorphine (grid reference NT 202727) to Balgreen tram stop (NT 219724). The route is about 1½ miles long and, at the eastern end, skirts Carrick Knowe golf club; the intention is to provide a high quality, all weather path that links Corstorphine with the new tram system. (Tim Chant)

March 2014. Bridport to Bradpole, Dorset. Great news has just arrived from Peter Henshaw, the Sustrans route negotiator working on the Maiden Newton to Bridport Trailway project: construction started on the Bridport-Bradpole section of the Trailway on Monday 17th March. This phase should be complete by early May, with – hopefully – a formal ribbon cutting ceremony to follow a few weeks later. Bridport mayor Maggie Ray described this development as ‘great news, especially as a safe route to school’. Daryl Chambers, Bridport’s Town Surveyor, added: ‘This new path will be another link in a great cycle and walking network around Bridport, and there’s more to come’ – a reference to Sustrans’ eventual aim of creating a path with landowner consent all the way from Bridport to Maiden Newton, using the route of the disused railway wherever possible. George Sartin, who has worked on the Trailway project from its outset, was delighted that construction work has finally begun: ‘This couldn’t have happened without the help of the landowners involved between Bridport and Bradpole. Travis Perkins, the Co-op and private landowners had all been very supportive, as have Dorset County Council, West Dorset District Council and Bridport Town Council.’ (Peter Henshaw)

Above: The Somerset & Dorset Railway’s viaduct over the Bath-Bristol main line is not easy to photograph because it sits cheek-by-jowl with a parallel bridge on Bellotts Road, and the overcast weather contributes to the difficulty. However, this view does show the three arches of the viaduct, and the new railings installed recently by Network Rail. For further details, see the story below. 25th March 2014. (Matt Skidmore)

Above: The cyclists seen above are part of a group of 56 beginning the 1 in 50 climb to Devonshire Tunnel at the start of their two day ride from Bath to Bournemouth. The view shows the decking of the newly restored viaduct, which now forms part of The Two Tunnels Greenway between Bath and Midford. 5th April 2014. (Robin Benton)

March 2014. Bath to Midford, Somerset. Ever since it opened, The Two Tunnels Greenway between Bath and Midford has been diverted around the Somerset & Dorset Railway’s old viaduct over the Bath-Bristol main line just west of Oldfield Park, which was securely sealed at both ends and choked with vegetation. However, on 21st March, The Bath Chronicle reported that Network Rail has cleared and improved the structure, and opened it for public use; the photographs above illustrate the results. When the London-Bristol line is electrified in a few years’ time, this viaduct will be demolished and replaced by a new bridge which will provide greater clearance for the overhead electric wires. It’s a shame that this year’s investment will be short lived, but it is good to see NR making an important contribution to the greenway: by re-opening this bridge, they have eliminated the need for walkers and cyclists to use the parallel one-way road bridge, which is a dangerous pinch point. The Chronicle also reported that the gradient on either side of the viaduct has been eased, thus allowing users of wheelchairs and mobility scooters to access the trail from both Bellotts Road and Ringwood Road. (Matt Skidmore)

March 2014. Torrington, Devon. The former LSWR station at Torrington, which has served for many years as ‘The Puffing Billy’ bar and restaurant, has just been put on the market with an asking price of £325,000. (Dave Hurley) Update: By December, the property had been sold subject to contract. (Webmaster)

Above: Redbridge Viaduct at Galafoot (grid reference NT 516353) between Langlee and Tweedbank on the soon to be re-opened Waverley line is a Grade B listed structure described by Historic Scotland as ‘as a well preserved and notable example of a railway viaduct of the mid 19th century’. For some years now, it has accommodated a railway path between Galashiels and Darnick, west of Melrose, but the re-opening of this part of the Waverley Line does not mean that this railway path will be lost; see the story below. 14th October 2007. (Walter Baxter; photograph used under the terms of Geograph’s Creative Commons Licence)

March 2014. Edinburgh to Tweedbank, (City of Edinburgh, Midlothian and Scottish Borders). The re-opening of the northern end of the Waverley route continues apace, but it will displace a number of local railway paths which were installed on the trackbed in the years following closure in January 1969 (see our earlier report here). Network Rail will replace these trails with new routes along the same general ‘corridor’, but one railway path that will not be moved is that over Redbridge Viaduct between Langlee and Tweedbank. Network Rail closed the existing path over the viaduct on 17th February for a period of 8 weeks, but the company’s project director Hugh Wark promised that it would re-open – not just for trains, but also walkers and cyclists. He said: ‘We know that the Redbridge viaduct link between Langlee and Tweedbank is an extremely popular walking and cycling route and we’ve done all we can to retain that access until now. The improvements we’re making to the bridge mean that this relatively short eight-week closure is unavoidable – we apologise for the temporary inconvenience. The bridge itself is in excellent condition and the structural works required are minimal. Once complete, this grand old structure will form another iconic landmark on the Borders Railway route.’ The reinstated railway will re-open in Autumn 2015. (Tim Chant)

March 2014. Bolsover to Staveley Town, Derbyshire. There is already a cycle path of just ca. 2 miles from Bramley Vale (north west of Pleasley, grid reference SK 468661) to Bolsover (SK 462706) which, by and large, re-uses the trackbed of the Midland Railway’s former branch from Pleasley to Staveley Town. At Bolsover, following the loss of traffic from Bolsover’s Coalite Fuels & Chemicals Plant, the continuation of this line is now disused. Bolsover District Council’s local plan states that no planning permission will be granted which prejudices its re-opening to passengers; services would run from Bolsover to Staveley and thence to Chesterfield. However, the plan also recognises the potential of disused railways for ‘informal leisure purposes’. Our correspondent wonders if any reader would be willing to raise with the council the possibility of interim use of the Bolsover-Staveley line as a railway path. At Staveley, such a route could be linked with NCN67 (The Trans-Pennine Trail) on its 5½ mile Killamarsh to Arkwright Town leg, which uses part of the former Great Central Railway’s main line to London. (Phillip Earnshaw)

March 2014. Clowne to Creswell, Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire. Continuing the theme of the report above, the 2½ mile long ex Midland Railway line from Clowne to Creswell is now disused as well. Locals are using this as a de facto railway path, so any member who wanted to suggest to Bolsover District Council that it would be a good idea to convert Bolsover-Staveley into a railway path pro tem might want to suggest the same use for Clowne-Creswell. Referring to this line, Bolsover DC’s local plan says: ‘There is the possibility of re-opening the line through Clowne which would link the Robin Hood Line with Sheffield via Staveley, Beighton and Woodhouse. It has already been agreed that a feasibility study of this route should be carried out, using funds from the Single Regeneration Budget.’ Is there any member ‘out there’ who wants to make the necessary approaches to the council? If so, please get in touch using our Contact page. (Phillip Earnshaw)

March 2014. Harrogate to Ripley, North Yorkshire. The new Harrogate to Ripley railway path (grid reference SE 311564 to SE 287598) is now open. At 3 miles, it is not especially long, but re-uses it a number of former NER lines starting with the chord on the east side of Harrogate that ran from Dragon Junction to Bilton Road Junction. At the latter, it continues north to Pateley Bridge Line Junction before turning west on to the start of the Nidd Valley branch which once continued to Pateley Bridge. (At Pateley Bridge Line Junction, the former main line to Northallerton has not been re-used.) The new trail includes Nidd Viaduct at grid reference SE 307584 but, if you are taking a dog over this structure, keep it on a lead: recently, one couple thought they’d lost their pet when it jumped off, but fortunately it landed in the river and survived. Sustrans have been asked to install warning signs, but – if it does – these will be at the usual risk of damage or destruction by vandals. If you have time to spend in this scenic area, it is worth having a look at the local OS map, for several sections of old railway west of Ripley have neen re-used in the local footpath network, and they can be joined easily by following the Nidderdale Way; there’s a nice section along the north bank of Gouthwaite Reservoir. (Douglas Robinson)

Above: After closure of the Freshwater, Yarmouth & Newport Railway on 21st September 1953, Yarmouth station on the Isle of Wight became the local youth centre, but the building has recently been sold and is now being converted into a café/bistro. The re-development includes the construction of a bird hide which will be built in the style of a signal box, and the newly constructed first floor of this can be seen on the platform nearest the camera. This structure replaces a rather indifferent hall which used to stand on the platform. The trail in the foreground is part of the railway path from Freshwater to Thorley Bridge, which is highly recommended; it is very scenic. 5th March 2014. (Brian Loughlin)

March 2014. Newport to Merstone, Isle of Wight. The former Isle of Wight Central Railway’s line from Newport to Merstone has been re-developed as the ‘Troll Trail’. The ‘Troll Trail Project’ involved improving both the surface of the trail and the land on either side of; it was implemented by Natural Enterprise Ltd., a company which provides environmental consultancy services, economic development work, project delivery and management of European Funding Programmes. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2014. Holsworthy, Devon. Some progress has been made with Coles Mill Viaduct at Holsworthy, which is situated on the east side of the town’s former station site. ‘Rehabilitation’ of the viaduct is important since it will stabilise an historic structure and provide a crucial link in the gradually progressing Ruby Trail, which will re-use the trackbed of the old LSWR branch line to Bude; two major problems are that it has lost its parapets and is constructed from very porous stone, which requires the installation of a concrete deck to prevent further water ingress and erosion. Graham Cornish, the project engineer with Devon County Council, reported recently to Holsworthy Town Council that ‘approximately £50,000 had already been spent on design, consents and planning in respect of the viaduct at Coles Mill. Everything is therefore in place to proceed with the incorporation of the viaduct into the cycle route, subject to future funding and ownership issues, with the total project estimated to be £500,000.’ Devon CC is treating the link eastwards towards Halwill Junction and Hatherleigh as the next priority in the project, since it was 90% complete, and the authority was confident of securing the remaining 10% by negotiation. Holsworthy Town Council was keen to see the link to Bude developed in view of the economic benefits that it would bring to the area, but Mr. Cornish explained that some momentum had been lost on the Cornish side of the border due to redundancy and difficulties in securing ownership of certain sections beyond Villevin Farm, so that part of the route currently had less priority. (Graham Cornish and Dave Hurley)

March 2014. Torksey Viaduct, Lincolnshire/Nottinghamshire. Local residents have been keen to see this massive viaduct brought back into use for nearly 30 years, and at last it is going to happen. This massive structure (Grade II* listed and now owned by Railway Paths Ltd) is to receive a relatively low cost scheme of repairs which will make it effectively a footbridge over the River Trent at a location where there are no alternative crossings for miles. As such, it will provide a valuable link in the local footpath network, but the situation is not so good for cyclists since access for them would require very significant amount of work. The scheme is supported by West Lindsey District Council (the lead authority), Bassetlaw District Council, English Heritage, the Canal and River Trust and Railway Paths Ltd. It is hoped that a low cost solution which provides access to the structure will stimulate public interest and support for a more substantial scheme of repairs. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2014. Stubbins Junction, nr. Ramsbottom, to Accrington, Lancashire. Currently, a railway path – part of NCN6 – leads from north of Stubbins Junction to the southern end of Lumb Viaduct, where trail users are abruptly diverted down to the local lane through Lumb Grange village. It has been an ambition of Lancashire County Council, Rossendale District Council and Sustrans to extend this route over the viaduct for a number of years, and now it looks likely to happen. The Railway Heritage Trust has offered funding for the project but this must be spent before the end of March 2015, which seems to have propelled things forward perhaps a little faster than usual. The scheme will see the reinstatement of the parapets (which were dismantled 30-40 years ago as a safety precaution), plus the installation of a high quality sealed surface. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2014. Plymouth Friary to Turnchapel, Devon. Ownership of the substantial Laira Bridge on the Turnchapel branch was transferred from Railway Paths Ltd to Plymouth City Council in January this year, and work is now progressing to restore it for use by walkers and cyclists. PCC’s programme appears to be on track and, when complete, will offer a near continuous off-road cycle route from Devonport and Stonehouse in the west to Plymstock and Plympton in the east, via the city centre. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2014. Spean Bridge to Fort Augustus, Highland. Little of the North British Railway’s Fort Augustus branch can be walked officially bar sections between Invergarry and Aberchalder, which are linked together by diversions on to the nearby military road built in the 18th century by General Wade following the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715. However, we understand that Sustrans Scotland is about to purchase more of the trackbed in this area, bordering Loch Oich. In recent years, parts of the old railway formation here have been cleared of trees, but it has been difficult to tell whether this was normal forestry harvesting or something more. (Jeff Vinter)

March 2014. Hayle to Hayle Harbour, Cornwall. Network Rail, First Great Western, Cornwall Council and Sustrans are working on a scheme costed at £811,000 to convert the town’s disused harbour branch into a footpath and cycleway, which will give access to the station via its car park. The work is part of a wider scheme to deliver a range of improvements to the station and its environs, including closure of Hayle level crossing, where in recent years there have been five near-misses and one fatality. Work has started already and should be complete by May. The disused harbour branch was just a quarter of a mile long and ran from grid reference SW 559373 to SW 554379, but initially it formed part of the 1837 Hayle Railway which, between Gwinear Road and Redruth, became part of the GWR’s main line to Penzance. The north end of the new trail will connect with more of the Hayle Railway’s former trackbed, which can be walked from SW 552381 to SW 575383, including a little diversion down Guildford Road (you’ll need the local Explorer Map); the addition of the harbour branch will give Hayle 2 miles of railway path overall, all inter-connected and all giving access to the station. (David Thompson and Jeff Vinter)

February 2014. Cheddar to Axbridge, Somerset. The Strawberry Line Society (previously the Cheddar Valley Railway Walk Society) has recently received a grant of £3,000 from the Winscombe branch of Lloyds Bank for improving drainage along 300 metres of the Cheddar-Axbridge section of their trail where it runs through a cutting and then under Sharpham Road Bridge, or Five Ways Bridge, at grid reference ST 451534 on the western edge of Cheddar. An exploratory meeting with a drainage contractor has already taken place: the work is likely to involve clearing vegetation from existing ditches, installing drainage channels beneath the track, and repairing surface damage caused by standing water. (Strawberry Line Society)

Above: Bath Road Viaduct in Shepton Mallet, Somerset, is currently receiving some serious maintenance work. The extensive scaffolding suggests that the brickwork is being re-pointed. 22nd February 2014. (Bob Spalding)

Above: ‘Oh to be in England now that winter’s here!’ The view across Bath Road Viaduct in Shepton Mallet. The sign erected by the contract, Hammond, gives no claue as to what is going on here. 22nd February 2014. (Bob Spalding)

February 2014. Shepton Mallet, Somerset. The old Somerset & Dorset Railway crossed the town of Shepton mallet above its rooftops, and the wonder is that all but one of its bridges and viaducts have survived since closure in 1966. When our correspondent visited the town recently, extensive work was under way on Bath Road Viaduct. If you can tell us what this is all about, please get in touch via our Contact page. Is the local authority opening up the viaduct – and perhaps even more of the old railway through the town – for public access? Somerset County Council’s public notice gave no clues! (Bob Spalding) Update: Our email enquiry to the local authority produced an acknowledgement but no reply, so member Keith Holliday visited Shepton Mallet in June and then telephoned the council. They described the repairs to the viaduct as ‘routine maintenance’ aimed particularly at securing the arches so that no bricks could fall out and hit pedestrians or road vehicles, The work does not form part of a railway path project, but keeping the viaduct in good repair means that it will be there in years to come if a railway path ever comes through the town – which we hope it will. (Keith Holliday)

February 2014. Leeds, West Yorkshire. The 7th February edition of the Yorkshire Evening Post carried an interesting article about Holbeck Viaduct (known in railway circles as Farnley Viaduct) which runs from Gelderd Road to Globe Road in Leeds. The 83 arch stone structure, which is 1,230 yards long, has been unused for over a third of its 145 year history, but now residents want to bring it back into use as a park and walkway. Before the recession, Leeds City Council had developed a £5 million plan for the viaduct, but clearly this is now not going to happen; instead, a community led scheme is set to take its place. The Evening Post reported: ‘The ambitious scheme has a conservative £10,000 budget aimed to fund two stairwells on to the viaduct, while residents plan to volunteer labour and source cheap materials. And having secured a small Community First grant this week, the group is hoping to fund £1,500 of structural survey and clearance work to see if the project will be viable. Nevertheless officials at viaduct owner Network Rail claim it is not aware of the project, while the structure could need investment to be made safe and may be needed for future rail expansion. Undeterred, project leader Ed Carlisle is “cautiously optimistic” that the conversations he has been having could breathe new life into the structure.’ (David Thompson)

February 2014. Moretonhampstead to Bovey Tracy, Devon. Further to the entry below (click here), the Project Manager of the Wray Valley Trail – which this old railway will become – has provided an update on current progress:

  • Phase 1 of the scheme between Moretonhampstead and Steward Wood (joining the old line at the east end of old Moretonhampstead station, now Thompson’s Transport depot) was completed in 2010.
  • Phase 2 between Wilford Bridge and Station Road, Bovey Tracey (leaving the old line at the A382) was completed in 2013. This phase involved maintenance to the existing permissive path through the Parke Estate [National Trust] which follows the route of the old line. A significant thickness of leaf debris was removed from the path to expose the original railway ballast / foundations upon which a layer of compacted recycled road planings were laid. In areas suffering from poor drainage, the original railway drainage was repaired or re-established. Two original railway arches (Bovey River Bridge and Southbrook Bridge) were inspected and assessed prior to the works to determine their condition and capacity since large vehicles would be delivering the road planings along the path. Both of the structures were found to be in excellent condition with capacity in excess of that required for a modern highway structure. As the path was to be opened to cyclists, timber fencing was added within the existing bridge parapets to satisfy the minimum required parapet height of 1.4 metres. After leaving the route of the old line at the A382 on the edge of Bovey (grid reference SX 810785), a new underpass was constructed below the A382 at Hole Bridge, and a new path built across Mill Marsh Park to Station Road.

Work continues on the remaining length of the route with negotiations ongoing with land owners north of Lustleigh. Following the completion of the path north of Lustleigh, the trail will leave the route of the old railway at Wilford Bridge and pass Lustleigh on the highway before re-joining the trackbed north of the village. (Peter Burge, Assistant Engineer, Engineering Design Group, Devon County Council)

February 2014. Widnes to Sutton Manor, Cheshire. In November last year, The Runcorn & Widnes World reported that Halton and St. Helen’s Councils have been working on a scheme to convert part of the former Widnes & Runcorn Gap Railway into a multi use trail, and that St. Helens Council had submitted detailed plans for the scheme to Halton’s planning department. Much of the railway’s route through Widnes was used for the new ‘expressway’ link to the M62, but from Mill Lane, Widnes, the route remains intact, although extremely overgrown. Local historian Larry Neild commented: ‘When this remarkable railway closed, Widnes turned its back on something that helped create the town in the early 1800s. It has always struck me as amazing that what was one of the very first railways anywhere in the world was not celebrated and fated (sic) as it deserved … This is so (sic) a terrific project. It will not bring back the glorious days of steam, but will at least let people follow in the footsteps of our ancestors.’ The W&RGR opened in 1833 and is thus one of the world’s earliest railways. (David Thompson)

February 2014. Alresford to Winchester Junction, Hampshire. On 18th January, The Hampshire Chronicle reported that residents from Alresford, Kings Worthy and the Itchen Valley hope to create a new path – the Watercress Way – along the trackbed of the Mid Hampshire Railway, which closed in 1973. County councillor Jackie Porter, who has supported earlier steps to re-use parts of the old line, assisted in setting up a ‘Friends of the Line’ group in May 2012. The Chronicle reports that the group submitted their idea to Winchester City Council and are now in talks with the South Downs National Park Authority and Hampshire and Isle of Wight Conservation volunteers to get more people clearing undergrowth, and making the path a ‘real possibility’. Due to house-building post closure, the route cannot follow the old railway exactly from end to end, but Councillor Porter said that she hoped the route would give a sense of the old railway and eventually link Alresford through to Kings Worthy and Sutton Scotney (the latter via the DN&SR? Webmaster). The group is planning a long distance walk in June; for more information, or to sign up, email (David Thompson)

February 2014. Little Eaton to Denby Colliery, Derbyshire. Little Eaton Parish Council has proposed the former branch line to Denby Colliery for conversion into a new rail trail. The line left the Midland main line at Little Eaton Junction between Derby and Duffield, and originally ran to Butterley via Ripley, where a section of ‘greenway’ is already open. Our correspondents think that the line was last used in the 1990s for coal, although they believe that a railtour may have been the last revenue-earning service. There were abortive plans to re-open it in 2011, but around that time some track was lifted. The link here provides a few further details. If this project goes ahead, it will add a further 5½ miles to the already extensive railway path network in Derbyshire. (Phil Mullarkey and David White)

February 2014. Okehampton to Bere Alston, Devon. The recent collapse of the railway line through Dawlish following a sustained battering by savage seas has brought into sharp focus the need for an alternative rail route to the south west, and specifically west Devon and Cornwall. (Click here for some ideas on this subject.) On 6th February, the BBC reported: ‘Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin told MPs he would review alternative rail routes to south-west England after the storm caused massive damage to the main railway between Devon and Cornwall.’ The most obvious alternative route is the Beeching-closed LSWR main line from Exeter to Plymouth via Okehampton and Tavistock. We understand that Devon County Council has been piecing this back together for close on 20 years in case of just such an eventuality. (Jeff Vinter)

February 2014. Shildon to Stockton, County Durham/North Yorkshire. The Northern Echo published a story on 2nd February which will interest railway ramblers. The Friends of the 1825 Stockton and Darlington Railway have drawn up preliminary proposals to develop a 26 mile multi use trail along the historic line, and initial reactions have been very positive. One of the motivations for the scheme is the awareness that trails like this bring economic benefits to an area, since walkers and cyclists travel more slowly than motorists and therefore spend more time and money while passing through. Trish Pemberton, Durham County Councillor for Shildon, is enthusiastic: ‘In Shildon we have to exploit our railway heritage as much as we can. I think that the cycle and footpath is an absolutely fantastic idea, both as a history teacher and as a county councillor. I believe that tourism is a really important weapon in our armoury which we can use to help boost the economic regeneration of the town.’ Councillor Pemberton also supports The Brusselton Bridges Preservation Group, which aims to repair two damaged bridges on the railway. Milk Road bridge and a separate accommodation bridge at Brusselton, near the Shildon end of the line, were damaged last July, but currently the owners cannot be traced and this has put the repair plans on hold. (Tim Chant)

February 2014. Exeter, Devon. Devon County Council is as supportive of operational railways in the county as it is enthusiastic about converting abandoned ones into multi use trails, so it may not surprise readers to learn that it plans to open two new stations in Exeter by 2016 as part of the proposed ‘Devon Metro’ system. One of these new stations will be Newcourt, to be situated at grid reference SX 960905 between Digby & Sowton and Topsham on the Exmouth branch, while the other will be Marsh Barton, to be situated at SX 926905 on the Exeter-Plymouth main line about 1¼ miles south of Exeter St. Thomas. The latter will give access on its west side to the Marsh Barton Trading Estate, but on its east side – more importantly for walkers and transport historians – to the Exe Valley Way and the towpath of the Exeter Ship Canal which includes two historic pubs, The Double Locks (SX 932900) and The Turf (SX 963860) by the sea lock. The latter is one of the few pubs remaining in the UK which is not accessible by road. If you don’t fancy the walk from Marsh Barton, there are two ferries from Topsham – on the other side of the Exe Estuary – plus one that operates along the canal from The Double Locks. At least one of the Topsham-Turf ferries takes bicycles, which makes it possible to walk or cycle from Exmouth to Topsham via NCN2 (which runs alongside the southern end of the Exmouth branch line), then cross the estuary to The Turf and complete the journey into Exeter via the towpath of the ship canal. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

February 2014. Lustleigh to Bovey Tracey, Devon. As regular visitors to these pages will know, Devon County Council is gradually acquiring the trackbed of the former Moretonhampstead branch north of Bovey Tracey and converting it into the ‘Wray Valley Trail’. The second phase, from Wilford Bridge (SX 798797) to Mill Marsh Park in Bovey Tracey, was opened officially in May 2013. The trackbed here is owned by the National Trust, which may have made access negotiations easier than elsewhere on the branch. The county is aiming to complete the rest of the scheme between 2014 and 2015, subject to the rate at which the necessary land can be acquired. There is already about half a mile of the route in place at the northern end from near the site of Moretonhampstead station (SX 759856) to near Steward Farm on the A382 (SX 765852); this includes a fine new bridge over the A382 at SX 760855. (Jeff Vinter)

January 2014. Cullompton, Devon. Plans to re-open Cullompton station, which closed on 5th October 1964 thanks to its inclusion in the Beeching Report of 1963, moved a step closer recently when council officers from both Devon and Somerset agreed to commission a study to assess the number of potential passengers. The idea is to create a ‘park and change’ site, where drivers from the wider area can park their vehicles free of charge and switch to rail. Devon CC has pointed out that, before a station can be provided at Cullompton, the rail franchise holder needs to provide local Exeter-Bristol train services that can serve it. A spokesman said, ‘We will now be seeking to secure these services in the next franchise, which is expected to commence in 2016.’ It is to be hoped that the new franchise holder will also address the serious overcrowding on the current two coach trains that run between Taunton and Bristol. (Tim Chant)

Above: On the east side of Upton Heath in east Dorset, the former railway line from Broadstone to Hamworthy Junction crosses the old Roman road from Hamworthy port to Vindocladia. The Roman road is at ground level, with Hamworthy behind the photographer and East End, near Corfe Mullen, ahead; the route is now a bridleway of about 4 miles and, as one might expect, is mostly ruler straight. Atop the bridge, Broadstone via Castleman’s Trailway lies to the right, and Hamworthy Junction via the Upton Trailway to the left; see the story below for further details of the latter. Grid reference SY 991943. 21st January 2014. (Tim Chant)

January 2014. Broadstone to Hamworthy Junction, Dorset. This is the west end of the ‘old road’ from Southampton to Dorchester via Ringwood and Wimborne. Castleman’s Trailway – the Dorset County Council route which re-uses much of this old line – runs along the trackbed from Broadstone to grid reference SY 991943 on the edge of Upton Heath, where it turns due south on the old Roman road from Vindocladia, near Badbury Rings, to the Roman port at Hamworthy, established as long ago as 44-45 AD. Nothing has changed with Castleman’s Trailway, but on reaching Upton Heath at SY 991943 one can now continue straight ahead along the Upton Trailway, which follows the trackbed across the heath, through Upton – where the railway’s course has been preserved through new housing – and down to Blandford Road (the B3068) in Hamworthy. Dorset CC has just given its section of the Upton Trailway a new, all weather surface, but the southern section owned by Poole Borough Council still has a loose surface which gets rather muddy during the winter. The official route leaves the trackbed at SY 987925, about 600 yards north of Hamworthy Junction, but regular use by locals has created a footpath which takes one along the top of a rising embankment to within 100 yards or so of Blandford Road. There are plenty of paths on the left which lead down to a nearby track, so it’s just a case of choosing the least steep of these and turning right at the bottom. The Upton Trailway adds an extra 2 miles of railway walking to the network in east Dorset and means that virtually all of the ‘old road’ from Broadstone to Hamworthy Junction is now open. (Tim Chant and Jeff Vinter)

January 2014. Nationwide. A Branch Line Society production which may be of interest to readers is Rhys ab Elis’s new and completely updated edition of Railway Rights of Way on CD. It is available from Stephen Chandler, the society’s Sales Officer, for £10 including postage and packing. The format has been chosen to allow selective printing of chosen sections for use in the field, while a CD is considerably cheaper than production in a full printed book format. For those totally without access to either their own or a relative’s computer, the local ‘copy-shop’ will be able to print small sections at their usual prices. For those unfamiliar with the original book, this is a list (by county) of publicly accessible and walkable former railway routes with map references and other information throughout the UK. The original first edition book is now a collectors’ item. Orders for copies, accompanied by a cheque or card payment authority downloaded from the BLS website should be sent to the Sales Officer, Mark Gomm, 84 Mornington Road, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, ST1 6EL. (Paul Stewart)

January 2014. Ramsgate, Kent. Ramsgate railway tunnel is going to be opened to the public this summer after decades of closure; it even has its own website, which can be accessed here. The Ramsgate Tunnel Deep Shelter System was first opened by H.R.H. The Duke of Kent on the 1st June 1939 and used as an air raid shelter during World War 2, before becoming the home for a narrow gauge railway after the war. A target date of 1st June 2014 has been set for the tunnels to re-open for ‘Explorer’ tours, exactly 75 years after their first opening. (Mike Rutter)

January 2014. Clevedon to Weston Super Mare, Somerset. The Bristol Post published the following report on 2nd January: ‘Work on creating a new public footpath along the route of a now defunct railway line between Clevedon and Weston-super-Mare could start in the spring. North Somerset Council has been working for several months on a scheme to create an off-road route from Wick Lane, Wick St. Lawrence, to Yeo Bank Lane in Kingston Seymour. The new path would follow the route of the historic Weston, Clevedon & Portishead Railway, and the tidal sluices of the Congresbury Yeo and Oldbridge rivers. It would also run alongside an existing track built by the Environment Agency for servicing their flood defences. In places, the track way is constructed on flood defence works which protect the area, most of which is private agricultural land, constructed at significant public expense. Much of this track follows the historic railway bed and so can be adapted without extensive construction work.’ The new route will be approximately half a mile in length. (Tim Chant)

January 2014. Radstock, Somerset. Green Rail Radstock – the campaign which aims to force Bath & North East Somerset Council to re-think its plans for the old Radstock West station site – continues to gain support, with a public debate taking place on 27th January about the site’s future. There were talks from a railway historian and an ecology expert, while one of the GRR team explained the group’s plans. (Sebastian Davis-Ansted)

January 2014. Swindon, Wiltshire. In a few months’ time, you’ll be able to shop in style when the GWR’s old ‘Long Shop’ in Swindon Works is restored and converted into 30 new retail units creating 350 new jobs. The Western Daily Press reports that the Long Shop was the railway works ‘base’ building, ‘from where everything from the vast iron hulks of the locomotives to the brass door fittings for carriage interiors were built’. By the end of this year, the Long Shop will have become part of ‘Swindon Designer Village’, adding 50,000 square feet of retail space to that provided by the conversion of other ex-railway buildings. British Rail closed the works in 1986; nowadays, the main link to its past is ‘Steam’, the Museum of the Great Western Railway. (Tim Chant)

January 2014. Bromsgrove, Worcestershire. Those who like to study railway history from the train window should note that the days of Bromsgrove station are now numbered. A swish new £17.4 million station was approved by Worcestershire County Council’s cabinet on 12 December 2013. It will be constructed ca. 300 yards south of the existing facility and is expected to open in 2015; it is necessary because there is not room at the existing station to extend the three-carriage platforms, which are now insufficient for the volume of traffic on the line. (Tim Chant)

January 2014. Filton Junction to Avonmouth, South Gloucestershire. While this is not a disused line but a freight-only branch, readers may be interested to learn that, according to the 20th December 2013 edition of The Bristol Post, Bristol Rovers’ proposed new stadium at Frenchay could help this line regain its passenger service. Advanced plans for ‘significant housing’ in the area are another factor which improves the line’s business case. Could this, and the planned re-opening of the Portishead branch, finally evolve into something like the proposed Avon Metro of ca. 30 years ago? (Tim Chant)

January 2014. Ilfracombe, Devon, to the Franco-Spanish border. Spurred on by our recent report on ‘La Velodyssée’, Brittany member John Fisher has been carrying out research into precisely how far one can now cycle southwards from Ilfracombe on disused railways. The answer appears to be about 800 miles, although at the moment, inevitably, there are a number of stop-gap solutions where minor roads are used. Hopefully, local councils will reduce the number of these over time and get more and more of the route switched on to traffic-free old trackbeds.

This cycling odyssey starts with the Devon Coast to Coast route, which is now an official part of La Velodyssée (click here), having recently become continuous from Ilfracombe to Plymouth, although there are a few non-trackbed sections, e.g. south of Lydford. With the use of the Plymouth-Roscoff ferry, the route continues through France via Morlaix, Carhaix and Nantes in Brittany before following much of the western French coastline facing the Bay of Biscay, right down to the Spanish border. John is not sure if the route continues beyond the border, but Spain has created plenty of ‘Vias Verdes’ – literally ‘green ways’ – on its disused railways, so there is hope. The distance from Ilfracombe to the Spanish border is 1,200 kilometres or 800 miles. The route is classified EV1 (Eurovelo 1), although a map on the French website indicates that Barnstaple-Ilfracombe will eventually become a spur, with the main EV1 route due to head east from Barnstaple. Will this eventually use parts of the former Barnstaple-Taunton railway line? (John could find no online information about this possibility.) Incidentally, on the French side, and more a work in progress, is the strategic route EV4 that runs east from Roscoff to St. Malo and on to St. Lo and beyond

Both on the Velodyssée site and on a sister Devon County Council site, on- and off-road sections are indicated throughout. Members familiar with Devon’s Tarka Trail will know already that Meeth to Bideford and Barnstaple is almost entirely off-road, and uses significant sections of the former railway lines from Halwill Junction to Bideford, and from Bideford to Barnstaple. (Although the line physically passed through Bideford, it was the meeting point of two separate companies and therefore, technically, was an end-on junction.) Currently, the continuation from Barnstaple to Ilfracombe includes two off-road sections based on the LSWR’s old Ilfracombe branch: Barnstaple to Braunton, and Willingcott to Ilfracombe. North of Braunton, the route is mixed on- and off-road using parts of the old line, with a yet to be opened section from ca. 3 miles north of Braunton to Willingcott, which Devon CC has been working on since autumn 2012 – click here for details. (John Fisher)

Feature Articles


Visitors to the site may be interested in the following correspondence between member Tim Hewett and the club’s Webmaster about the possible route of an alternative railway line to west Devon and Cornwall. The background, of course, is the terrible damage that Brunel’s route suffered during the storms of February 2014, especially at Dawlish.

Tim: I noticed your comment on the website about alternative routes to the damaged Dawlish line. There happens to be another option to the Okehampton route which runs from Exeter to Newton Abbott down the Teign valley past Chudleigh, tunnelling under the hills to get there from Exeter. Some of it has been subsumed by the A38 unfortunately. In one respect this route is preferable so as to not leave Torbay ‘dangling’ on a spur east of Plymouth.

Webmaster: Yes, you’re right, although the A38 is a problem for railway reinstatement along the Teign Valley, as are the lack of population, and speed, along the route. At least Okehampton and Tavistock are large population centres, and Tavistock to Bere Alston is already up for re-opening. Did you know that Longdown Tunnel has collapsed in the middle as well? That would need to be dug out again if the Teign Valley route were re-used.

An ancillary issue which came to my attention recently is that many old lines – and even lines that are still operational today – would not be passed for construction under modern regulations because the bends are too tight. There are, no doubt, other issues which could make life difficult for a reinstated Teign Valley line, perhaps including things like gradients and tunnel clearances.

The Minister of State for Transport (Patrick McLoughlin) may, of course, have a new inland route in mind. Exminster or Starcross to Newton Abbott is the key section, and here a couple of minor rivers flowing towards the coast offer possibilities. Personally, I think that the days of Dawlish as a railway town are numbered. It will be interesting to see what Mr. McLoughlin comes up with. If I were a gambling man, I’d put my money on the Okehampton to Tavistock route, largely because some work on re-opening south of Tavistock has already taken place. I think it was in 2012 that a member living in Bere Alston told me that engineers had been out – presumably from Network Rail – checking the structures on the Tavistock to Bere Alston section. The other advantage that this route has is that the formation used to – and still could – accommodate double track.

Tim: Perhaps a 1 mile tunnel under Dawlish is an idea to be considered before moving away from the whole coast route; I don’t think the rest of the coastal section is as vulnerable to the weather and it is cherished. A railway expert mooted the idea of a base tunnel on the news earlier, and also pointed out that work did once start on a Dawlish bypass route from Starcross in 1939 (before world events intervened), covered by a 1936 Act of Parliament. Probably not possible now due to the nature of the countryside it would cut through.

The Result? In February 2014, Network Rail announced that its preferred option was to reinstate the line between Okehampton and Bere Alston. According to the BBC News website on the 10th of that month, ‘Network Rail has chosen an additional alternative railway route to the storm-stricken Dawlish line along the Devon coast … The route would head from Okehampton to Plymouth via Tavistock and go through parts of Dartmoor National Park. There is no timescale for the plan, which Network Rail concluded in outline proposals last year would cost hundreds of millions of pounds. However, Network Rail said abandoning the Dawlish route was “not an option”‘.